San Francisco mayoral race: diverse candidates heat up election

With last-minute entries, surprise candidates and over a dozen people running, this year’s race for San Francisco mayor is shaping up to be one of the most intense elections yet.

Sixteen candidates are officially campaigning for the job as top executive in the city and county of San Francisco, 10 of which currently hold or have held public office including Interim Mayor Ed Lee.

Lee made waves when he announced on August 8 he was running for mayor of San Francisco after seven months of denying interest in the position. He was originally appointed interim mayor by agreeing not to run in the election.

“Mayor Lee was not an elected official, but rather a city administrator,” Assistant Professor for Urban Politics and Power Jason McDaniel said. “There were rumors that he promised that he would not run for re-election, and so his entry as a formal candidate is somewhat controversial.”

Lee’s decision to run, supported by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., boosted him to the front of the race, ahead of other prominent candidates like District 11 Supervisor John Avalos and City Attorney Dennis Herrera who both received endorsement from the Democratic Party in San Francisco.

“Mayor Ed Lee is very popular among voters in SF, primarily because of his work on the recent budget,” McDaniel said. “He is easily the frontrunner at the moment, and probably a favorite to win the race.”

Junior cinema major Michael Martinez doesn’t like that Lee is currently the frontrunner position, but doesn’t know who he will ultimately vote for.

“I haven’t seen a candidate really present themselves. I haven’t read a good pitch from any of the candidates,” Martinez, 20, said. “I don’t know enough about what any candidate is about and until I figure that out, my vote’s up in the air.”

Lee originally took over as interim mayor when Gavin Newsom left his term early to assume his then-newly elected position as lieutenant governor of California.

This election is unique in the state because the winner will be decided through a system called ranked-choice voting, a method used in San Francisco since 2004. The system allows voters to select their top three candidates in the order they wish.

According to the City and County Department of Elections website, the candidate who receives more than 50 percent of the first choice votes is the winner. If no candidate gets a majority of votes, the process turns into an elimination round in which  the candidate with the fewest number of votes is removed from the race and the count begins again. The process continues until one person receives a majority of first place votes, producing an instant runoff.

“This can take many rounds of counting, but eventually it is designed to produce a winner who was the choice of a majority of voters,” McDaniel said.

McDaniel believes that ranked-choice voting is the reason why there are so many candidates in the race for mayor.

“Many candidates still believe that they may have a chance to win, even if they are not one of the top frontrunner candidates,” McDaniel said.

Elections will be held Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2011.