San Francisco mayor’s race still up in the air

There’s a lot of “Ed Lee seems to be winning the San Francisco mayor’s race” verbiage out there this morning, but I’m not so sure just yet.

Yes, he’s in the lead after the initial tally, but ranked-choice voting means that’s not always conclusive.

In Oakland’s mayoral race last November, former state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata had 33.73 percent of the vote in the first round of counting, with Councilwoman Jean Quan (the leading progressive alternative) in second place at 23.47 percent – a nine-percentage-point gap – in a field of 10 candidates. Perata continued to hold the lead until the third-place finisher – Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan, another progressive – was eliminated and an overwhelming percentage of her supporters’ second- and third-choice votes catapulted Quan past him to victory.

Now in San Francisco, appointed incumbent Mayor Ed Lee has 31.38 percent in the first round, with Supervisor John Avalos (the leading progressive alternative) in second place at 18.67 percent – an almost 13-percentage-point gap – in a field of 16 candidates. The next-closest contender is City Attorney Dennis Herrera at 11.27 percent, followed by Board of Supervisors President David Chiu at 8.93 percent and state Sen. Leland Yee at 7.48 percent.

So I’ll be very interested to see how many of those top-of-the-backfield candidates’ supporters included Lee as their second or third choice; given Herrera’s, Chiu’s and Yee’s politics, I think it’s more likely their supporters would’ve picked Avalos over Lee.

Then again, Perata was a rather polarizing candidate – people generally either loved him or hated him, with little gray area between – who ran a campaign that deliberately ignored ranked-choice voting, making no effort whatsoever to solicit second- and third-place votes. Although Lee’s campaign had some difficulties in the final month, it’s hard to see him as another Perata.

We’ll know more this afternoon.

UPDATE @ 4:05 P.M.: Er, never mind, then. First RCV tally shows Lee with a convincing victory.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Elwood

    Ranked choice voting is a farce.

    Just look at Mayor Quandary of Oakland.

  • John W

    I suspect San Francisco voters will come to their senses on “instant runoff” after this election, especially if ranking bumps Lee out of first place for mayor, as happened to Perata in Oakland. While they’re at it, they should do away with district elections for supervisor, or at least create some “at large” seats.

  • rew

    Avalos finishing second was quite interesting, he actually beat Lee among voters who went to polls. No real reason he should have finished second, he was underfunded, didn’t have a lot of big shots backing him, but he still got a ton of votes.

  • RR, Senile Columnist

    SF, unlike Oaktown, chose competence over rhetoric.

  • Elwood

    @ #3

    He got the freak vote, always important in the Bay Area.

  • John W

    Re: #4

    “SF, unlike Oaktown, chose competence over rhetoric.”

    I agree that competence won over BS. However, considering the incredibly low turnout, SF doesn’t deserve the flattery. It’s more like the well-organized Chinatown absentee ballot turnout chose Ed Lee, who happens to be competent. If there had been a respectable turnout, SF could have been another Oaktown.