Election or a Round of Musical Chairs?

Outsiders like to think of San Francisco as a hotbed of contentious activism. Locals have tended to regard City Hall as the arena where Democrats and progressive Democrats mix it up. With Tuesday’s election, you can say goodbye to any notion of anarchy. All bow to the victorious political machine. City Hall is all-Democrat all the time — yet conservative in its own fashion: the status quo is king.

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Hang on, esteemed reader, because City Hall relationships read like a soap opera digest.

Mayor Ed Lee, who was re-elected, was handpicked by his predecessor Gavin Newsom in 2011. Lee, then city administrator, had never run for office when Newsom asked him to serve as interim mayor. Lee first promised he would be a placeholder for the year that remained in Newsom’s second term, and then decided to run for the office. He won.

This year, Lee faced no serious opposition.

Newsom himself, now California lieutenant governor, and governor in waiting, was handpicked by his predecessor Willie Brown, now a San Francisco Chronicle columnist, to fill a vacant seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1997. When Newsom first ran for mayor in 2003, Brown endorsed him. In that run, Newsom faced a challenge in Green Party candidate Matt Gonzalez, but Newsom won by a comfortable majority. When Newsom ran for re-election in 2007, he faced no serious opposition. Newsom left the mayor’s office when he won election to statewide office.

San Franciscans first elected Brown, the self-described Ayatollah of the state Assembly, in 1995. Brown won election by defeating Frank Jordan, the last non-establishment mayor — and that’s only if you think of a former police chief as non-establishment. Brown handily won re-election in 1999.

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón also was handpicked by Newsom in 2011. He replaced then D.A. Kamala Harris, whom Californians elected as attorney general. In fact, this is the second time Newsom picked Gascón. Hizzoner selected Gascón, then police chief of Mesa, Ariz., in 2009 to be San Francisco police chief. While Gascón beat challengers in the 2011 election, he had no opponents this year.

Ditto City Attorney Dennis Herrera and Treasurer José Cisneros, who also avoided even token opposition. It is not unusual for a district attorney, a city attorney or a treasurer to run unopposed because their offices are exempt from term limits. Once elected, you’re in until you want out.

Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, who also is exempt from term limits, proved the exception. He lost on Tuesday to Vicki Hennessy, the former sheriff’s chief deputy handpicked by Lee to serve as interim sheriff when the mayor tried to fire Mirkarimi (who bruised his wife’s arm during an argument and pleaded guilty to a charge of domestic violence). Mirkarimi survived long enough to run for re-election, but in her first bid for elective office, Hennessy had the support of City Hall and the deputies’ union and prevailed. The challenger’s victory was another win for the establishment.

Former Supervisor Aaron Peskin’s victory in District 3 over incumbent Julie Christensen — whom Lee appointed to replace David Chiu, when he won election to the Assembly — presented the one flaw in the establishment pearl. But you can’t say that he’ll bring new blood to City Hall.

Email Debra J. Saunders at [email protected].

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