Northside SF
Common Knowledge
Crowdsourcing the Next Mayor
This year’s lineup of candidates seeking to occupy City Hall’s Room 200 photo: Rikki Ward

The stage in the main auditorium of The Commonwealth Club wasn’t big enough to hold every participant in our October mayoral candidate debate. We had to build special extensions of the platform just to have sufficient space for all 16 politicians scheduled to be listed on the ballot.

They managed to fit on the stage and no one fell off, so it was another successful political debate on those terms. A bigger goal of debates is to help the candidates get out their message and then let voters decide whom to support. Or at least that is the hope; when there are that many candidates, it is a challenge at a single event to learn anything in depth about any candidate’s political platform. Brevity might be the soul of wit, as Shakespeare tells us, but brevity is not the best tool for understanding the complicated issues of political campaigns.

Still, we gave it a shot: Each of the candidates started with 30 seconds to state why he or she was running for the mayor’s office. See if you can match the candidates with their stated purpose (the answers are at the end of this column):

A) Wilma Pang
B) Tony Hall
C) Terry Baum
D) Phil Ting
E) Paul Currier
F) Michela Alioto-Pier
G) Leland Yee
H) John Avalos
I) Joanna Rees
J) Jeff Adachi
K) Emil Lawrence
L) Ed Lee
M) Dennis Herrera
N) David Chiu
O) Cesar Ascarrunz
P) Bevan Dufty

1) Support the arts
2) Increase voter involvement
3) Manage city hall better
4) Defeat the special interests
5) Put neighborhoods and people first
6) Budget reform, ethics rules, housing creation, jobs
7) Set up a public bank in the city
8) Has proven record of results in city government
9) This is a seminal election; make San Francisco a model city
10) Served on Board of Supervisors
11) Focus on basics: Muni, schools, parks, homeless services
12) More citizen involvement in government
13) Bring private sector experience to mayor’s office to create jobs
14) Terminate up to 25 percent of city/county employees
15) A “pioneer lesbian playwright”
16) “The only successful business person” in the race

These are definitely San Francisco-type issues. Any other city would have had at least some of the candidates pushing lower crime and taxes.

For the mostly younger audience in attendance at our debate, having a large batch of candidates in the room probably brought to mind the Web 2.0 concept of crowdsourcing, wherein a task is carried out by many people. In this case the audience together could try to get meaning out of the candidates. The fact that many of them will try to do so is a hopeful sign about the health of our republic.

The late Erwin Knoll, who was the longtime editor of the left-wing political magazine The Progressive, used to proclaim loudly his refusal to vote in presidential elections. He complained that the candidates on offer were too similar, so why vote? Yes, Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale were so similar to him that he figured they were six of one or half a dozen of the other. Of course many people do not vote, and many others who want to vote are prevented from doing so. Democrats are complaining there is a strong effort across the nation to relieve millions of Democratic-leaning voters of the burden of voting, so Knoll’s philosophy is being realized, just not the way he expected.

Having a smorgasbord of candidates is kind of the opposite of having too few. But likely there are still people who will not vote, who think nothing will change if Ed Lee gets a full term or if Emil Lawrence replaces him.

If you’re just getting tired of election campaigns, then find a bunker in which to hide for the next 12 months. After we’re done with the crowd of people who tried to become San Francisco’s mayor, we still have to deal with the crowd of people who want to become the GOP’s presidential nominee.

If we take the idea of crowdsourcing seriously, maybe we should elect all 16 of the local candidates simultaneously to the mayor’s office. That way we’ll get privatized buses, a central subway, guilt for having a central subway, more development, fewer city employees, pension reforms, and a pioneering lesbian playwright.

The crime and taxes, I guess, we’re stuck with.

Quiz answers: A-1, B-4, C-15, D-2, E-7, F-10, G-8, H-5, I-13, J-12, K-14, L-3, M-9, N-6, O-16, P-11.

John Zipperer is a San Francisco-based writer and editor. E-mail:

March 2012
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