[Hpn] San Francisco, CA - Green win could have impact beyond city race - USA TODAY - December 02, 2003

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Green win could have impact beyond city race

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By John Ritter - USA TODAY - December 02, 2003

San Francisco, CA - This unabashedly liberal city —
caldron of protest, celebrator of the outlandish and the
fringe — is flirting with a whole new leftist bent.

A candidate from the eco-friendly, ultra-progressive Green
Party is threatening what passes for political convention
here with a serious run at City Hall.

Shaggy-haired Matt Gonzalez, darling of the young, the hip
and the non-propertied classes, is within striking distance
of an upset in next Tuesday's mayoral runoff.

If the 38-year-old lawyer wins, this overwhelmingly
Democratic city of 791,000 would become the USA's largest to
be run by a Green mayor.

His opponent, socially connected entrepreneur Gavin Newsom,
architect of a get-tough policy to deal with the city's
perennial homeless problem, has seen his once formidable
lead shrink.

A poll last month by local TV station KPIX had
the race a dead heat. Both men sit on the elected Board of
Supervisors that governs the city.

A Green victory here not only would raise the fledgling
party's profile but also could hasten the defection of
liberals from the Democratic Party.

After the Oct. 7 election of Republican Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger, political analysts expect the state
Democratic Party to move toward the political center to
compete with the popular former actor and his centrist
policies.

That would alienate liberal Democrats and send them to the
Green Party, analysts say. If enough Greens desert
Democrats, Republicans could solidify their hold on the
governor's office and perhaps win seats in Congress.

Democrats hold a 35-20 advantage in California's
congressional delegation.

A Green ascendancy in California also could have national
political implications. If Greens siphon off enough
Democrats, Republicans could win a plurality of the
statewide vote, handing California's 55 electoral votes to a
GOP presidential candidate.

That prospect brought out heavyweight Democrats from former
vice president Al Gore to Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Nancy
Pelosi, the city's congresswoman, to campaign for Newsom.
President Bush all but wrote off California in 2000, and no
Republican has carried the most populous state since his
father in 1988.

"If you really had a serious Green candidate taking votes
away from a Democratic candidate, you could flip a state
that's fairly liberal in a Republican direction," says Bruce
Cain, a political science professor at the University of
California-Berkeley. "So it would be a huge boon to the
Republican Party to have the Greens thrive in California."

Green Party gains exposure

California is the epicenter of the USA's Green movement with
more than 165,000 registered voters, just over 1% of the
electorate. The party won official status to appear on the
state's ballots in 1992 and gained priceless exposure in
this year's campaign to recall Gov. Gray Davis when its
candidate, Peter Camejo, shared debate stages with the
major-party candidates.

In 2000, more than 400,000 Californians, nearly 4% of the
electorate, voted for Green Party presidential nominee Ralph
Nader. Many resentful Democrats believe Nader won enough
votes in 2000 to tip several closely contested states to
Bush and deny Gore the White House.

Greens push environmental responsibility, grassroots
democracy, social justice and non-violence. But Gonzalez, a
Democrat-turned-Green, downplays his affiliation in a bid to
attract moderate Democrats. Officially, the election is
non-partisan; party labels don't appear on ballots.

The rest of the country would label both Newsom and Gonzalez
liberal, but they part ways on many issues, including one that
has bedeviled politicians here for years, the homeless.

San Francisco has had one of the nation's most tolerant
homeless policies, epitomized by a monthly cash payment of
up to $395 for homeless singles.

Newsom, a restaurant owner whose business ventures have been
backed by billionaire family friend Gordon Getty, wants to
replace the payments with housing, job training and other
services.

Fed up with panhandling, public urination and homeless
camps, voters by a wide margin approved his "care not cash"
measure last year, but it required Board of Supervisors
approval. The board and its president, Gonzalez, rejected
it.

"If you look at the city in left-right terms, it's pretty
evenly divided," Democratic pollster David Binder says. "So
the fact that Newsom was so far ahead initially is probably
more of a testament to the bump he gets out of the homeless
issue."

Binder thinks many liberal homeowners who otherwise would
back Gonzalez lean to Newsom because they want tougher
homeless policies.

Says Cain: "The older established community in San Francisco
is very worried about the degeneration of the quality of
life in the city as a result of the homeless, the dirt, the
disorder that the city seems to be in."

Race is tightening

Newsom, 36, is married to Kimberly Guilfoyle, the San
Francisco prosecutor who won convictions last year against
owners of a dog that fatally mauled a young woman inside an
apartment building. He's seen as an ally of big developers
who remade sections of the city with offices and commercial
space during the dot-com boom.

That makeover, plus skyrocketing real estate prices, has
forced many middle-class families into the suburbs. Now
Gonzalez counts in his base many of the young renters who
surged into the city in the 1990s.

A former public defender, Gonzalez would raise taxes on
properties that sell for more than $2 million and transfer
control of the city's electric power system to a public
authority, policies Newsom blasts as fiscally irresponsible
and anti-business.

With backing from business and labor, Newsom has raised $3.3
million, compared with Gonzalez's $400,000. But Gonzalez
benefits from an energetic core of young campaign workers.
And he got a boost from an appearance by actor Martin Sheen,
a liberal activist and star of NBC's The West Wing.

The two supervisors beat five other candidates to set up the
runoff. Newsom won 42% of the November vote to Gonzalez's
21%, but analysts say most of those who didn't vote for
either now support Gonzalez.

"It has definitely tightened up," says Binder, whose latest
poll gives Newsom an 8-percentage point edge. "Matt's an
attractive candidate, and voters like him. He's fresh, he
has values he's committed to and people respect that."

Newsom enjoys the support of Mayor Willie Brown, forced from
office after eight years by term limits, but not the range
of Brown's Democratic Party contacts.

Cain says Newsom can't call on the Sacramento interest
groups, party regulars and consultants who always geared up
for Brown, a former speaker of the state Assembly.

"Gavin doesn't have many of the advantages that Willie had
when he was fighting off the left," Cain says. "So we've got
someone who's not as firmly tied into the Democratic
establishment fighting someone who's much more firmly tied
into the alternative establishment.

"That could end up making it close."

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