San Francisco, CA

S.F. voters will pick city attorney sooner with special election tied to Newsom recall

Josue Torres
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The San Francisco Board of Supervisors intends to organize a special election related to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s expected recall vote later this year, so that voters may choose the next city attorney as soon as possible.

The supervisors unanimously endorsed a resolution on Tuesday stating their intention to hold the special election. Some supervisors sought to call the election because a recent political shuffle may soon leave the powerful city attorney position available — but they may not have enough time to place the city’s top lawyer on the ballot. After Mayor London Breed named Joaqun Torres to the position earlier this year, the election might feature ballot initiatives as well as a vote on the assessor-recorder.

Breed revealed last month that she will select veteran City Attorney Dennis Herrera to lead the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission after its previous leader was fired last year for suspected misconduct. If Herrera is appointed to the SFPUC, Breed will be allowed to choose a substitute, who would continue to monitor the current investigation into City Hall corruption.

Some members of the Board of Supervisors questioned the mayor’s selection of the new head of the probe.

“We can’t even have the appearance of backroom dealing and slick changing of positions,” stated Supervisor Hillary Ronen. “To regain and maintain the public’s trust in local government, no matter who the mayor appoints to be the city attorney, very quickly afterwards, the public will choose who that permanent person is. That person will not be beholden to the mayor, but will answer to the voters.”

Last month, Herrera and Breed assured that the investigation’s integrity will be maintained regardless of who is named city attorney.

“I welcome the opportunity for the voters to always make the best decision on what they believe should happen in any case,” Breed said Tuesday.

She noted that the board did not object when she chose Mano Raju as public defender to replace the late Jeff Adachi, claiming that “they pick and choose their fights in terms of who they believe should be taken before the voters, or not.”

Breed’s replacement for Herrera would only be required to run this year if picked more than 120 days before the election. She said on Tuesday that she has not addressed the appointment process since her priority is to ensure Herrera is appointed as the next chairman of the Public Utilities Commission.

The panel must still conduct a formal interview with Herrera and accept his nomination. Then he must formally resign from his existing position. That procedure will most likely take a few weeks. Meanwhile, the recall election is expected to take place in the autumn or winter, but the specific date is unknown.

Ronen said that she intended to send a message to the mayor and the commission in order to expedite the appointment, but she confessed at Tuesday’s meeting that it “probably” won’t work.

Supervisor Connie Chan said she was looking forward to a special election so that “the people may make that decision as soon as possible.” Chan expressed her admiration for Herrera but questioned the timing of the appointment.

If the scheduling of the recall election does not allow voters to weigh in on the city attorney job, Herrera’s successor will have to run in the June 2022 midterm election. If the panel rejects Herrera’s nomination, he will serve as city attorney until the conclusion of his term.

Breed said Tuesday that “a number” of individuals have contacted her to show interest in the post of city attorney, but she wouldn’t name who.

Assemblyman David Chiu has been mentioned as a possible replacement for her. Meanwhile, David Campos, the district attorney’s chief of staff, a former progressive supervisor, and Ronen’s predecessor, told The Chronicle last month that he would “definitely consider” competing for the job.

When asked whether he was interested in the post of city attorney on Tuesday, Supervisor Rafael Mandelman said it’s a “wonderful job,” adding that “it’s the mayor’s pick.”

Whatever happens, Herrera has said that running for re-election in 2023 is “unlikely.”

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