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Mark Leno Is Not Kicking Himself for Skipping Out on the Mayor's Race

No regrets, says the state senator. But do you believe him?


State senator Mark Leno looked great yesterday. He always does. The dapper legislator stood on a corner near Washington Square Park with other Aaron Peskin backers and insisted he didn't regret not running for mayor against Ed Lee: "You make your decisions with the information you have at the time," he said. "I didn't want to lose my first race." 

If Leno has no regrets, however, many on this city’s political left do. Last night, Lee turned in an alarmingly soft showing for a sitting mayor running against a troop of shoestring protest candidates—as of the moment, he stands at 56 percent. When you consider his presumably strong performance among Asian voters—and the corresponding weak tally among all other ethnicities—the incumbent’s totals were meager, writ large. 

That, however, doesn’t necessarily mean Leno would have taken Lee. And, make no mistake, win or lose, this would have been a nasty and brutish election; Leno and Lee are both solid candidates because they have large, overlapping demographic pools of probable backers. And that, of course, would make for a bloody election in which allegiances are tested and broken and careers are wrecked. Kind of like Game of Thrones, but with better tailored suits. 

A candidate polling evenly with the incumbent mayor around last Thanksgiving, as Leno was, would have been a strong contender. But, then, Leno couldn’t have known how precipitously the air would leak out of Lee’s balloon; he certainly couldn’t have known about the allegations of corruption that would be made, in writing, by Shrimp Boy’s lawyers. 

For by then it was too late. Lee’s handlers, who spent $1.5 million to outclass the likes of Francisco Herrera, Amy Weiss, and Broke-Ass Stuart, pulled a neat head game on Leno et al. When would-be challengers were considering entering the race in late 2014, the mayor fund-raised voraciously. This spooked the potential opposition and, additionally, prevented that money from going to others—it sucked the air out of the room. By the time Lee’s performance numbers plummeted to Congressional levels and Shrimp Boy’s legal team was firing off its salvos, the die had been cast.  

Furthermore, if pressed by Leno or other seasoned competition, Team Lee had a wide array of quasi-achievements it could use to fend off attacks. Those concerned by the city’s Malthusian housing situation could be placated by Lee’s championing of Proposition A, the $310 million affordable housing bond, which passed with flying colors last night. Those concerned by the city’s Zimbabwe-level unaffordability could be placated by Lee’s role in raising San Francisco’s minimum wage. Those alarmed by our homeless crisis could be told wondrous tales of our Homeless Navigation Center

And, finally, while Lee’s invocation of a tone of civility at City Hall was always a little farcical, he was personally always perceived as civil. Lee may not inspire voters and he has utterly no coattails—but most voters weren’t angry at him as they were, to varying degrees, with many of his predecessors. 

Those are the factors Leno considered before opting to not put his unbeaten electoral streak on the line; he also stringently denied cutting any deal with Lee's supporters to keep him from entering the race. If he had, it might have made more sense to some of the revelers at Peskin’s party, drunk as they were on optimism, hope, and Miller Lite. Leno’s cautious pragmatism earned him a feline epithet from one party-goer that we’ll not repeat here. But nobody was fool enough to say that to Leno. His unbeaten streak, undoubtedly, will be put to the test on some other day.  

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