SAN FRANCISCO — Former Police Chief Frank Jordan took a strong lead Tuesday night in the race for mayor, and appeared headed for a Dec. 10 runoff with Mayor Art Agnos.
Agnos, whose popularity had slumped badly since he won election in a landslide four years ago, was holding on to second place based on absentee ballots and returns from 56% of the precincts.
Jordan led with 33% and Agnos had 27% Supervisor Angela Alioto, the daughter of former mayor Joseph Alioto and once pegged as the candidate who could beat Agnos, trailed with 18%.
Because early returns, including absentee ballots, tend to reflect more conservative voters, Jordan's lead was expected to shrink as more votes were counted while Agnos and Alioto were expected to fare better. If no one wins outright, the two top finishers will face each other in the December runoff.
The 53-year-old Agnos, widely blamed by residents for the deterioration of San Francisco and the increasing number of homeless people on the streets, was the focus of relentless attacks from the four major challengers in the race. He admitted making mistakes as mayor but blamed the city's decline on the 1989 earthquake, the national recession and cutbacks in state and federal aid.
Earlier in the day, the mayor acknowledged he had little chance of winning by capturing more than 50% of the vote. Aides were privately bracing for the possibility that he might finish second.
"I'm very confident," Agnos said just before casting his own vote. "For the last four months, we have been giving the voters our message. Today they give us theirs."
Voters were also deciding the fate of a host of ballot measures, including an initiative that would require the city to spend 0.5% of its budget on services for children. With more than half of the vote in, the measure was narrowly headed for passage.
Proposition J, also known as the "Children's Amendment," would increase the city's spending on children by more than $13 million annually by 1993. Advocates said it would bring needed assistance to children who are often ignored by government.
Opponents of the initiative contended that it was bad fiscal policy to set the budget by ballot measure and said the city would have to cut other services or raise new revenues to finance increased spending for children.
Also on the ballot was Proposition K, a proposal to repeal the city's domestic partners law that allows unmarried couples to register their relationship at City Hall.
Voters were rejecting the measure by a margin of 58% to 42%.
In a separate measure, voters were overwhelmingly approving Proposition P, an advisory measure calling upon the legislature to enact a law that would make it easier to use marijuana to in treatments for diseases such as glaucoma, AIDS and cancer.
Agnos won 70% of the vote four years ago, and his leadership in the aftermath of the 1989 earthquake was hailed, but polls show that voters have become dissatisfied with the mayor.
Neither of the city's two major newspapers endorsed Agnos this time. The San Francisco Chronicle backed Jordan; the San Francisco Examiner endorsed no one.
Of the major candidates for mayor, Jordan and Supervisor Tom Hsieh attacked Agnos from the right, accusing him of being too tolerant of the homeless and adopting taxation policies that drove businesses out of the city. Jordan, who received campaign assistance from allies of former Mayor Dianne Feinstein, enjoyed considerable financial support from the business community.
Angela Alioto and Assessor Richard Hongisto, former allies of the mayor, challenged Agnos from the left, charging that he had not done enough to help the homeless and that he had not been sensitive to environmental concerns. Alioto and Hongisto also sought to cut into Agnos' base by appealing to the city's large bloc of gay and lesbian voters.
Alioto was hurt by questions about her personal finances, including reports she had borrowed heavily against her property and that she had received $254,000 in advances from her father's law firm that she spent on an unsuccessful 1986 campaign for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
Alioto, who has served on the board since 1988, sought to deflect such criticism by charging that she only faced questions about her finances because she was a woman. As the only woman among the major candidates, she emphasized her experience as a mother of four children.