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Political Novice Jordan Faces Agnos in Runoff : S.F. vote: Ex-police chief outpolls mayor, 32% to 28%. But backers of two defeated liberals could drift to Agnos.

November 07, 1991|RICHARD C. PADDOCK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN FRANCISCO — As the city's police chief, Frank Jordan was so mild-mannered that when he disagreed with his boss, Mayor Art Agnos, he kept it to himself.

Even when Jordan quit his post a year ago--to protest Agnos' budget cuts, he says now--he left with quiet dignity, not an assault on the mayor's policies.

But now, in his first political campaign, the career policeman has proved adept enough at attacking the mayor he once served to finish first in Tuesday's election and force Agnos into a runoff next month.

By promising that he can do better than Agnos at running the troubled city, the 56-year-old Jordan took 32% of the vote in a crowded field to 28% for Agnos, who was elected in a landslide four years ago.

While some San Franciscans wondered whether the liberal city is ready to elect a onetime police chief as mayor, Jordan quickly began Wednesday trying to shake the label of conservative and emphasize his "sensitivity and compassion."

"I want this city to work for lesbians and gays, for minorities, for women and all the people who live and work here," Jordan said at a news conference at a plumbers union hall.

Gentle and soft-spoken, Jordan had a reputation as a strict but fair police chief, and he prides himself on requiring sensitivity training for the Police Department and for keeping officers stricken with AIDS on the force as long as possible.

Even Agnos described Jordan as "a nice guy," but the mayor suggested Wednesday that Jordan may be too much of a milquetoast to stand up and fight for the city.

"You've got to be tough," said Agnos, who has a reputation as an abrasive and vindictive mayor. "Is he going to be a leader, or just be nice to everybody?"

Jordan, like Agnos a Democrat, was born in the city's working-class Mission District when it was an Irish enclave. His mother died when he was 10, and he spent much of the next six years living with various relatives. His father was a painter until he became ill from lead-based paints, and then worked for five breweries in the city.

Nostalgia for the simpler, cleaner life of old San Francisco has been a frequent theme in his campaign. He seems to yearn for the days of San Francisco's manufacturing prowess and for close-knit, extended families that care for each other.

Like many Irish-American youths of his generation, Jordan became a police officer--but spent nearly half of his 33-year career in administrative work and crime prevention. Once criticized as an "empty holster" policeman with little street experience, he responded, "Better an empty holster than an empty head."

Jordan's five-year tenure as police chief was marred by episodes of violence involving his department.

In 1989, a protest in the heavily gay Castro District turned ugly when police officers swept the streets, clubbing demonstrators. High-level police officers--including Jordan's brother Jack, a deputy chief--were disciplined but the stigma remains, particularly among the city's large bloc of gay and lesbian voters.

Among his accomplishments, Jordan cites the recruiting of more gay and lesbian officers, establishment of a hate crimes unit and his promotion of a program to slow the spread of AIDS--by urging officers not to enforce a state law that prohibited giving clean needles to drug users.

Appointed by then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein in 1986, Jordan served for nearly three years under Agnos. "There was never a cross word between us," Agnos recalled. "He never disagreed with anything I wanted, even when I asked for his opinion."

In the politics of San Francisco, where the only Republican in the race for mayor came in eighth with 724 votes, Jordan is widely perceived as conservative, though in many other places he would be regarded as almost liberal.

Tuesday's balloting indicates his appeal is strongest among whites, heterosexuals, older people and higher-income voters.

For Jordan, the challenge in the runoff campaign will be to convince voters that he is a moderate, centrist candidate who would represent the interests of all the city's residents.

Although Jordan placed first among the 11 candidates in the race, he will have his work cut out for him to pull together a majority by Dec. 10. Two liberals, whose supporters are likely to drift toward Agnos, polled nearly a third of the votes cast: Supervisor Angela Alioto received 19% of the vote and Assessor Richard Hongisto won 9%.

At the same time, Supervisor Tom Hsieh, whose conservative campaign touched on the same themes as Jordan's, received only 10% of the vote.

In the glow of his primary election victory, Jordan said he had beaten the odds by getting this far.

"When I declared my candidacy last winter, no one gave me a snowball's chance in hell," he said. " . . . I decided to let the people of San Francisco make up their own minds."

The willingness of the city's voters to take more conservative stands Tuesday was exemplified by the rejection of Proposition M, a measure that would have strengthened the city's rent-control law by preventing landlords from significantly raising the rent on vacant units.

In keeping with the city's liberal tradition, however, San Francisco became the first city to pass a measure guaranteeing 0.5% of the city budget for children's programs. The initiative, which would force the city to increase spending on children by more than $13 million annually, won by a margin of 55% to 45%.

The voters also rejected a measure to repeal the city's law allowing domestic partners to register their relationships at City Hall. By a margin of nearly 4 to 1, the city approved an advisory measure calling for fewer restrictions on the use of marijuana in treating various illnesses, including AIDS, cancer and glaucoma.

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