SAN FRANCISCO — Fed up with the liberal leadership of Art Agnos, this troubled city picked as its new mayor a nice-guy career cop who calls Gandhi his hero but who won over voters by promising less official compassion for panhandlers and welfare cheats.
It may seem peculiar for San Francisco--city of tolerance and whatever-works lifestyles--to crown former Police Chief Frank Jordan as its white knight. Theories abounded Wednesday about the end of liberalism here and anti-incumbent fever, but the simplest answer may be that Jordan--a soft-spoken native son with beguiling Irish charm--is just the right man for the times.
"Frank Jordan is like Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," said Duane Garrett, a San Francisco lawyer and veteran Democratic Party strategist who supported Agnos. "He's honorable, he's likable, and he's the sort of citizen-politician people feel we need now."
DeWitt Burnham Jr., a contractor and third-generation San Franciscan, agreed: "San Francisco is a great and special place, and under Agnos it was going down. Frank won't let that happen and that's why we want Frank."
Jordan, 56, was being congratulated Wednesday for doing what no candidate has accomplished in a mayor's race here since 1943--toppling an incumbent. Unofficial election returns show Jordan captured 52% of the vote to 48% for fellow Democrat Agnos.
On Wednesday, the bleary-eyed mayor-elect spoke of a new beginning for San Francisco, of getting the city "back on track." He thanked his supporters for waging the good war, but also took pains to reassure the disappointed and the anxious--including gays and lesbians leery of a nasty anti-homosexual fringe drawn to Jordan's campaign.
The new Administration, Jordan pledged, will be one where "everyone will matter and no one will be forgotten. . . . San Francisco is going to move forward and you're going to be listened to. . . . I'm extending my hand. I want you to feel City Hall is your home, a place you can be comfortable."
Jordan, who was attacked in TV and radio ads by Agnos for not condemning the anti-homosexual rhetoric of some of his supporters, in fact drew unexpected support even in Agnos strongholds such as the heavily gay Castro district.
"There are homophobes everywhere, and you can't blame Frank for that," Chris Bowman, a gay Republican consultant who supported Jordan, said Wednesday. "Those ads were despicable--typical of the kind of creature Art Agnos is--but a lot of people didn't buy them."
Across town, meanwhile, the old mayor appeared in remarkably fine spirits Wednesday as he assessed the turn of events that left him jobless. He conceded that voters had clearly said "we don't want Art Agnos" but declared himself "at peace" despite the grim news.
"I've had my shot and I've done the very best I can," said Agnos, 53, who professed to have no firm plans for life after City Hall. As time passes, he predicted hopefully, voters will "appreciate me and my accomplishments more and more."
Perhaps so, but for now, most San Franciscans clearly aren't feeling particularly grateful. Many observers believe Tuesday's results are more a story of dump-Art fervor than elect-Frank enthusiasm.
"Frank Jordan would not have been elected mayor at any other time in San Francisco history," said Supervisor Roberta Achtenberg, an Agnos backer. "This was a vote against Art all the way."
A former state assemblyman, Agnos swept into City Hall with 70% of the vote four years ago and then managed to alienate much of the grass-roots support that propelled him into office. Uncomfortable with the ceremonial tasks that go with being mayor in a city that likes to greet its leaders at bus stops and the ballet, Agnos closeted himself and relied on a closed inner circle for guidance, critics said.
Gradually, voters became disgusted with his stubborn inertia on issues like what to do about a mushrooming downtown homeless colony derisively dubbed Camp Agnos. Colleagues, meanwhile, grew resentful of his hubris and abrasive brand of hardball politics.
"I found Art quite mean-spirited and completely incapable of working with people who had opinions different from his own," said Supervisor Harry Britt, who is gay and who voted for Jordan. "He came to San Francisco as an outsider and he remained one for four years. So people--including the progressive community--simply had to look somewhere else."
Some observers, however, saw something more in the selection of Jordan. They said the retired police chief's ascendancy is a sign that San Francisco is tilting to the right, turning away from the liberal ideals championed faithfully by Agnos because things such as dirty streets, crime and the mounting numbers of homeless have become more important.
"The liberal community in San Francisco is no longer a monolithic bloc," said former Mayor Joseph Alioto. "A year ago it would have been unthinkable that the liberal community would vote in favor of a police chief against a social worker with quite valid liberal credentials."