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It's 'Citizen Mayor' vs. Savvy Pro in Bid to Run S.F. : Politics: Willie Brown's tenure as Speaker is scrutinized as much as Frank Jordan's record. Achtenberg is wild card.


SAN FRANCISCO — The blue and white lights flashed, the music blared and more than 100 lesbians filled the dance floor. Near the bar, scores of young women were drinking and talking when, suddenly, one of California's most powerful men strolled in.

It was Friday night at Club Q, the city's popular lesbian hot spot, and here was Assembly Democratic leader Willie Brown, dressed in a gray Brioni double-breasted suit, smiling, shaking hands, exchanging high-fives and receiving hugs.

The 61-year-old political legend, who ruled the Assembly as Speaker for more than 14 years, is running in his first citywide campaign, visiting every corner of San Francisco and asking voters of all stripes to elect him mayor.

"Willie Brown is a career politician with a lot of clout," shouted one enthusiastic Club Q dancer over the music. "If anybody can help San Francisco, he can. No matter what anyone says, Willie is down with the people. I don't care how much his suits cost."

Forced by term limits to give up his Assembly seat next year, Brown has launched an all-out, multimillion-dollar campaign to unseat Mayor Frank Jordan, the pleasant "citizen mayor" who is riding out a shaky first term at City Hall.

Brown, widely regarded as the front-runner in a crowded field of candidates, has come under sharp attack from his rivals for some of his activities while Speaker, including accepting tobacco company contributions and serving as the personal lawyer for cocaine dealers and San Francisco developers.

Indeed, the race has become as much a referendum on Brown's speakership as on Jordan's mayoralty. For the other candidates, it is as if they are running against two incumbents.

Polls taken by local newspapers and the campaigns show Brown a few points ahead of Jordan, but with each man drawing less than 30% of the electorate and a quarter of the voters still undecided.

Jordan, 60, a lifelong police officer and onetime chief, appears to be enjoying his underdog status and maintains he is running a strong race--given that his main foe is a nationally known politician who held power in the state Assembly longer than anyone else.


"The polls are neck and neck," the unassuming, soft-spoken mayor said in an interview. "That shows me he is very vulnerable and that he hasn't done his job. For the first time, people are looking at his record and asking in-depth questions that should have been asked a long time ago."

But Brown, countering criticism that he represents the morally bankrupt politics of Sacramento, casts himself as a leader who knows how to get things done--unlike Jordan.

"San Francisco is clearly in need of leadership," Brown says. "I will bring 31 years of leadership skills to the table. My knowledge of pulling people together will benefit this city in a very handsome way."

Brown might have had a chance of winning it all in the Nov. 7 primary if not for the candidacy of former Clinton Administration official Roberta Achtenberg, an articulate civil rights lawyer who could siphon some of the city's large progressive vote from him.

But most political observers predict that Brown and Jordan will finish 1-2 in the primary and then go head-to-head in a five-week runoff campaign that concludes with another day of balloting Dec. 12.

"Basically, the election is Willie Brown's to lose," observed former Mayor Art Agnos, a Brown ally who lost to Jordan four years ago.

Even in a city known for its progressive politics, the contest to lead San Francisco is unusual in the great diversity it represents and the distinct choices it offers voters:

* Brown, who embodies San Francisco's liberal power structure, would be San Francisco's first black mayor.

* Jordan, who would continue the rightward shift in city politics, is the darling of the city's old-line Irish American community.

* Achtenberg, a former county supervisor, would be the city's first lesbian mayor.

* And while few give businessman Ben Hom any chance to win, the contest's only Republican would be the city's first Chinese American mayor.

Colorful Supervisor Angela Alioto, daughter of former Mayor Joseph Alioto and a favorite among Italian Americans, dropped out of the race last week after a poor showing in the polls.

In San Francisco, a mayor's race is an intensely local event. From Chinatown to Hunters Point to the Sunset District, the city is divided into dozens of distinct neighborhoods, each with its own identity and specific concerns.

This is not a campaign waged on TV; this is a contest slugged out street by street and block by block over issues such as litter, potholes, building height limits and the homeless.

The major candidates have filled their calendars with tea parties, precinct walks, ethnic parades and fund-raisers. And they have been invited to about 60 candidate forums by groups ranging from the New Mission Terrace Improvement Assn. to the Senior Action Network to the Lesbians and Gays of African Descent for Democratic Action.

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