vote_lede_template.jpgNine candidates vying to become the next mayor of San Francisco gathered for their first debate tonight, which was cordial and collaborative, much like they said they would be if elected in November.

The mayoral candidates gathered at the University of San Francisco for a Mayoral Forum on Service, which focused on issues affecting community service and education in the city.

State Sen. Leland Yee, Supervisors David Chiu and John Avalos, City Attorney Dennis Herrera, former Supervisors Tony Hall, Bevan Dufty and Michela Alioto-Pier, City Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting and venture capitalist Joanna Rees made up the nine candidates invited to tonight’s debate.

More than 30 candidates have filed to run for mayor in what could be a wide-open race. Interim Mayor Ed Lee, who took over when former Mayor Gavin Newsom was elected the state’s lieutenant governor, has said he does not plan to run for reelection.

Tonight’s debate was free of arguments between candidates, which was partly due to the forum’s format, which only allowed for opening statements, answers to prepared questions, and a brief closing statement.

But the friendly atmosphere may also have been because of the city’s ranked-choice voting system, which requires voters to list their top three picks for the position, and will likely require the candidates to align with some opponents in order to get second- and third-place votes.

Many of the candidates described their upbringing and experience in public service or the business sector, and answered questions about how they might deal with looming budget deficits and how they can help struggling neighborhoods in the city.

“These are very tough times for cities around the country,” Avalos said. “Local governments are forced to do more with less.”

Many candidates said collaborations between the government and community groups were essential to maintaining the quality of life in the city.

“The best we can do in government, we achieve when we have the involvement of the community,” Herrera said.

Yee said, “We have to keep the notion of community participation alive” to counteract dwindling help from the state level.

Dufty said San Franciscans know how to “find common ground in this very small, special place.”

Some candidates touted their accomplishments in public office. Chiu said he has helped change the tone at City Hall since becoming the president of the Board of Supervisors three years ago and is helping to formulate a pension reform plan to help lessen the city’s budget deficit.

Ting said his work in launching GoSolarSF, the city’s first municipal solar energy incentive program, has led to “a cleaner and greener San Francisco,” including solar panels on four times as many house rooftops now as there were when the program started in 2008.

Hall touted his 30-plus years of experience in various city departments, and accomplishments as a supervisor, including restoring the Ocean Avenue commercial district and Harding Park Golf Course, while Alioto-Pier talked about her work as a policy advisor in the Clinton White House and advocate for the disabled.

Rees, the lone candidate among the nine with no public sector experience, emphasized her business background and commitment to innovation.

“I’m not part of the City Hall crowd,” she said.

She said if each of the candidates were as open to embracing innovation as she is, “I would be supporting them and not running.”

With the subject of the forum being service, and all of the questions asked by students from USF and local high schools, all of the candidates encouraged youth to go volunteer and help their community during these tough economic times.

“We do have problems, but this is an exciting time,” Alioto-Pier said. “San Francisco has always been a place of adversity, but we’ve always won.”

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

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