old_computer.jpgSan Francisco mayoral candidates gathered for a debate this evening on the best ways to use technology to improve the city.

The SFOpen 2011 debate brought together nine contenders who hope to be elected San Francisco’s next mayor in November and asked them questions submitted online.

State Sen. Leland Yee, Supervisors John Avalos and David Chiu, 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 attending the event, held at Pier 38 in the offices of Automattic, which runs the popular blogging service WordPress.

The candidates stressed the importance of transparency in government and the need to increase innovation to improve the lives of residents.

Dufty said, “Being open means accepting the fact that you’re not perfect,” and pledged to post his daily schedule to show the public who he was meeting with each day.

Herrera said he wanted to establish an office of innovation and a chief digital officer because “we have to have the mechanisms to make sure that information is getting out to the public,” while Alioto-Pier said the city’s budget should use more input from the public and should be searchable online.

Ting said public participation through new technology was key to improving the city.
“Government always works better when you have more say,” he said.

Answering a question on how to use technology to improve San Francisco Municipal Railway service, Chiu pointed out that he was the only one of the nine candidates who does not have a car and takes Muni nearly every day.

Avalos criticized the lack of technology like the NextBus service at many transit stops in the southern part of the city compared to ones up north, saying the city’s transit first policy “sounds very hollow” to those residents.

Yee criticized a $384,000 severance package that outgoing Muni chief Nathaniel Ford is receiving when he leaves the agency at the end of the month.

As with the first debate last month, the candidates struck a mostly cordial tone this evening. Because of the city’s ranked-choice voting system, which requires voters to list their top three picks for the position, candidates will likely have to align with competitors to get second- and third-place votes.

Some candidates did criticize their opponents though. Rees, the lone one of the nine who has not been an elected official in the city, said the city lacks the leadership to make San Francisco’s government a leader on the technology front despite the wealth of tech companies in the area.

“I often feel like we’re the shoemaker’s kids who don’t have any shoes,” she said.

Hall, who served as supervisor from 2000 to 2004, criticized some recent decisions by the current board on projects such as Treasure Island and Parkmerced, which he said were made behind closed doors.

The tech debate was naturally marred by issues with technology–the microphone the candidates used did not work early on in the debate, and the website that streamed video from the event stopped working briefly even though it appeared from the site’s statistics that no more than about 40 people were watching it online simultaneously.

More than 30 candidates in all have filed to run for mayor in what appears to 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.

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

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