Technology will be the topic when nine candidates vying to become the next mayor of San Francisco gather for a debate Thursday evening.

At the debate, titled SFOpen 2011, the mayoral contenders will be talking about how they would use technology to improve the city, increase civic participation and reduce costs.

The candidates will also be answering questions submitted online by the public. People can vote for their favorite questions at to encourage debate moderator Mitch Kapor to ask them.

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 make up the nine candidates attending Thursday night’s debate.

More than 30 candidates have filed to run for mayor in what appears to be a wide-open race this November. 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.

Thursday’s debate is being organized by, GovFresh and the Gray Area Foundation for the Arts. It is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. at Pier 38 in the offices of Automattic, which runs the popular blogging service WordPress.

Tickets are already sold out for the debate, but it will be streamed online at

Some of the questions with the most votes on the debate’s website so far are about the topics of participatory budget processes and how to use technology to improve San Francisco Municipal Railway service.

The nine candidates had all gathered for one previous debate last month at University of San Francisco on the topics of community service and education in the city.

There were no fireworks at that debate and Thursday’s will likely be cordial, too, because of the city’s ranked-choice voting system, which requires voters to list their top three picks for the position and will likely force the candidates to align with some opponents to get second- and third-place votes.

Thursday’s debate will also kick off “The Summer of Smart,” a four-month experiment in urban innovation and open government sponsored by the Gray Area Foundation for the Arts, San Francisco Department of Technology, and other organizations.

For more information about the project, visit

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

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