lee.debate.jpgA debate tonight between San Francisco’s mayoral candidates that focused largely on the issues of the city’s black residents ended with a focus on one of the candidates who did not attend–the current mayor.

Interim Mayor Ed Lee was one of four invited candidates who did not come to tonight’s forum, organized by the Fillmore/Lower Fillmore Neighborhood Association and the District 5 Democratic Club and held at a conference center on Fillmore Street in the city’s Western Addition neighborhood.

The debate mostly addressed the issues of a lack of adequate jobs, affordable housing, schools and other city services for San Francisco’s black residents.

Instead of attending, Lee was at a pub crawl in the Lower Haight neighborhood before he attended a previously scheduled meeting with business and community leaders on Cathedral Hill later this evening, according to his campaign spokesman Tony Winnicker.

Winnicker defended the decision, saying Lee will be doing many more pub crawls in the future.

“The mayor talked directly and in-depth to dozens of real, undecided voters–not political insiders–about the issues they care about,” he said. “They’re also fun.”

But at the end of tonight’s debate, former supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier blasted Lee for going to bars instead of joining the other candidates.

“He’s on a pub crawl as we sit here … talking about the issues of the black community,” Alioto-Pier said. “Running for mayor isn’t always going to be a party, it’s about looking you in the eye and talking about tough things.”

Jed Crawford, president of the neighborhood association that organized the event, said he was disappointed that Lee didn’t attend, but hoped it would spur his community to reach out to the mayor.

“Maybe it’s good he didn’t come, now we’ll be motivated to meet him one-on-one,” Crawford said.

Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, City Attorney Dennis Herrera and Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting also didn’t attend tonight’s debate because of previously scheduled events, but Chiu and Herrera taped pre-recorded answers to some of the questions asked of the other candidates.

Besides the drama over Lee’s absence, the candidates spent most of the debate tackling issues important to San Francisco’s black community.

Public Defender Jeff Adachi talked about “the direct correlation between poverty and crime” and how reducing crime would only come after the city gives more support to its low-income residents.

Supervisor John Avalos said City Hall supports big businesses like Twitter but does not give enough support to small, often minority-owned businesses in the city.

Green Party candidate Terry Joan Baum said “we need to break up the machine” at City Hall and “become the city outsiders think we already are.”

Venture capitalist Joanna Rees said City Hall also needs more black representation because “our city government needs to reflect the face of our community.”

Former Supervisor Bevan Dufty also called for more black representation at City Hall and condemned attacks by Herrera and others on Mohammed Nuru, the city’s newly appointed acting director of the Department of Public Works.

Earlier this week, Herrera released a statement criticizing the appointment of Nuru, calling it “cronyism” and “poor judgment.”

Nuru had been a target of an investigation by the city attorney’s office in 2004 into possible illegal campaign activity by a city-funded nonprofit he headed.

State Sen. Leland Yee said the lack of adequate affordable housing and jobs are “pushing more and more of our families out of here,” while former Supervisor Tony Hall says the city has to enable more black families to own their homes.

“They’re getting chased out of their neighborhood because they don’t own it,” Hall said.

One member of the crowd at tonight’s debate, Sharen Hewitt, executive director of the Community Leadership Academy & Emergency Response Project (CLAER), which provides immediate assistance to victims of violence in the city, said she appreciated that most candidates who showed up “minimized the mudslinging” and addressed the issues.

However, Hewitt said she was left unsatisfied by most of the candidates’ answers.

“Showing up and just being physically present doesn’t mean you’re ready to be the boss of me,” she said.

Hewitt said city officials have to address the issue of poverty since that often leads to the other problems with crime, schools and housing, not just for the black community but for all communities in San Francisco.

“This isn’t a Western Addition problem, this is our city’s problem and it’s going to continue to have one” until it’s solved, she said.

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

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