Dems dish dirt for Speier seatBy Rachel Gordon
The three Bay Area Democrats vying to succeed Jackie Speier in the state Senate are veteran lawmakers, each with a political base and a cache of ideas -- and enough gumption to try to sink their opponents with a barrage of negative attacks.
The campaigns have been culling old police reports, scouring donor lists, reigniting simmering political grudges and unearthing old scandals in attempts to scorch their rivals.
It's been tantalizing fodder for political junkies and reporters, but has yet to resonate strongly with voters, nearly half of whom have yet to decide which candidate to support, polls have shown.
The Democratic primary race for the District 8 Senate seat began nearly two years ago, when San Francisco Assemblyman Leland Yee and former San Mateo County supervisor Mike Nevin started their campaigns to succeed Speier, termed out of office after eight years in the seat, and the fight began over who could raise the most money and secure the most endorsements.
But the late entry at the start of this year of former Assemblyman Lou Papan, an old-school Democrat whose 20 years as a legislator starting in 1972 made him well known among Peninsula voters, put an interesting twist on the contest, leaving the outcome of the June 6 primary election far from decided.
"It's a real horse race, with Papan being the wild card," said Allan Hoffenblum, a Republican political consultant and editor of California Target Book, a publication that tracks legislative races. "It was a tight race between two, but Papan is a force and you can't count him out."
For Democrats, he added, "It's turned into a real family feud."
Nevin is steamed over Papan's decision to run.
"He's a spoiler, trying to hurt me," Nevin said.
Responded Papan: "I think Mr. Nevin has a problem with the truth. I'm in this to win."
There's a history between the two. The quick version goes like this:
When Papan was being termed out in 2002 as representative for the old 19th Assembly district, Nevin was preparing to run to replace him. But the Legislature, in which Papan was a powerful Democratic leader at the time, redrew the district lines and Nevin's Westlake neighborhood home in Daly City was carved out.
Rather than move, Nevin sat out the race, and Papan's daughter, Gina Papan, jumped in. Nevin backed her opponent, who won. The grudge began.
Yee, a San Francisco resident, is more than happy to see the two Peninsula politicos on the ballot, with the idea that they'll dip into each other's traditional voter base.
"It is a fortuitous situation," Yee said.
The 8th District Senate seat represents an area that encompasses nearly half of San Francisco and stretches along the western Peninsula to Portola Valley. Fifty-five percent of the voters are in San Mateo County. Democrats dominate in the district that is politically moderate by Bay Area standards.
As the sitting representative for the 12th Assembly District, Yee, a former member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, also represents a slice of northern San Mateo County that gives him a small toehold beyond San Francisco's southern border.
Nevin, who made his political mark in San Mateo County, grew up in San Francisco and served in the city's police department, at one time acting as a bodyguard and driver for Mayors Jack Shelley and Joe Alioto who held office in the 1960s and 1970s. Now he is relying heavily on the endorsement of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom to help introduce him to city voters.
Papan, meanwhile, acknowledged his Peninsula pedigree could hamper his chances in the northern part of the district. "The challenge is to break through in San Francisco," he said.
Papan, once known as "The Enforcer" as chair of the powerful Assembly Rules Committee, didn't make many political friends in San Francisco -- but scored points with voters back home -- when he wrestled through a plan that gave the state more control over the San Francisco-owned and operated Hetch Hetchy water and power system.
And while the animosity between Papan and Nevin is well known, the real fight is between Nevin and Yee. Nevin's camp has highlighted Yee's acceptance of campaign money from interests that have benefited from his Assembly votes, putting out one press release under the title, "Yee Gets Rewarded for Voting to Keep Toxic Toys."
In January, Yee was the only Democrat who voted against a bill that would have banned certain potentially harmful chemicals from baby products in California. A short time later, Yee received a $2,000 contribution from a political action committee set up by the plastics industry, which opposed the proposed restrictions.
"He's like a human jukebox. If you want to play, you have to pay," said Nevin campaign spokesman Seamus Murphy.
Yee said he voted "no" on the bill because he found fault with the specifics of the legislation.
A Nevin partisan also has set up a Web site, www.areyoukiddingmee.com, that links to newspaper accounts involving Yee, including an old shoplifting arrest in Hawaii and being stopped by police on Capp Street in San Francisco's Mission District, where prostitutes are known to work.
Yee's campaign manager, Jim Stearns dismissed those incidents as being irrelevant in this race, noting they've been used against Yee in past campaigns and were shrugged off by voters. But, Stearns was eager to point out, was the public aware that Nevin was indicted more than 30 years ago on a charge of federal vote fraud?
In 1975, when Nevin was running for sheriff in San Francisco, he admitted that the year before he had voted in San Francisco when he was living in San Mateo County. Nevin, who was arrested in the last week of that campaign, lost the race. The following spring the San Francisco district attorney dropped the charge against Nevin.
The Yee campaign also has raised Nevin's relationship with BayBio, a regional biosciences trade association, saying he was a lobbyist. Nevin served as a $55,000-a-year public affairs consultant for the organization while he also served on the Board of Supervisors and said he never lobbied on the group's behalf and did nothing illegal nor unethical.
On the issues, the three candidates vary slightly from one another.
Nevin is the only candidate to support Proposition 82, the universal preschool initiative on the June ballot. Papan, differing from his opponents, is against the idea of allowing noncitizens to vote on school-related issues.
All three said they would make funding of public education a top priority. They also back same-sex marriage, support health care reform to give more uninsured residents access to medical benefits and want to expand housing opportunities for the middle class.
Although two Republicans are campaigning for the Senate seat, Michael Skipakevich and Oscar Braun, the winner of the Democrat primary will be the heavy favorite in November's general election.
Professional experience: Former San Mateo County supervisor and Daly City mayor, retired San Francisco police officer
Hometown: San Francisco
Residence: Daly City's Westlake District
Family: married, three children
Endorsements: U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.; state Sen. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough; San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom; Redwood City Mayor Barbara Pierce; South San Francisco Mayor Joe Fernekes; California Labor Federation; California Coalition of Law Enforcement Associations; San Mateo County Farm Bureau
Web site: mikenevin.com.
Professional experience: Former assemblyman, former Daly City councilman, real estate agent, insurance broker
Hometown: Springfield, Mass.
Family: widower, three children, one deceased
Endorsements: Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante; San Francisco Residential Builders Association; Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena; Monterey County Sheriff Mike Kanalakis; Robert Miller, president of Millbrae School District Board of Trustees; state Sen. Elaine Alquist, D-San Jose; former state Sen. Nick Petris D-Oakland; former Burlingame Mayor George Corey
Web site: loupapan.com.
Professional experience: Assemblyman, former San Francisco supervisor and Board of Education member, child psychologist
Hometown: Guangdong province, China
Residence: San Francisco's Sunset District
Family: married, four children
Endorsements: Sierra Club; California Teachers Association; San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris; Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles; state Sen. Carole Migden, D-San Francisco; Equality California; Burlingame Mayor Cathy Baylock; San Francisco DOGS
Web site: lelandyee.com.
Copyright ©2006 San Francisco Chronicle. Published 05/08/2006.