Former Police Chief Frank Jordan, galvanizing voters with his call to clear the city of its homeless and its litter, swept to victory Tuesday night, decisively defeating the mayor of the last four years, Art Agnos.
Concluding a bitter five-week mayoral campaign, Jordan surged ahead of Agnos in the balloting, propelled by an avalanche of absentee ballots that were expected to total nearly a third of all the votes cast.
With more than 93% of the votes counted, Jordan led Agnos by a margin of 52.5% to 47.4%. Cheered by hundreds of supporters, the former chief claimed victory shortly after 11 p.m. at his election-night celebration.
"This victory is one that is very exhilarating for me and also very humbling," Jordan said. "I am gratified because I see that sea of faces that represents every cross-section of San Francisco."
At the mayor's somber election-night headquarters, Agnos conceded the election shortly before midnight. Pledging his support to Jordan, he said, "We're going to show the same kind of determination we showed in this campaign to help Frank Jordan to be the best mayor he can be so this can be the best city this can be."
The lackluster showing for Agnos, who won election four years ago in a landslide, illustrated the degree to which he alienated the city's voters--including his own liberal base--during his term in office.
By contrast, Jordan, an amiable moderate, won the support of the city's centrists and some liberals as well as the conservative voters who make up his strongest core of supporters.
Seeking to heal the divisions of the hotly contested campaign, Jordan called on both sides to unite to begin solving the city's problems.
"One thing is clear: We cannot make the progress we want in this city if we are divided as victor and vanquished," he said. "All San Francisco must come together now."
The election drew San Francisco's largest absentee turnout ever in a non-presidential election, with more than 59,000 voters mailing in their ballots. Election officials predicted 192,000 people would vote.
Both campaigns worked hard to get absentee ballots in the hands of their likely supporters. But Jordan won more than 61% of those who voted absentee. While Agnos appeared to win narrowly among those who actually went to the polls, it was not enough to overcome Jordan's margin among the absentees.
Agnos had been widely criticized for an abrasive personality, mismanagement at City Hall, a surge in the homeless population and San Francisco's economic decline.
In an attempt to win a second chance, Agnos apologized repeatedly for his errors, saying at one point, "I'm a human being and I'm not perfect. I wish there were some parts of my personality that people beyond my mother could love."
In a city known for its liberal politics, the former police chief mounted a strong challenge to Agnos by attacking his administration of the city and campaigning on a theme of restoring San Francisco's greatness.
Jordan, a career police officer, received broad backing from the city's more conservative voters, including some who resent the political clout of the city's large homosexual population.
Jordan, while trying not to antagonize his conservative base, also sought to reach out to the city's moderate and liberal voters--pledging, for example, to work with the city's gay community.
"The reason I ran for mayor is because this city is not running," Jordan said. "I represent the average citizen who wants change."
Much of Agnos' fate rested on his ability to turn out voters who supported his policies but were likely to sit out the election because they disliked his record and his personality.
To that end, Agnos attempted to turn the political debate into a referendum on ideology. Emphasizing his liberal credentials, the former social worker sought to rally his supporters with campaign ads that questioned Jordan's compassion for the less fortunate and the anti-homosexual bias of some of his backers.
In a city often divided by neighborhood loyalties, Jordan drew heavy support from fellow Irish-Americans who dominate the city's Sunset district. There, where the Jordan campaign signs are as ubiquitous as the juniper bushes, voters said Tuesday they believe the former police chief will return the city to its former glory.
"He wants the pendulum to swing backward, not forward, and so do I," said Jerry Motak, owner of Standard Termite & Pest Control, who said he worked on Agnos' campaign four years ago. "He's got the experience of a police chief so I believe he can stop crime. He can provide the kind of strong leadership we haven't seen in a while."
In the predominantly gay Castro district, however, some voters were plainly worried by the prospect of Jordan becoming mayor and were planning to vote for Agnos.
"Jordan just gives me the shakes," said Stuart Hamm, a 36-year-old writer. "I think the general portrait of Jordan as insensitive to minorities and the gay community is accurate. I see him as the good-old-boy-network type."
Some San Franciscans, while critical of Agnos, were just not ready to cast their votes for a man who spent five years as head of the city's police force, faulted by some for excessive violence against citizens.
"It's just a feeling I have about Jordan and it's got a lot to do with the fact that he's been a police chief and nothing else," said Peg Howland, a registered nurse who voted for Agnos. "I don't know if he's as conservative as they say he is but it sure looks that way."