Mayoral hopefuls lock horns at Wallenberg debate

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Neither Roberta Achtenberg's Jewish origins nor Angela Alioto's claims to Jewish looks won them the Raoul Wallenberg Jewish Democratic Club's endorsement for mayor last week.

Instead, it went to Willie Brown, who has no pretensions of looking Jewish. Brown won the endorsement for San Francisco mayor after an Aug. 17 debate. And unlike other candidates, he didn't tease about special Jewish ties.

"Roberta may be Jewish, but I look Jewish," Supervisor Alioto quipped about Achtenberg at the debate sponsored by the Wallenberg club and Supervisor Barbara Kaufman.

The audience of about 300 guffawed as the dark-haired candidate of Italian descent grinned. Alioto's banter came the closest to a discussion of anything Jewish during the 90-minute debate at the Hebrew Academy.

Instead, the four major Democratic candidates — Achtenberg, Alioto, state Assemblyman Brown and incumbent Mayor Frank Jordan — juggled the same topics that have dominated more than a dozen mayoral debates so far: crime, homelessness, Muni service, libraries, taxes and district elections.

Club president Marcia Nadel wouldn't release the exact tallies of the vote held after the debate, but she said a candidate must receive at least 60 percent of the vote for an endorsement. She speculated that Brown won the endorsement simply because "he's been a long-time supporter of the Jewish community."

For Jordan, this was the second rejection from the club. He didn't win an endorsement four years ago either. The club backed then-incumbent Mayor Art Agnos in the run-off between the two men.

The three Democrats who now hope to topple Jordan rarely criticized one another and spent more time disparaging the incumbent than differentiating their positions.

But Jordan apparently hopes to cash in on his Democratic opponents' cohesiveness. Referring to a "Brown-Alioto-Achtenberg" approach, Jordan said: "It's the old way of doing things."

Jordan, who left after 30 minutes to attend another function and had a city administrator take his spot at the table, also defended his record. Under his administration, he said, crime is down and 200 more police officers are on the streets at no extra cost to taxpayers.

But Alioto ripped into Jordan's assessment. Two years ago, Alioto said, she was among the supervisors who prevented Jordan from laying off 85 police officers.

"To say crime is down and to have anyone believe that is ridiculous," she added.

Jordan also pointed out that he hasn't raised taxes and that 5,000 jobs have been created in the city during the past year.

But Brown contended that 37,000 jobs have been lost under Jordan's 3-1/2 years in office.

To boost the city's economy, Brown proposed auditing the performance of all city departments, hiring an ombudsman for business development, and examining the tax structure for ways to encourage business.

"San Francisco is desperately lacking in leadership in City Hall," Brown said. He called Jordan "a nice man, but not a leader."

"This city needs a leader and a nice man," Brown said with a smile. "I'm a candidate for those reasons."

"He means a nice person," Achtenberg added quickly.

Among Alioto's proposals for saving the city money: Cutting at least 12,000 of the 32,000 civil servants and supporting competitive bidding for any contract worth more than $50,000.

According to city records, Alioto said, $780 million in contracts worth over $1 million each went out without competitive bidding during the last three years due to exemptions to companies considered the only available provider of specific products or services.

"I believe there was corruption in that area," Alioto said.

Achtenberg voiced a desire to get more buses onto the streets and strengthen AIDS prevention and care programs. She wants to empower the city's 42 neighborhoods by creating a Mayor's Council of Neighborhoods that she would meet with once a month.

She also described Jordan's two-year-old Matrix program as "failed." Matrix is designed to reduce homelessness, in part by ticketing or arresting people who sleep illegally outdoors and who urinate in public.

But Achtenberg said Matrix has only turned homelessness into a crime and simply moves the homeless from the downtown area to the neighborhoods.

"Matrix is absolutely unconscionable," said Achtenberg, a former supervisor and federal Housing and Urban Development official.

Though not invited to the debate, Republican mayoral hopeful Ben Hom had supporters hand out literature in front of the Hebrew Academy.

Hom's literature accused the Wallenberg club of putting "party ahead of principle" and of "practicing the very same censorship and prejudice that they so denounce in others."

Officially, the mayor's race is non-partisan. But club president Nadel said the 13-year-old Wallenberg club couldn't invite Hom to the public debate because the state Democratic Party allows its chartered clubs to endorse only Democrats. "We really didn't have a choice," Nadel said.