S.F. mayor hopefuls mark Round 1 at Hebrew Academy

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Thomas Agee had the best seat at San Francisco's first mayoral debate — outside the Hebrew Academy, next to the TV cameras, watching the feeding frenzy unfold from afar.

Agee didn't arrive early enough to push his way inside, where nearly 1,000 people watched politics in the flesh.

The debate on Tuesday night was as raucous and barbed as a championship bout. It was mayor on former mayor on former mayoral campaign consultant. It was Willie Brown fans on Frank Jordan fans on Clint Reilly fans, and media on anyone who had a pulse.

The debate was co-sponsored by the Raoul Wallenberg Jewish Democratic Club, which has sponsored it twice before, and the Richmond District Democratic Club.

Hebrew Academy also has hosted the event in the past.

"The debate is one of the services we give to the community…because we do care about the life of San Francisco," said Rabbi Pinchas Lipner, dean of the Hebrew Academy, an Orthodox day school.

Steve Kassirer, president of the Jewish Democratic group, likewise sees the forum as "a public service on behalf of the club."

If the debate was any indication, the public is in for a mouthful of mudslinging this fall — which is unlikely to drown out the confusion as to how the candidates will actually help the city.

This time, the public was ready to shout back. At the beginning, Kassirer asked audience members to behave themselves and not boo or scream at every candidate.

He was ignored. Most of the candidate's comments elicited razzing from the audience.

Agee saw it all take place on a TV monitor inside a news station's truck parked outside.

"I felt like I was there," said Agee, adding that he heard loud and clear the comical lashings of each candidate.

Perhaps the most memorable insult was that of Reilly, a political consultant and Jordan's former campaign manager: "Our emperor mayor who poses in cape and crown on the front page of the paper has no clothes at all."

Brown had a nice one of his own. After Reilly kept showing off his pamphlets that describe how he'll fix the city, Brown quipped, "I had to add to the library's budget because of all the books Clint Reilly is writing."

Jordan tried his best to keep up. The former mayor's best line was probably in response to Brown's touting his $28 million "rainy-day" fund. Jordan responded: "The rain will stop as soon as your reign is over."

In what seemed like an admission that he wasn't as quick with the insults as the others, Jordan later said, "I believe in people, Mayor Brown believes in patronage. I'm a workhorse, he's a showhorse."

As for the fans, the loudest outburst came when Lucrecia Bermudez, one of 11 mayoral candidates excluded from the debate, stepped on stage before the event and demanded inclusion.

"Open the debate! What are you scared of?" screamed her supporters.

Reilly's fans were a close second, egging on their own candidate while scoffing at anything Brown said. "Yeah, tell 'em the truth!" shouted a Reilly booster after his man promised to "dismantle the corrupt Brown machine."

Brown's supporters exuded confidence. "He's the only one who understands education," said one of them, Hene Kelly. "The other two people just lobbed bombs at the incumbent. They never said what they were going to do."

"It's nothing to get emotional over," said Agee in a subdued voice after the debate. "When the other candidates get angry at Willie Brown it shows they are not stable enough to be the mayor of San Francisco."

Some of the more pressing issues were mentioned, like homelessness, traffic and affordable housing. Brown stood by his record, Jordan said his record four years ago was better and Reilly promised to set the best record of all.

No directly Jewish issues were raised. At least seven people inside Hebrew Academy's auditorium wore kippot inside the auditorium.

Former mayoral candidate Mark "Moshe" Hardie, an Orthodox Jew, was not one of them. He had decided to withdraw from the race this summer, saying that he now supports Brown.

Several mayoral debates will likely follow, as Brown has agreed to three more head-to-head meetings.

Agee, however, has already made up his mind whom he's voting for. It's Willie Brown.

"I'm a realist," the San Franciscan said. "Politics is a skill and I just don't see the others as politicians."

As he left the scene, Agee proudly said he got to shake each of the candidates' hands as they left the building.