Proposition C - Vacancy in Elective Office

Voter Guide
This measure appeared on the November 2001 San Francisco ballot.


What it does

This Charter amendment would shorten the period following a vacancy in an elective office before an election to fill the unexpired term. A vacancy could occur for any number of reasons, including death, resignation, recall, permanent disability or inability to carry out the responsibilities of the office.

Why it is on the ballot

Over the course of many different mayoral administrations, there have been times when the Mayor has had to appoint someone to fill the unexpired term of an elected official. This gives an incumbent mayor a unique opportunity to influence the composition of the Board of Supervisors. Some feel that it allows mayors to have an inordinate impact on policy, without the usual give and take and balance of power intended by the Charter.


Those who support this measure state:

  • The proponents claim that whenever we have appointed officials in positions elected by the people, the people are disenfranchised. The Charter should ensure that unexpired vacancies in elected positions are subject to a vote of the people as soon as possible.


Those who oppose this measure state:

  • This measure is motivated by the desire of the current Board of Supervisors to attack the current Mayor. It is one of a long string of attempts to curtail mayoral power, reducing a mayor's ability to carry out a program through appointees who reflect his/her perspective and priorities.

SPUR's analysis

The amendment changes two key provisions of the Charter:

  1. Mayoral vacancies-Prop. C continues the current practice of having the President of the Board of Supervisors take over as Acting Mayor to fulfill the unexpired term of a mayor. As things stand today, if more than 29 months remain in an unexpired mayoral term, the successor serves until the next general or statewide election so long as this election occurs not less than 120 days after the Board's action. Prop. C shortens that period.
  2. All other vacancies-For unexpired terms of Assessor-Recorder, City Attorney, District Attorney, Public Defender, Sheriff, Treasurer, the Board of Supervisors, the Board of Education, or the Community College Board, the Mayor appoints a successor. Prop. C shortens the time period before the public votes on these positions.

The proposal is that an election be scheduled at least 120 days after the vacancy (to allow time for a campaign) but no longer than one year, or the date that an election for any seat on the same body is scheduled, whichever is sooner.

SPUR has consistently argued that the Mayor-any mayor-should have greater unclouded power and ability to execute plans and programs, including through appointments. The voters soundly supported SPUR's position in the most recent Charter reform.

However, while there is no doubt that the rationale for this Charter amendment is to curtail the powers of the Mayor-this particular mayor at this particular time-it is hard to argue with the notion that elected positions, once vacant, should be subject to the will of the voters as soon as is practical and economically responsible.

Proposition C achieves this effect. However, as a result, it does, in fact, curtail the full power of the Mayor's appointments to unexpired terms of elected positions since these new incumbents have less time to make an impression on voters before they face the voters in their own right.

On balance, the overriding importance is for the voters to be able to be heard when elected positions are vacant, no matter when this occurs. This Charter amendment shortens the time line and also takes advantage of the economies of scheduled elections-a prudent and reasonable move, made all the easier as we implement major reform in our elections process and the technology we use to record the will of the people.

SPUR recommends a "Yes" vote on Proposition C.