San Francisco voters were ushering in a new generation of leadership Tuesday, choosing as their next mayor either a maverick who would be the nation's highest-ranking Green or a liberal Democrat who has been cast as the establishment candidate.
Tuesday's vote featured Gavin Newsom, a liberal Democrat who has been cast as the establishment candidate, next to the Green Party's Matt Gonzalez, seen as the progressive outsider.
"It will be a test of who turns out to vote," said Gonzalez, whose campaign has attracted a mix of college students, unemployed dot-commers, artists and activists old enough to remember the 1960s.
"You have to give us some props for putting this thing together and bringing it to this place," Gonzalez told reporters Monday. "We've assaulted the traditional ideas of politics."
The candidates have such similar positions that both would be considered liberals in almost any city outside California. But in this race, which has hinged as much on looks and lifestyles as their approaches to homelessness and economic development, Newsom has been cast as a Republican in liberal's clothing, Gonzalez the fringe spoiler.
Also Monday, former President Clinton made a brief appearance at Newsom's campaign headquarters. Even he tried to bill the election as an attack on the status quo.
Onstage with Newsom and his wife, Kimberly Guilfoyle Newsom, Mr. Clinton never mentioned Gonzalez but compared the challenge from the Green Party to the Democratic Party's struggle to define itself in the face of Republican attacks.
"I've seen the Republicans time and again, running on the basis of ideology, turn us into cardboard cutouts," Mr. Clinton said. He urged the volunteers to "prove that a candidate who runs on ideas and unity can win."
Despite the former president's popularity in heavily Democratic San Francisco, some critics tagged his visit as an intrusion into what is supposed to be a nonpartisan race. Last week, former Vice President Al Gore also stumped for Newsom.
Both Newsom, 36, and Gonzalez, 38, are members of the city's Board of Supervisors, where Gonzalez also serves as president. They are competing to succeed Mayor Willie Brown, 69, who is limited to two four-year terms. His second term expires next month.
Either man would be San Francisco's youngest mayor in over a century. Gonzalez would hold the Green Party's highest national rank.
Brown tapped Newsom as his successor, fueling anti-incumbent anger among Gonzalez supporters but paying dividends as well. The mayor personally encouraged Mr. Clinton to campaign for Newsom, who has been endorsed by many of the business and organized labor groups that backed Brown.
"I have no regrets, I really don't, and that gives me comfort, no matter what happens," Newsom said. "I feel like this campaign has distinguished itself."
Said Gonzalez spokesman Ross Mirkarimi: "Ours is a people campaign and theirs is a slick juggernaut of a campaign. If people see through the slickness of their campaign, they will vote for Matt Gonzalez."
Despite Gonzalez's success in galvanizing younger voters, recent polls have shown Newsom leading by 7 to 10 percentage points, particularly among the older voters who reliably turn in absentee ballots for Democrats in San Francisco.