San Francisco Decides How Far Left It Wants to Go

Political analysts say two parties now rule San Francisco — left and lefter — and voters will decide Tuesday which one will be in charge of City Hall.

A horse race has shaped up for the mayor's office, a nominally nonpartisan post, between Democratic candidate Gavin Newsom (search) and Green Party rival Matt Gonzalez (search).

Hand-picked by the term-limited Democratic Mayor Willie Brown (search), Newsom, a 36-year-old restaurateur and board of supervisors member, is pro-labor, pro-environment, pro-medical marijuana and has voted to allow people to let the city's insurance policy pick up their sex change operations. His primary objectives as mayor are to reduce the homeless population and bring tourists and businesses back to the city.

In this race, Newsom is considered the conservative candidate.

"You know, it's amazing. In any other city, I'm a liberal Democrat, and I'm considered a conservative in this election against someone who's an extremist in terms of his ideological perspective on many of the issues. It's an 'only in San Francisco' story," he said.

Gonzalez, 38, is a former public defender and current president of the board of supervisors. He has portrayed himself as a champion of the working class and renters, a favorite of poets and artists. He wants to raise taxes on multi-million dollar properties and thinks non-U.S. citizens should be allowed to vote for school board members. Gonzalez, a former Democrat, accuses Newsom of being too closely aligned to big business and the Democratic political machine.

"People are really tired of the way politics has been done in this city, and in other major cities, and they really would like to see some changes and to see a real ethical government and I think that's what I represent," he said.

Newsom gained popularity among voters when he sponsored last year's ballot measure cutting the city's cash handouts to the homeless. The homelessness issue resonates with many of his supporters, who said they expect the problem to grow if Gonzalez is elected.

"I think that Gavin will be the best mayor for the city going forward, to deal with the problems and bring the city together," said Larry Florin, 47, a homebuilder. "I don't see any leadership from him whatsoever."

Newsom too said Gonzalez doesn't represent anything but inaction.

"We've got a choice between a problem solver and someone who's against everything, in a protest mode, an ideologue. And at the end of the day, I don't think any ideology has ever created a job or saved the life of someone suffering from drug or alcohol addiction," Newsom said.

But Gonzalez supporters question Newsom's connections to the 69-year-old Brown, a politically well-connected politician who has been criticized by some for using an autocratic style of governing to push the city toward development that has frustrated many hard-core liberals. They say the relationship has turned them to Gonzalez.

"I didn't like 'Gruesome Newsom.' He's backed by money and he's a pretty face," said Albert John Deasy, 75, voting in the city's Mission District.

Whoever wins will become the city's youngest mayor in more than a century. If Gonzalez wins, he will be the highest-ranked elected Green Party (search) official in the nation.

Analysts say a Green Party win could be devastating to Democrats because San Francisco isn't just a bastion of Democratic politics, it's also the epicenter of Democratic fund-raising for the presidential race.

"I think the Republican Party ... this is the best thing that ever happened ... to see me defeated, and have a Green Party member ascend here. That being said, this is a Democratic town and the principals of the party I think are at stake here," Newsom said.

What appeared to be a handy win for Newsom has turned into a tight race as Gonzalez has built on the anti-incumbent sentiment that swept Arnold Schwarzenegger into the governor's seat last month, and energized young voters.

But Democrats won't go down without a fight. On Monday, former President Bill Clinton stumped for Newsom. A few weeks ago, former Vice President Al Gore was in town making a case for the Democrat.

In the meantime, Gonzalez has gotten his own high-profile support from Hollywood actors like Martin Sheen. He also wrapped up his final day of campaigning with a "Punks for Matt" fund-raiser featuring Dead Kennedys lead singer Jello Biafra (search).

Analysts say Gonzalez may get a higher voter turnout Tuesday, but more than 78,000 absentee ballots have already been received. Combined with the cold and intermittently rainy weather that could depress turnout, experts on both sides expect Newsom will emerge with the edge.

Fox News' Claudia Cowan and The Associated Press contributed to this report.