Mayor Dianne Feinstein, taking advantage of a well-organized absentee-ballot campaign, easily survived an effort today to recall her in a special election.
With 531 of 710 precincts reporting, 106,855 votes had been logged against recall and 23,387 in favor. Included in the anti-recall total were 45,343 of the 51,033 absentee ballots counted before the polls closed.
Late tonight, Feinstein told a cheering crowd at her campaign headquarters that her victory meant "solidarity in San Francisco we have not seen in many, many years, and that's what's significant about this election."
The White Panther Party, a small band of anti-gun-control radicals who spearheaded the recall election, and San Francisco's large homosexual community, unhappy with the mayor on some issues but divided and weak in its support of the recall, may have done her a big favor.
They may have set Feinstein up for an easy and perhaps unchallenged election to another four-year term in November.
Panther leader Tom Stevens said after the absentee-ballot count, "We tried. But I guess nobody was listening."
Feinstein's new show of political strength at home, combined with her successful bid to bring the 1984 Democratic National Convention to San Francisco, makes her one of the most visible women in the country. She has served about 4 1/2 years as mayor since succeeding George Moscone, who was shot to death with a handgun.
A record 70,000 absentee ballots were issued for the recall election, and 61,000 of them were distributed by Feinstein's "ironing-board brigade," according to deputy campaign manager Fred Ross.
The Feinstein campaign purchased 100 ironing boards and set them up in front of supermarkets and shopping centers at which volunteers distributed absentee-voter applications.
Feinstein, 49, spent about $400,000 on the campaign, almost all of it on direct-mail advertising, with about $50,000 for the absentee-ballot effort.
By late Monday, 50,000 of the mail ballots had been returned to the registrar of voters. By contrast, only about 31,000 San Franciscans voted by absentee ballot in the 1980 presidential election. Ross had predicted that at least 75 percent of the mail ballots would be cast for Feinstein. Mailed votes are becoming increasingly important in California politics.
Until 1978, Californians who wanted to vote by mail rather than at a polling place had to state a cause, such as travel or illness. But the requirement was removed by the state legislature, and votes can now be cast by mail simply as a matter of convenience.
Gov. George Deukmejian's victory last November has been credited by many to a well-financed Republican vote-by-mail effort.
The Feinstein recall was initiated by the White Panthers, about 30 self-described communists who banded together during San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury era and claim to need weapons for protection against police harassment. Last year, Feinstein succeeded in making San Francisco the first major city to ban handguns.
The ban was subsequently overturned by the state court of appeals, but not before it had enraged the White Panthers, who accused Feinstein of a "tyrannical attack" on their constitutional right to bear arms.
Feinstein also angered many gay activists with her veto of a bill that would have given homosexual partners the equivalent of a marriage license and the right to claim benefits under their partner's health insurance policy.