Willie Brown, the liberal mayor of America's most famously liberal big city, easily won his reelection runoff against Tom Ammiano, who challenged the mayor from the left, promising to preserve San Francisco's character and fight gentrification.

With most of the absentee ballots counted and 45 percent of precincts reporting--about 120,000 votes total--Brown had 65 percent to Ammiano's 35 percent. About 200,000 total ballots were expected.

Ammiano, who on Nov. 2 forced his way into the runoff in a last-minute write-in campaign, was vying to become the first openly gay mayor of a major American city.

Ammiano, the president of the city's Board of Supervisors, a former teacher and sometime stand-up comic, was outspent more than 10 to 1 by Brown, the ultimate political insider.

Brown was elected San Francisco's first black mayor in 1995 after 15 years as speaker of the state Assembly, where he was considered California's second most powerful politician, after the governor.

Some regarded the race between Brown, 65, and Ammiano, who turns 58 Wednesday, as a battle for the soul of San Francisco.

The Internet boom has driven up rents and priced some middle-class families out of town. Chain stores such as the Gap and Starbucks have moved in, alarming those who prize San Francisco's distinctive, bohemian neighborhoods. At the same time, the city's much-maligned public transit system, which Brown promised to fix in his first 100 days in office, still needs fixing.

Ammiano campaigned for an $11-an-hour "living wage" and promised to "immediately declare war on any and all gentrification" to help preserve affordable housing. He also supported last month's ballot measure that banned some ATM fees.

Brown acknowledged the city's problems but said Ammiano lacks the political skills needed to force developers to add affordable housing and ease traffic.

Some of Ammiano's proposals were so alarming that business interests, labor unions and even the county Republican Party endorsed Brown.

Both men had support in San Francisco's large and politically active homosexual community--Brown has long supported gay rights issues--and many gay voters said the election would not hinge on sexual orientation.

CAPTION: San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown casts his ballot in the runoff election.