Time is short for 4 mayoral hopefuls trying to sway voters
San Franciscans, get ready.
You have just 20 weeks to decide who should lead our economic powerhouse of a city, who should decide how its $10 billion annual budget is spent, and who should set the agenda on cleaning its filthy streets, rectifying its shameful homeless problem and ensuring that not just those whose trust funds have trust funds can afford to live here.
He or she will complete the rest of the late Mayor Ed Lee’s term and have the chance to run for two more four-year slots. Any glance at how dramatically San Francisco changed under Lee’s seven-year tenure shows you just how much the next mayor could affect our city — for better or worse — if he or she remains in Room 200 until January 2028, a good bet in a city that last booted an incumbent in 1991.
So, you know, no biggie.
Considering the dramatic consequences of the first wide-open mayor’s race in San Francisco since 2003, I was surprised more potential candidates didn’t throw their hats in the ring. In the end — 5 p.m. Tuesday — just four household names entered the race.
Other candidates may have been scared off by the quick pace of the race, moved up 17 months because of Lee’s death. Or acting Mayor London Breed’s strong early showing on the job and in gaining support from the tech and business worlds. Or former state Sen. Mark Leno’s early jump into the race last spring and his $415,000 in campaign cash.
And so we’re left with Breed, Leno, Supervisor Jane Kim and former Supervisor Angela Alioto (plus four other, far lesser known candidates) who so far don’t have a whole lot of policy differences. But then, that’s how it often works in San Francisco, where small disagreements between liberals and even-more-liberal liberals are blown up into huge deals. They’re all talking about addressing homelessness, cleaning the streets, building affordable housing and addressing gentrification.
In seeking out what differentiates them, I found their appearances at the Department of Elections to file their papers to enter the race somewhat illuminating. Here’s a quick snapshot of each.
London Breed: The acting mayor brought 10 little girls with her and positioned them around a wooden conference table.
“Guess what?” she said, raising her eyebrows and leaning in as if to divulge something juicy. “I’m running for mayor!”
“When I was a little girl growing up in San Francisco, I never thought it was possible that someone like me could be your mayor,” she continued. “I want all of you to know that it’s possible that you can be mayor too.”
It’s a great message in 2018, dubbed the Year of the Woman. Breed would be the second female mayor in San Francisco history. The first was Dianne Feinstein, who became mayor in 1978 after the assassination of George Moscone. Both Breed and Feinstein were president of the Board of Supervisors and therefore took the top post when the mayor died. By the way, why does it take the death of a man for a woman to claim Room 200?
Breed would become the city’s first African American female mayor, following a small but growing group of black female mayors in major cities. The fact that she grew up in public housing in the Western Addition makes her story even more inspiring.
That’s why the board’s discussion about picking an interim mayor — someone different — to serve until June has bothered some women. Comedian Chelsea Handler tweeted, “I stand with London Breed ... Perfect opportunity to show up for a woman. She deserves us.” Actress Lena Dunham’s feminist blog, the Lenny Letter, published a piece entitled “San Francisco Is Failing London Breed.”
Maggie Muir, who’s managing Breed’s campaign, said the progressives’ charge that Breed would be a continuation of the past three moderate, downtown-backed mayors — Willie Brown, Gavin Newsom and Lee — is “sexist” and “disappointing.”
For this undecided city voter, Breed’s history and identity are pluses, but don’t put her over the finish line. I want to hear far more about how this unpredictable voter on the board, with a somewhat thin legislative record, would run the city.
Jane Kim: The progressive supervisor would be the city’s first Asian American female mayor. She filed her papers alongside some wellknown progressives and stressed her ideology of going big, even if she loses. She backed the successful effort to make City College free, but some other ideas, like free birth control and a tax on CEOs, haven’t gone anywhere.
“I have a track record of being bold and fighting for really big ideas for the city,” Kim said. “I haven’t been scared to go big and to lose, but I’ve also won for our residents.”
She’s sure to be the natural candidate for the “Bernie bros” who backed Sen. Bernie Sanders in his campaign for president. Sanders endorsed Kim in her failed state Senate run. Kim even posed for selfies with a few of them in City Hall’s basement elections office and discussed the merits of the new iPhones with them.
Mark Leno: The only serious contender in the race who’s, gasp, a man, showed up to file his papers in black motorcycle boots and his trademark beaming smile. (The guy’s dentist should get a cut if he wins.)
Leno would be the city’s first openly gay mayor. He was accompanied by several wellknown members of the LGBT community, including a couple of drag queens, and talked about losing his life partner, Douglas Jackson, to complications related to AIDS in 1990.
“San Francisco has given us acceptance, a feeling of belonging, a community and a place to call home,” he said. “I met the love of my life here, and I lost the love of my life here to HIV in an epidemic that has impacted all of us and tragically continues to this day.”
Leno pledged to reject support from independent expenditure committees and is positioning himself as a progressive who would lead the city in a different direction. Look for him and Kim to use rankedchoice voting to their advantage, telling their supporters to choose the other as their No. 2.
Angela Alioto: She showed up with scores of supporters, who posed for pictures on the City Hall steps carrying yellow and blue signs reading, “The heart of S.F., with the word heart represented by the shape of a red heart.
She says she’s running solely because the city’s homelessness epidemic is so dire, but get her talking (not hard to do), and she is clearly nostalgic for old-time San Francisco. She talks about the flower stands and street artists that have disappeared, about kids who can’t play in sandboxes because of dirty needles, and about the days when Summer of Love-style hippies were embraced rather than ridiculed.
“There’s a love of life, a joie de vivre that San Francisco always had that’s been lacking in the past 20 years, and it’s just getting worse,” she said. “It’s a heartbreaker for someone like me.”
Election day on June 5 will be a heartbreaker for three of these people, but let’s hope it leads to some heart-swelling pride for San Francisco. We could sure use it.
Mark Leno would be the first openly gay mayor.
Angela Alioto wants to address homelessness.
Jane Kim touts her progressive stance.
London Breed is the city’s acting mayor.