Control of the city, and its future, on the line in a year of high-octane, high-stakes politics
By Tim Redmond
DECEMBER 4, 2015 – The next 11 months are going to be a whirlwind of political activity in San Francisco, with control of the city – and potentially its political future – at state.
The addition of Aaron Peskin to the board gives the progressives a sometimes-if-shaky six-vote majority, but only for a year: Six seats are up on the Board of Supervisors, and three of the most progressive members are termed out.
A high-profile state Senate race will send one supe to Sacramento – and possibly set that person up to run for higher office when Mayor Lee is termed out and Rep. Nancy Pelosi decides to retire.
The first round of the Senate race between Scott Wiener and Jane Kim will come in June – at the same time that progressives will have a chance to take back the local Democratic Party, which is now controlled by real-estate interests.
Add races for School Board and Community College Board during a presidential election year and we’re talking big opportunities to establish new leadership.
Here’s how things are shaping up right now:
With Sups. John Avalos, David Campos, and Eric Mar leaving because of term limits, three seats that have been in solid progressive hands will be up for grabs. So a lot of attention will be focused on Districts 1, 9, and 11.
Incumbent Sup. London Breed, who typically votes with the more moderate camp, will face a strong progressive challenger.
There are already reports that Sup. Norman Yee, who often votes with the progressives while representing a conservative district, could face a challenge.
And I have heard that Ron Conway is actively recruiting candidates to challenge Peskin.
In District 1, campaign consultant Marjan Philhour has already raised more than $100,000, which makes her a serious candidate although she has never run for or held political office. David Lee, who teaches at SF State and was the force behind the unsuccessful Prop. E this fall, is widely considered a possible candidate.
Both would be part of the moderate-to-conservative camp on the board.
Progressives at this point are urging School Board Member Sandy Fewer to enter the race. An Asian woman who has strong ties to the district and has won two citywide races, Fewer would be a formidable candidate. She told me this week that she is “seriously, seriously” considering it.
D1 is something of a swing district that for 16 years has had (generally) progressive representation. Jake McGoldrick came is as part of the anti-Willie-Brown Class of 2000; Mar, also a former School Board member, followed him.
It will be hard to keep a six-vote progressive majority without winning D1.
I hear that Conway is trying to find someone with the money and profile in D3 to take on Peskin, who only won the right to finish out Julie Christensen’s term, which ends next year. Good luck with that – it will be very, very tough to beat an incumbent Peskin.
Tenant lawyer and advocate Dean Preston, who is building the first serious statewide advocacy group for renters, Tenants Together, is planning to challenge Breed in D5. Ousting an incumbent is always tough, and Breed – the board president — will have the strong support of the mayor and most likely the real-estate industry and Conway. But Preston also has a long track record in the city, and can raise money. And with affordability the top issue in the city, and this district, he will be a contender.
D5 is a majority tenant district, and in the past has been one of the most left-leaning districts in the city. Twice, the voters put in office members of the Green Party (Matt Gonzalez and Ross Mirkarimi, who later become a Democrat). Breed has had a mixed record on tenant issues (she voted for the Mission Moratorium and Eviction 2.0, but opposed stricter rules on Airbnb. She tried to amend the Campos Ellis Act bill.) The Tenants Union will almost certainly support Preston, as will most of the progressive groups in town.
Norman Yee represents D7, one of the most conservative districts in town, but has voted with the progressives fairly often. On a lot of those issues (like Airbnb), his district is with him – short-term rentals aren’t at all popular on the West Side. And he has a long track record as a School Board member and supervisor.
He’s also a district-elections kind of guy, with small-business roots and a longtime connection to the neighborhood. And his voting record is hardly radical left.
The BAR reports that DCCC member Joel Engardio – a conservative on most major issues – is thinking about a run. He would attract landlord money, but doesn’t have a lot of roots in the district. I don’t see Yee losing unless something unusual happens.
District 9 will be a battlefield. The Mission has changed a lot since David Campos took office eight years ago. More than 8,000 Latino families have been forced out. That’s created tremendous new activism – but also a change in the demographics of the community. So far, the new tech workers aren’t voting much, and Bernal Heights (with a lot of homeowners) and the Portola haven’t seen quite as much transformation.
Campos aide Hillary Ronen, a lawyer who formerly worked for La Raza Centro Legal, has filed to run, and is actively raising money. Edwin Lindovice president for external affairs at of the Latino Democratic Club, just announced his candidacy.
The big concern here for what was always a progressive district (Tom Ammiano then Campos) is Josh Arce, who works with the Laborer’s Union and has been, frankly, a terrible vote on the DCCC, an ally of the police union against Black Lives Matter and a friend of the real-estate industry and Airbnb.
Arce is ambitious, and he’s going to run. He’s going to have big money. He’s going to be part of what I expect will be a big independent-expenditure effort by Ron Conway and the gang. And he would radically change the representation of D9, shifting that progressive vote toward the center-right.
So this also will be a major battlefield. Ronen starts with a huge advantage: She has the endorsements of Campos and Tom Ammiano, who are by far the most popular political figures in the district. But it won’t be easy.
Ahsha Safai, who failed in his last bid for D11 supervisor, is running again. The last time around, as the Bay Guardian noted, he ran
without answering questions about his padded political resume of short-lived patronage jobs, greatly exaggerated claims of his accomplishments, history as a predatory real estate speculator, connections to and coordination with downtown power brokers, shifting and contradictory policy positions, or the many other distortions this political neophyte is offering up to voters in District 11.
Safai has worked for some labor groups, and there’s a move among some in the Labor Council to shift support in his direction. That would case a gigantic split between labor and the rest of the progressive movement – tenant groups, for example, are seriously concerned about a candidate who in 2008 took money from every bad real-estate group around, including a donation from Thomas Coates, who was in the process of trying to repeal rent control statewide.
Even Gavin Newsom wouldn’t take money from Coates. Safai did.
Kimberly Alvarenga, who was chief of staff to Tom Ammiano when he was in the state Assembly, is likely to file in the next few weeks. She’s currently political director for SEIU Local 1021, and the progressive side of labor in the city will absolutely side with her.
Another key swing district, another place where progressives will have to invest a lot of time and effort.
Then there’s the state Senate race.
Thanks to the crazy “top two” rules in California, Kim and Wiener will face off twice – once in the June primary, where both will emerge way ahead of any Republican, and then again in November.
With the new term-limits law, the winner could spend the next 12 years in Sacramento. Or, of course, the winner could do what state legislators have been fairly good at doing (George Moscone, Art Agnos, Willie Brown) and come back and run for mayor.
Kim has not always voted with the progressives (see: Twitter tax break) but has been a pretty solid part of the left bloc on the board. Wiener’s allies are already attacking her, and this race will be expensive and ugly.
Both are ambitious, effective politicians. Kim has won twice citywide, as a School Board candidate; Wiener has the support of incumbent Mark Leno.
Overall, the progressives will be likely be supporting four strong women candidates – Fewer, Ronen, Alarenga, and Kim. Three are women of color. That’s a positive advance for a movement that has been (justly) criticized for being dominated by men.
To add to the intrigue: Mayor Lee will get to appoint someone to replace either Wiener or Kim, and that person will have to face the voters at the next election. Given his track record, the mayor might want to think about finding a candidate the community actually supports.
Round One begins long before November: The Democratic Party has been in the hands of the real-estate industry, and in June, every single seat on the DCCC is up. There are no limits on campaign contributions for DCCC, and candidates for other offices have often used their DCCC campaigns as a way to raise money and create visibility while they’re running for other offices.
The winners in June will vote on the Party’s endorsements in November. There will be a battle royal here.
The turnout in a presidential year will be high. Whether it’s Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton (and all those “Hillary” signs would help Ronen in D9), the GOP crew is so horrifying that upwards of 60 or 70 percent of San Franciscans will show up to defeat the Republican nominee.
That makes the DCCC endorsement more important. It also tends to help the progressives, although it leaves room for mischief by landlord-backed candidates who claim to be Democrats.
Take a deep breath: It’s going to be a big year.