Sunday, January 17, 2021
News + Politics The first Wiener-Kim debate frames an epic election battle

The first Wiener-Kim debate frames an epic election battle

Clashes on housing, law enforcement, homelessness -- and a few sharp elbows


The first of a series of debates between Sups. Scott Wiener and Jane Kim, who are both seeking a state Senate seat, set the tone for the race last night, with some sharp difference on policy issues and a few sharp elbows.

While the clashes were mostly civil, it’s clear that neither of these candidates is planning to back off from criticizing the other.

Scott Wiener and Jane Kim clashed over policy -- and what type of representative SF should send to Sacto
Scott Wiener and Jane Kim clashed over policy — and what type of representative SF should send to Sacto

And the essential message came from Kim at the end: “There are plenty of moderate Democrats in Sacramento,” she said. “The last thing San Francisco should do is send another moderate to the Legislature.”

Wiener started off by portraying himself, as moderates often do, as the person who can “get things done.” He talked about his supporters, including “our great Senator Dianne Feinstein.” He repeated what he considers one of his greatest accomplishments: “Dispelling the myth that that you can build affordable housing without building more housing.”

Kim talked about how San Francisco has always been a city of refuge, a place for people who are different, who have been forced to leave their families, who wanted a chance to live their lives in a supportive world. “But people can’t afford to come to a city of refuge anymore.”

Now, she said, the city is for nobody but the ultra-rich: “The only ones who can afford to come to this city are those of extraordinary wealth.” She said that her message to developers is “if we as a city confer wealth on our land, you need to contribute.”

They clashed a little around donations, which will see again: Kim said that Wiener had taken maximum contributions from a guy who wants abolish rent control in California, and Wiener said that most of Kim’s money was from outside of the district.

But they also spoke of some serious differences in policy, and beyond the rhetoric and the applauding (both camps were well, and about equally, represented), you could see what this election is really about.

Kim talked about the prison-industrial complex, how she voted against building a new jail in San Francisco, and how “locking people up is not an answer to social ills.” She noted that over the past 30 years, the amount of money the state spends on prison went from 3 percent to 9 percent of the budget, while the amount that goes to higher education fell by about the same proportion.

She called for free community college education, and said she would pay for it by cutting spending on prisons.

Wiener agreed that the state needs to spend more on higher education, which was “the backbone of California’s success.” But, he said, “somehow the state lost its way.”

Not to make too much of that comment – in a 90-minute debate in a crowded room on a sweltering night, not everyone is going to get everything right. But “somehow” is the wrong point – the state lost its way because of clear decisions by people in power, including in the state Legislature, who decided that prisons (among other things like keeping taxes on the rich low) were more important than funding higher education.

He also said: “Let’s be real here, we do have a crime problem in this city, we do need to enforce the law, and there are people who should be away from society. So let’s not go to the other extreme.”

That was a classic moment: Wiener didn’t, and doesn’t, want to go to what he calls “the extreme.” He is running as he has always run, as someone who wants to make more modest, incremental change.

Kim is actually not a radical leftist; she supported the Twitter tax break, and there’s been more development in her district than anywhere else in the city. But she is talking about pushing a progressive agenda that doesn’t start with the same level of compromise.

There was a lot of talk about homelessness, and again some very clear differences. Kim supports the Right to Rest Law, and Wiener opposes it. Wiener said that law would prevent San Francisco from removing tent cities from public spaces; Kim said that until there are adequate shelter beds and paths to affordable housing, it’s inhuman to sweep people off the streets.

Kim said she opposes giving Tasers to police officers, and spoke strongly about police abuse: “When the police kill someone, it’s murder funded by us,” she said, asking that officers get the training they need “not to pull the trigger.”

Wiener said it was time to stop “demonizing police officers” and said that under very limited circumstances, he would support arming them with Tasers.

There was a pretty clear and dramatic exchange – similar to what we heard at the Board of Supes – over the Google buses. In response to a question from the audience, Kim said she didn’t think that private shuttles should be able to use the public right of way. “If you are a parent and pull into a bus stop to drop your child at school because there’s no place to park, you get a $300 ticket,” she said. “If you are a tech shuttle, you pay $3.”

She said she doesn’t oppose the shuttles, but said they ought to be staging in hubs, and that the workers can ride Muni (like the rest of us) to those hubs and get their shuttles down the Peninsula. “We should be a city for everyone,” she said. “We don’t have to give away everything just because people are creating jobs.”

Wiener said that forcing the shuttles into hubs would end the value of the program, since the tech workers wouldn’t want to take a Muni bus (like so many others do) to a staging area. It would, he said, drive people back into their cars.

I wonder about this: The tech companies love the shuttles because the employees are working as they commute. The wifi-enabled luxury coaches add hundreds of productive hours every day. If people had to drive, they would be unable to do that work. If they had to take a bus for 15 minutes then ride the shuttle, and work the rest of the commute, would they all drive (and fight traffic, with no ability to work) instead? Doesn’t seem as likely.

The two have very different views on housing. Kim supported Prop. F, the Mission Moratorium; Wiener opposed it. Wiener made it clear that he thinks the key to the crisis is building a lot more housing, of all sorts; Kim wants more housing only when the developers contribute a high percentage of affordable units.

Kim ended with a fascinating proposal that I didn’t know about: She said she’s going to introduce a luxury housing tax for the November ballot that would bring in $32 million a year.

So we are starting to see this campaign emerge. The June primary is only round one, and both of the candidates know it. In the fall, Kim will say that San Francisco needs to send someone to Sacramento who will push the envelope and lead the way on progressive issues. Wiener will say that moderates get things done.

And if last night was any indication, the two will not hesitate to mix it up.

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.


  1. Is the tax limited to single family homes or is it a real estate tax?
    Most multimillion dollar sales are not single family homes (or even residential properties)

  2. When has she said any such thing? I’d like some proof on that. I’d be pretty impressed if she did.

  3. That’s a brilliant rhetorical technique when you don’t like what someone’s saying, but can’t effectively refute it.

  4. He’s gotten somewhat better at the state level lately. He’s beginning to understand the concept of economic justice in his old age. Better late than never I suppose.

    Maybe one day he’ll endorse a progressive on the local level.

  5. Your lack of dislike for Leno may have less to do with his politics than a lack of knowledge about what he’s doing. Sacramento doesn’t get much coverage here in SF.

  6. There is a lot of information that comes out of the city that I don’t trust. This is not part of that, mainly because I can’t think of a reason that he would highball the estimate, particularly while Ed Lee is in charge of things. Also, it’s a 0.25% increase for the $5 million properties, but a 0.5% increase for the $25 million group.

  7. You’re correct; I hadn’t read the Bloomberg article prior to posting. Thought I’d better afterwards, and did. Still came away incredulous at the claims.

    I stand by my assertion that her claims seem inflated; I even find Murrell’s claim a bit much, even though 20% less than Jane.

    “There are currently two home listings for $25 million or more in the area, out of 294 across the U.S., Zillow data show. There are 99 listings in the San Francisco metro area for homes worth $5 million to $25 million.”

    So 101 homes – and that in the whole Metro area – will produce an EXTRA $26m with a 0.25% increase? What dispensary did that come out of?

  8. Standing in ‘solidarity’, or standing in the lime light?

    One is respectable, the other opportunistic.

    Which would you call a carpetbagger?

  9. “How much higher can taxes on the rich go, anyway?”

    You mean on paper, notwithstanding offshore tax havens?

  10. Yeah, I pretty much expected this kind of PC pushback. Sorry, but I call ’em as I see ’em. Some of these things aren’t said in PC company, but they’re no less true.

    -I am well aware that Kim is Korean and most Asians in SF are Chinese. That said, many would still prefer to vote for a Korean to a white guy. And here’s something else that no one wants to talk about: a lot of immigrant Chinese are homophobic to boot.

    -A big deal is made of the fact that women are underrepresented in politics, but less well known is that when women do run, their chances of winning are actually greater then men’s. Some people -even many men -will vote for a woman because she’s a woman; nobody will vote for a man because he’s a man these days. Being a woman is an advantage. It’s odd -it’s perfectly acceptable to say you’re voting for someone because she’s a woman. And yet somehow you’re a sexist pig if you admit the obvious corollary that *because* some voters are like that, then there’s a certain advantage to being a female candidate.

    And if being female is an advantage, then being an attractive one is a double advantage. We talk about class privilege, race privilege, but there’s one privilege that no one wants to talk about: the privilege of looks. But it’s huge. You’re treated differently -and better -at every step of your life. Studies show that people attach all sorts of characteristics to attractive people which they may or may not have -kindness, intelligence, competence, etc. You’re treated better at job interviews, police traffic stops, a multitude of social situations that you encounter every say. And yes, absolutely, it’s an advantage in political campaigns.

  11. It will be a win-win for the City to elect Ms. Kim to the State Senate. She will be out of the City and her ideas will never get any traction in Sacramento.

  12. I believe (not joking here) her vision is to close the prisons and have tax payers provide housing, food, healthcare. Division street on a state level.

  13. We already have a luxury housing tax. It’s called a progressive transfer tax:

    Up to $249,999: $5.00 per $1,000 of sales price.

    $250,000 to $999,999: $6.80 per $1,000 of sales price.

    $1,000,000 to $4,999,999: $7.50 per $1,000 of sales price.

    $5,000,000 to $9,999,999: $20.00 per $1,000 of sales price.

    $10,000,000 and above: $25.00 per $1,000 of sales price.

  14. Campos couldn’t even win the east-side, and the other parts of the district are clearly less progressive.

    I am not sure how “progressive” Leno can be given that I do not dislike him

  15. Kulak said it is not that much and I’d agree. The city’s annual budget is 9 billion so this will increase it by less than one third of one percent. And even that assumes that sellers won’t get around it by pricing just under the threshold and having a side deal for cash.


  16. You didn’t read the Bloomberg article either.

    “The tax hikes would generate $26.8 million in extra annual revenue, says Drew Murrell, citywide revenue manager in the division of budget and analysis at the San Francisco Controller’s Office. The city collected $240 million in transfer taxes on properties worth more than $5 million in fiscal 2015, a 33 percent increase from fiscal 2012, city data show.”

    That’s less than Kim’s estimate, but still a substantial amount.

  17. His point was that there really aren’t many homes sold at those price points, which means that the amount of extra revenue would be modest.

    Singling out a few dozen people for a tax can risk appearing punitive and petty. If it was really about raising revenue then a smaller increase that is more broadly-based would be more effective.

    But of course this isn’t really about revenues but about Kim trying to attract a few voters by appearing “tough” on successful people, and appealing to their sense of envy

  18. Has she said what she wants in place of prisons?

    She talks as if she’s pragmatic but I’m not sure she’s electable. Either you’re true to your radicalism, or you’re compromising it to pose as a politician.

  19. Since the district includes the more-conservative west side of the city plus the northern part of San Mateo County, it is entirely reasonable to assume that moderates are a majority.

    Or do you think that Leno is a progressive?

  20. This sounds like $am again. The tip-off is a made up fact with no substantiation: Kim must avoid scaring “many of the moderate voters who comprise the majority of this district.”

  21. You didn’t read the Bloomberg article, did you? The increased transfer tax applies to homes selling for more than $5 million and more than $25 million. The above chart doesn’t address those specifically.

  22. Jane Kim is a populist grandstander with no accomplishments to her name other than having successfully fanned the flames of class warfare in this city for years. Her act is tiring. If a bunch of people show up at the steps of City Hall with signs, for whatever reason, you can bet your ass Jane Kim will risk a broken neck getting down there as fast as possible to grab the bullhorn.

  23. Demographics? “Asians”???? you are aware that Asia is a pretty big place with literally thousands of nationalities and political loyalties and just because they might all look the same to you doesn’t mean that they all vote the same way. Jane Kim is Korean American. Most Asians and people of Asian descent in San Francisco are Chinese. As for the “attractive woman” comment, not much needs to be said about that.

  24. Yes, Kim is only as progressive as she thinks she needs to be. Obviously she needs to position herself to the left of Wiener but must be careful not to come across as too progressive as that will scare many of the moderate voters who comprise the majority of this district.

    I would not read too much into her being Asian, as Asians are typically fairly conservative and would be wary if Kim comes across as too confiscatory. Nor do I predict identity politics playing a big role here – Kim isn’t Campos and has more than one string to her bow.

    And not being someone like Campos will help her. Voters will see Kim as a pragmatist who will cross ideological lines to get things done. And the voters want a pragmatist and a compromiser in Sacramento, which is why even in the more liberal Assembly district last year, the can-do Chiu was trusted more than the one-dimensional “little naughty boy sat in the corner” Campos.

  25. Income tax is a good example. It required an amendment to the constitution (the 16th) to even be legal. And when introduced it was charged at a rate of just 1% of income, and only on those who made more than 3K a year, which was a huge amount in 1913.

    People supported it because it was seen as a tax only on the rich. Look at it now.

  26. I believe Jane Kim is actually openly anti prison and has stated she wants prisons abolished. It’s amazing she was reelected for her supervisor job let alone possibly going to win this or any election.

  27. These are two of the most ruthless, self-centered, ambitious politicians that have come along in a while. This will be epic indeed. Kim’s certainly staking out all the right positions, but to me, it’s always felt like pandering rather than from the heart. Hard to say who’ll win this. Weiner has tremendous money and power behind him, and he’s willing to sacrifice and work very hard to gain more power. But Kim has demographics on her side -there are more Asians than LGBT folks, and just being an attractive woman opens a lot of doors. Plus, I think she outdoes even Weiner in terms of sheer determination and ruthlessness. Tough call. It will be interesting.

  28. They can both go back to NY as far as I’m concerned, but what is Kim talking about? We send plenty of Progressives to Sacramento.

    And why is she making her stance on the “prison industrial complex” a central issue? It sounds as if she’s saying she opposes lock up of criminals. How are we supposed to weigh that kind of radicalism with her activity with the BOS?

  29. That $32 million would purchase a grand total of 64 subsidized, 1100 square foot units, at the going rate of construction in SF ($400 per square foot). Wow – Jane has some BIG ideas and they look exactly like what the city has already been doing the past 40 years.

  30. If taxing property and development were the solution to the housing problem then it would already be solved in a city where development is more expensive, difficult and time-consuming than anywhere in the nation.

    And what is Kim’s definition of “luxury”. A 1000 square foot condo on Market Street for a million? This idea sounds like grandstanding to me.

  31. Given that they both are vying for a STATE job, where there any questions (other than prison/UC) on issues they would actually tackle in Sacto? So, suggestions about balancing the budget; water reform; Caltrans, hi-speed rail? CEQA reform? Depletion Allowance?

    How much higher can taxes on the rich go, anyway? CA has some of the highest.

    BTW, how are each in connection with the Prison Guards union?

  32. Luxury housing tax. for all those absentee owner investment property towers along the embarcadero. Tell me more.

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