The District Five supes debate Thrusday night was packed, more than 400 people in the lower room at St. Mary’s Cathedral, absolutely standing-room only. That shows the interest in the race: This is the first direct debate-style forum with the two candidates, Sup. London Breed and challenger Dean Preston.

A packed house demonstrates the interest in this race
A packed house demonstrates the interest in this race

And in the end, I think the audience walked away with what it needed: A chance to see that that candidates have clear differences in policy, priorities, and politics – and a message that the outcome of this race will reverberate far beyond the district lines.

Breed tried to portray herself as “not a progressive, not a moderate,” but someone who just “worked my butt off” for the district and the community. Preston repeatedly said that he was, indeed, a progressive – and that he would be a supervisor would join other progressives on the board in challenging the mayor, the landlords, and the developers.

Breed, as she has all through the campaign, said she was not an ally of Mayor Ed Lee – at one point, she said “it doesn’t matter who the mayor is,” in describing her efforts to improve transportation in the district.

London Breed said "it doesn't matter who the mayor is" when it comes to her positions
London Breed said “it doesn’t matter who the mayor is” when it comes to her positions

She talked of wanting to make progress “without being divisive.”

Preston had a different take: “I wish it were true that the politics don’t matter,” he said. “But it makes a big difference in this city. We saw what three years of [Mayor Lee and] the moderates did, and it was a disaster.”

That was a clear snapshot of what this campaign is about: Breed defending her record and saying she is independent, and Preston saying she has been part of what until this spring was a 6-5 moderate majority mostly backing the mayor.

There were other clear differences. Breed talked about how she helped make sure that all of the Muni buses are getting replaced, about the improvements in Muni lines in D5, and about the bike lanes on Oak Street.

Preston talked about how developers aren’t paying the costs of the transit impacts they impose on the city (and how Breed voted against a measure to raise those fees).

Preston said that unfortunately, the politics of this race matters
Preston said that unfortunately, the politics of this race matters

Breed talked about the Divisadero rezoning and the creation of smaller housing units (“which will be more affordable”). They will also cater to young, single adults. Preston noted that there wasn’t a lot of community involvement in the Divisadero Street planning process.

Breed talked about her efforts to address homelessness. Preston said that 70 percent of the homeless people in San Francisco used to have homes here, and that fighting evictions and speculation was among the keys to fighting homelessness.

“When we put the anti-speculation tax on the ballot, I was a big supporter. Sup. Breed took no position,” Preston said. He has, he pointed out, the support of the Tenants Union; she has a maximum contribution from the Apartment Association.

The two also discussed Airbnb, which frankly is a significant factor in the loss of affordable rental housing in the city – and in D5. “There are 1,800 [short-term rental] listing in D5,” Preston said, “and 80 percent are illegal.”

In the critical serious of votes that allowed a law written in part by Airbnb’s lobbyists to pass, without sufficient enforcement (and thus created this mess), Breed was on the Airbnb side of a 6-5 vote.

She defended that, saying that when the issue came up, “it wasn’t about Airbnb. It was about the people who came to me and were using the platform to make a little extra money to afford to stay in the city.” She talked about people who were paying for rent and health care by renting out spare bedrooms.

“We collected the taxes, we went after them,” Breed said.

And that, I have to say, is just untrue. Breed voted against a measure that would have required Airbnb to pay its back taxes. And none of the people she talked about – the folks renting out an occasional room in their homes to make ends meet – would have been impacted by the proposals to tighten the Airbnb rules.

All the progressive supes wanted, and Breed voted against, was a rule saying that Airbnb couldn’t list illegal units. Those are the places where entire buildings have been taken off the market, after the tenants were evicted, and made into hotels.

That’s the record. They are different candidates, with different politics. If the people at the debate were paying attention, that’s what they walked away with.