The sudden and unexpected death of Mayor Ed Lee in December left politicians and residents alike scrambling to figure out what happens next in the city. Who will be the next mayor? Will that person continue Lee’s general policies or will she or he take a different approach? And what will an election that had looked destined to be a coronation of Mark Leno look like now, with numerous candidates throwing their hats into the ring? The first half of 2018 is going to be an interesting time as San Francisco picks its next leader, which will also be something of a post-mortem judgment on its last leader.
The next mayor will have to deal with the same issues that Mayor Lee confronted in his time in office: an economic boom, a housing shortage, homelessness, street crime, and more.
RULES OF THE RACE
The first big signs of how the race will shape up will become clear on Jan. 9, the deadline for filing as a mayoral candidate for the June 5 election. Prospective candidates have until 5 p.m. on Jan. 9 to file with the city’s election officials. Also on that day, the Board of Supervisors could choose to select a different caretaker mayor than London Breed, or decide if she can continue to be acting mayor, president of the board, and supervisor representing her district. Breed initially cruised to a reappointment as president of the board with the unanimous support of her colleagues, but much political calculus will go into whether they bless her with the incumbency benefits of retaining her supervisor seat and the interim mayor’s position until the election.
History could repeat itself. Ed Lee, the former city administrator, was appointed by the Board of Supervisors in January 2011 to fill out the term of Gavin Newsom following Newsom’s election as lieutenant governor. Once in office, Lee changed his mind about not running for election and went on to win two consecutive elections. (In the 2015 election, Lee came in first with 55.3 percent of the votes — 105,298, compared to his next-highest challenger, Green Party candidate Francisco Herrera with 28,638.) Whoever wins the June 5 election will then serve out the rest of Lee’s term, and if he or she wants to serve a full term will have to run again in November 2019.
Powerbroker Rose Pak — who played such a big role in the campaigns of Ed Lee and the return to City Hall of Aaron Peskin — died in 2016, so there will be quite a few people watching to find out if and how much of a role the city’s Chinese-American voters play in selecting the next mayor. But there are of course other powerbrokers in the mix. For example, the Examiner’s Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez cited unnamed sources in December saying that tech billionaire Ron Conway announced at a private Lee funeral service that he was backing London Breed for mayor.
LIKELY CONTENDERS AND PRETENDERS
The final lineup could well change by the January filing deadline, but at the moment, here is what the field of candidates and possible candidates looks like.
Angela Alioto: Former Supervisor Alioto is also the former president of the Board of Supervisors. This will be her third race for the mayor’s seat, having lost in the 1991 and 2003 races. She has said that homelessness is a central issue for her campaign.
London Breed: District 5 supervisor and current president of the Board of Supervisors, Breed became acting mayor upon Lee’s death. Whether she continues in that role will be decided by the rest of her supervisor colleagues on Jan. 9. However, it should be remembered she became president of the board in 2015 with an 8–3 vote; in 2017, she got the board’s unanimous support to continue as president. She has a reputation for brashness, which could either create a gaffe-a-thon during the campaign or could be viewed as a refreshing change at a time when voters tell pollsters they don’t want to see overly rehearsed candidates. She is the first female African-American to serve as the city’s mayor.
David Chiu: The former District 3 supervisor and former president of the Board of Supervisors (and the first Asian American to serve in either position) is now in the state assembly. He was acting mayor of the city for one day in 2011, between Gavin Newsom’s swearing in as lieutenant governor and Ed Lee’s taking the oath of office. In the 2011 mayoral campaign, he finished in fourth place.
Carmen Chu: The former District 4 supervisor has served as the city’s assessor-recorder since February 2013. She won her 2014 election as assessor-recorder with 98 percent of the vote.
Mark Farrell: The District 2 supervisor announced in December he was not going to run. He had been widely expected to put his hat into the ring, and observers expected he would draw support from the business community and supporters of Ed Lee, with whom he was usually allied on major issues. In a statement, Farrell said, “The timing is simply not right for our family, and I will always put them first.” He added that in his time remaining in office, he would continue his work on his major priorities, including homelessness, housing, public safety, and bridging the digital divide.
George Gascón: Having served as a police officer, chief of the city’s police department, and since 2011 district attorney, Gascón has been expected to make a bid for the mayor’s office. As we go to press, he has not yet done so, and some observers question whether the bungled prosecution of Jose Ines Garcia Zarate for the death of Kate Steinle would be a hindrance for any Gascón campaign.
Dennis Herrera: City attorney since 2001, Herrera finished in third place in the 2011 mayoral election. Highlights of his work as city attorney include extensive involvement in the effort to legalize same-sex marriage, investigating Nevada’s practice of shipping mentally ill patients to San Francisco, opposing the marketing of energy drinks to children, taking on the National Rifle Association, and other cases that will stand him in good stead with the city’s politically liberal voters.
Jane Kim: District 6 Supervisor Kim earned citywide name recognition thanks to her unsuccessful state senate race in 2016, which was narrowly won by fellow supervisor Scott Wiener. Kim, harking from the left side of the city’s Democrat-to-Democrat political spectrum, ruffled some progressive feathers as the author of the so-called “Twitter tax break.” She has “built strong ties with the Chinese community as an organizer at the Chinatown Community Development Center,” as the Examiner noted, but antipathy toward her in some Chinese-language media cropped up in her senate campaign.
Mark Leno: Leno reportedly had considered a bid to challenge Lee in the 2015 election but decided against it. Before Lee’s untimely passing, the smart money was on former supervisor and former state senator Leno, who has raised more than $400,000 so far and has everyone he needs on his rolodex.
Aaron Peskin: When Peskin won reelection for a full term as District 3 supervisor in 2016, many assumed he was headed inevitably for a mayoral bid. But Peskin has declined to run in this race and has endorsed Mark Leno.
Amy Farrah Weiss: After finishing in third place in the 2015 mayoral election, Weiss is back for another run and is pushing a broad platform of progressive goals, including going after landlords of vacant space, cannabis access, regulations of the gig economy, and more.
Scott Wiener: The former District 8 supervisor has declined to enter the race; he’s busy in his new role as a state senator, but he’s a policy wonk who likely will be working his way up the local political ladder for years to come. This isn’t his race, but don’t be surprised to find him setting his sights on the mayor’s office in the future.
At press time, announced candidates with lower profiles include Christopher Leon Brown, Mike Caccioppoli, William Daugherty, Richie Greenberg, Brianna Elizabeth Varner, and Ellen Lee Zhao.
THERE’S ALWAYS ANOTHER STEP
Whoever is elected in June is likely to have an immediate national profile, due to San Francisco’s outsized economic performance and its political domination by candidates and voters opposed to the president’s nationalist agenda. The city’s history of producing Democratic powers in California won’t hurt, either; this is the city of Willie Brown, Pat Brown, Jerry Brown, Dianne Feinstein, Kamala Harris, Gavin Newsom, and others.
Anyone who assumes the mantle of mayor of the City by the Bay will almost certainly have his or her eyes set on higher office.