San Francisco Mayoral Candidates Make Their Case

San Francisco Mayoral Candidates Make Their Case

May 23, 2024

Phoenix Project

San Francisco mayoral candidates presented their visions, emphasizing philanthropy, leadership, & anti-corruption. Daniel Lurie highlighted his charitable work, Mayor London Breed discussed inherited challenges, Ahsha Safai called for better management, & Aaron Peskin focused on fighting corruption.

SF-mayoral-debate-may-2024

San Francisco’s five leading mayoral candidates made their case before San Francisco voters at a forum hosted by the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club on Tuesday evening. Club President Jeffrey Kwong moderated a lively event before an estimated 200-person audience at the First Unitarian and Universalist Church & Center.

Each candidate had 30-minutes to tell those assembled why they should be the top choice to preside over San Francisco and the city’s $14 billion budget. The contrasts between the candidates couldn’t have been starker. The elephant in the room was the role money, especially donations from billionaire-backed political actions committees, will play in the November 2024 campaign.

Daniel Lurie, the Levi Strauss heir, was the first to address the gathering. Lurie leaned into his background as a philanthropist, noting that his group, Tipping Point, has raised $500 million to tackle poverty. “I’m going to ask you to judge me by the choices I’ve made in life.” Lurie’s deep sense of noblesse oblige sounded well-intended, but his lack of familiarity with the nuts and bolts of governance was also hard to miss.

The second speaker was none other than the incumbent, Mayor London Breed. The mayor blamed many of the city’s problems on the difficult circumstances that faced her upon taking office including the sudden death of her predecessor, Mayor Ed Lee and the COVID-19 pandemic. Breed was strikingly unwilling to be held accountable by Mr. Kwong or other club members.

The next candidate, District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safai, took a swipe at Breed’s leadership, saying, “We are a city of enormous resources. . . It’s not a matter of resources, it’s a matter of management.” Safai also took aim at Breed’s oft-repeated claim that the Board of Supervisors has obstructed her efforts to move the city forward. “We have one of the strongest mayor [forms of governance] in the United States,’ he said.

District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin, considered the most progressive candidate in the race, spoke fluently on a range of issues, including his experience building affordable housing, and said he will root out corruption at City Hall. “It has to come from the top that corruption will not be tolerated,” he said. The Breed Administration has been engulfed in a corruption scandal that has seen the mayor, herself, accused of ethics violations

Former District 2 Supervisor Mark Farrell emphasized his background as a family man, a Catholic and a native San Franciscan. Milk Club President Kwong, a Catholic school alumnus, questioned whether Farrell’s priorities were in keeping with those of the Catholic Church. “What policies do you support that will benefit working-class people,” he asked. The mayoral candidate appeared  noticeably uncomfortable, answering that he is “pro-housing,” but offered few details. 

The elephant in the room was the role billionaire-backed PACS will play in the November 2024 election. TogetherSF Action, bankrolled by billionaire Michael Moritz, is said to have close ties to Farrell. The Lurie campaign has connections to Neighbors for a Better San Francisco, the PAC established by billionaire real estate investor William Oberndorf. In an email exchange, TogetherSF’s Executive Director Kanishka Cheng, a former Farrell aide, was said to be guiding the campaign and Farrell is expected to receive sizable donations from TogetherSF Action.

Farrell maintained that “every campaign” is seeking the billionaire-backed PACs money, a surprisingly weak defense on an issue that will likely dog him throughout the campaign. Lurie said he believes the business sector can make valuable contributions to civic life. Only Peskin and Safai spoke out strongly against the role astroturf groups have played in local elections.  

The Milk Club is scheduled to issue its candidate endorsements in June.

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