San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim announced her candidacy for State Senate on October 14, setting up a high-stakes November 2016 battle with Supervisor Scott Wiener. I wrote in March about the anticipated Kim-Wiener race (“Kim-Wiener Senate Showdown Takes Shape”), noting “both face the at least temporary ending of their promising political careers if they lose the Senate race.”
Some believe Wiener’s endorsements and money advantage give him a big edge. But the same was said about Jack Molinari months before votes were cast in the 1987 mayor’s race: Art Agnos ultimately beat the early favorite with 70% of the vote.
While some see the Peskin- Christensen race in D3 as a fight for the city’s “soul,” that election covers only a single district. In contrast, Kim-Wiener is a citywide race whose outcome will shape San Francisco politics for years to come.
Jane Kim is one of the most charismatic political campaigners in recent San Francisco history. The closest comparison I can think of during my 35 years in the city is to Matt Gonzalez. Like Gonzalez, Kim has a special ability to win the support of people who may not agree with her on all issues but trust that she will listen to their views and do what she thinks is best for the city.
Charisma matters. Gonzalez was a Green Party candidate in a heavily Democratic city who saw Bill Clinton, Al Gore and the entire Democratic establishment assist rival Gavin Newsom. Gonzalez likely would have overcome these factors plus the 10-1 spending differential against him had Newsom not been an unusually charismatic politician in his own right.
Kim’s ability to attract support beyond her progressive base is reflected in her choice of Eric Jaye as campaign manager. Jaye began his career running progressive campaigns and then veered into working for landlords opposing tenant ballot measures. He has also done a lot of work for labor unions, and is currently running the No on Prop I campaign.
Kim’s selection of Jaye says that she is serious about winning. With Wiener already endorsed by David Chiu, Mark Leno, Gavin Newsom, Kamala Harris, Dennis Herrera, George Gascon, London Breed, Julia Christensen, Mark Farrell, and Katy Tang, Kim needs a campaign director who can play in the big leagues and win.
Jaye fills that need. He understands that voters pay little attention to big name endorsements in high-profile races. Voters want to make their own decision, and will choose the candidate with whom they—not the high profile endorsers- feel most comfortable.
Unified Progressive Support
Since 2014, Jane Kim has joined David Campos as the Board’s leaders on affordable housing and tenants’ rights. This, coupled with the role of “Team Kim” in Aaron Peskin’s campaign, has secured her the unified progressive support for the Senate race.
Strong progressive support for Kim is joined by uncommonly strong aversion to Wiener on the city’s left. Part of this is due to Wiener’s close ties to the Small Property Owners, and his serving as the Board’s voice against increased tenant protections. Comments on social media regularly attack Wiener around homelessness. While his publicly stated concerns about encampments play well citywide, it’s not clear that voters in a State Senate race will see homelessness as an issue.
Wiener’s strong unpopularity among progressives is among the factors distinguishing this race from the Chiu-Campos Assembly contest in 2014. David Chiu was a consistent backer of tenant protections who, while more moderate than Campos, had some progressive support. Unlike Wiener, Chiu is not someone who generates fierce personal antipathy—and a fervent desire to work for his defeat– from critics.
I see landlord-tenant issues and the city’s growing inequality as the major dividing lines in the race. Both speak to the candidates’ priorities in Sacramento.
The most important housing issue that our next State Senator must address is Ellis Act reform. Mark Leno and John Burton both used their time in the Legislature to enact critical Ellis Act reforms. Recent court decisions throwing out San Francisco’s local efforts to mitigate Ellis Act evictions show that San Francisco’s next State Senator must make changing the Ellis Act to stop speculator evictions a top priority.
Jane Kim will have no trouble convincing voters of her commitment to Ellis Act reform. Wiener, on the other hand, is a longtime ally of the Small Property Owners, the city’s leading voice for keeping the Ellis Act just as it is. Wiener has served speculator interests well as supervisor through a steady opposition to local tenant protection measures (Wiener had a chance to improve his record by voting for Kim’s recent Eviction 2.0 package, but instead raised alarms about an obscure roommate provision to justify voting against the legislation).
Scott Wiener claims to support Ellis Act reform, but that’s likely because he doesn’t have to vote on it. That will change if he is elected to the State Senate. I can’t imagine how real Ellis Act reform could get through the legislature with Scott Wiener in the State Senate; as was the case when anti-tenant Senator Leland Yee represented a portion of the city, San Francisco will have a representative whose opposition to real reform sends the wrong message to fellow legislators about the city’s commitment to the issue.
Kim has also been a more forceful voice locally around income inequality. Wiener has been terrific on public transit issues that impact the poor, but is not seen by voters as someone who prioritizes the needs of low-income people.
Kim’s Broader Base
In the Campos-Chiu race, the more progressive candidate came under attack from tech and other business interests. I would not expect to see tech interests heavily fund Wiener’s race against Jane Kim, because Kim backed the Mid-Market tax credit and is seen by key tech figures as an ally.
Kim’s ability to win the support of both tech interests and those critical of tech shows that she can achieve the broader political base necessary to win a citywide race. Local development interests that might oppose her may actually feel better off keeping Wiener in San Francisco to help them get projects approved while getting Kim out of town; after all, the State Senate is not a player in San Francisco land use issues (any thought that Wiener could help developers win statewide CEQA reform were likely dashed by Governor Brown’s recent statement that it wasn’t happening).
Kim can go into the Westside of San Francisco and win votes. She can connect with the Chinese-American homeowners in the Richmond and Sunset whose views may be closer to Wiener’s but who—using the famed test of which candidate you prefer to sit next to on airplane– better like the personality of Jane Kim.
I’ve long thought that much of San Francisco’s left missed the message of Matt Gonzalez’s incredible 2003 mayoral run: you have to assemble an ideologically diverse citywide constituency to win. Jane Kim has shown in her prior campaigns that she knows how to do this. She did this in her citywide races for the School Board and in a 2010 District Six race where she faced huge opposition from much of the progressive community.
Jane Kim has been underestimated throughout her political career. She is accustomed to having the San Francisco political establishment backing her opponent, and is not deterred.
For the winner of the Kim-Wiener race there is the State Senate and a potential future mayor run. For the loser, it’s back to practicing law.
No wonder both candidates will be going all out to win in an election whose final outcome is still more than a year away.
Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron. His new book is The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San FranciscoBay Area / California