New Developments in SF Supervisor Races

by on September 5, 2023

Photo shows current SF Board of Supes
Will 2024 elections change Board's direction?

Will Board’s Politics Shift in 2024 Elections?

Labor Day typically starts the November election season. But San Francisco’s supervisor elections are taking shape a year early. Here are some key updates and a defense of Ranked Choice Voting.

A Do-Over in D1

In 2020 Connie Chan defeated Marjan Philhour by 134 votes. 2024 will see a rematch.

Can Philhour finally win the D1 seat after narrow losses in 2016 and 2020? Four factors give her hope.

First, 2500 Sea Cliff voters were added to D1 via redistricting. They will go heavily for Philhour.

Second,  Philhour’s lack of a ranked choice voting strategy in 2020 likely cost her the election. That’s because David Lee, the third-place finisher, endorsed Chan despite being ideologically closer to Philhour. Lee’s second choice votes brought Chan victory. Philhour will prioritize securing ranked choice votes in 2024 (there are other candidates ideologically aligned with her).

Third, 2024 is a bad time to be an incumbent in San Francisco. Voters unhappy with City Hall will not support Chan.

Finally, Chan’s positions have angered various constituencies. I see much more volunteer energy and money going to defeat Chan than we saw in 2020.

Chan still retains advantages. In D1, Supervisors Jake McGoldrick in 2004, Eric Mar in 2012 and Sandra Lee Fewer in 2016 were all thought to be vulnerable and all won re-election. The candidate identified as “progressive” has won every D1 race. While Chan has taken stands strongly opposed by progressives—such as her opposition to a car-free JFK Drive —she is seen as the “progressive” candidate.

The outcome in D1 will say a lot about the city’s direction after November 2024. The stakes are high.

 4 Way Race in D3?

Potentially four strong candidates are running to replace Aaron Peskin in D3.

Danny Sauter lost to Peskin in 2020. Sauter is most identified with the city’s YIMBY movement and by his work on clean up campaigns in North Beach. He should get the support of many pro-housing development forces.

Sharon Lai is the leading Asian-American candidate in a district whose electorate is roughly 33% Asian-American. Lai is an urban planner who was appointed by Mayor Breed to serve on the SFMTA Board. She is a strong public transit advocate who has also worked for a private developer. So Lai can secure votes from a lot of constituencies.

Moe Jamil is a deputy city attorney in San Francisco and longtime Russian Hill resident. Jamil has close ties with Russian and Telegraph Hill neighborhood groups, and is active in district issues. In a district which has less turnover than others, Jamil’s deep community roots are his strongest asset. Jamil’s strong support for tenants should help in the heavily tenant D3.

Peter Gallotta, a progressive member of the SF Democratic Party Central Committee, is also considering a run. Gallotta lives in rent-controlled housing and is reliably pro-tenant. He told me Monday night that he is meeting with neighbors and District residents to get their input on his potential candidacy.

D3’s outcome may not alter the city’s politics—-though some feel Peskin’s departure alone does that— but expect a very substantive and policy driven supervisor’s race.

Other Districts

Not much else has changed since I wrote about the mayoral and supervisor races in July. Bilal Mahmood, who became a close ally of Matt Haney after running against him for Assembly, is often talked about as a potential challenger to Dean Preston in D5. No major candidate has emerged to challenge Myrna Melgar in D7.

While the election is over a year away competition for funds will be fierce given the parallel mayor’s race. Something to consider for those on the fence.

Ranked Choice Voting

I can’t write about San Francisco’s upcoming races without defending ranked choice voting (RCV). RCV is getting a lot of unfair criticism. I’d like to set the record straight.

RCV replaced a system of low-turnout runoff elections. These turnouts were disproportionately decided by white homeowners. RCV is far more democratic. It also saves cities the cost of operating low-turnout runoff elections.

The big rap against RCV by supporters of losing candidates? It’s too “confusing.” They point to seemingly odd RCV results—-like a candidate whose voters forego second place choices (See Ignacio de la Fuente, 2022 Oakland mayor’s race) or who send second place votes to a candidate of a different ideology (Nancy Tung voters went to Chesa Boudin over Suzy Loftus in San Francisco’s 2019 District Attorney’s race).

But these outcomes made sense. de la Fuente drew votes heavily from those who only cared about him. Tung voters were angry at Mayor Breed for appointing Loftus to the temporary DA post and did not want to give Loftus their second place votes.

I understand why people  blame “confusion” instead of a campaign’s failure to strategically attract ranked choice votes. But candidates lacking a winning RCV strategy have only themselves to blame.

We should be hearing more candidate announcements for supervisor and mayor by month’s end.

Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the Director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which publishes Beyond Chron. Shaw's latest book is Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America. He is the author of four prior books on activism, including The Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. He is also the author of The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

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