On Tuesday, San Franciscans will head to the polls to vote for their next mayor in a special election following the sudden death of Ed Lee last December.
In a city that hasn’t elected a Republican mayor since 1955, every San Francisco mayoral contest comes down to a choice between moderate and more progressive candidates. This year, three frontrunners have emerged — Board of Supervisors President and recent acting mayor London Breed, a moderate, and a pair of progressives, former state senator and city supervisor Mark Leno and current District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim.
Breed was born in San Francisco and raised by her grandmother in a housing project in my neighborhood, the Western Addition. Growing up surrounded by poverty and violence on the rough side of town wasn’t easy on Breed. Her younger sister died of a drug overdose, while her older brother is behind bars for robbery and other crimes. Undaunted, Breed studied her way out of the projects and into college before landing an internship in the office of popular mayor Willie Brown. Although she’s come a long way, metaphorically speaking, from the Plaza East housing project where she grew up, Breed, now 43, has admirably remained firmly rooted in the neighborhood. I sometimes see her grocery shopping at our local Safeway.
Perhaps it was under Brown, one of the city’s most prominent mayors and a key player in its machine politics, that Breed learned that old political adage, “dance with the one that brung ya.” Since being elected District 5 supervisor in 2012, she has consistently been a leading member of the 6-5 Board majority voting in lock-step with Mayor Lee, a pro-business establishment moderate. While Breed claims to be fighting for more affordable housing, she has consistently sided with Big Tech, developers and real estate speculators and against working-class and poor residents. Her claim to be the “most pro-housing candidate” in the race is laughable, despite a recent shift to the left on housing issues that some critics see as an election year stunt.
Big business and billionaires love Breed. Gayle Conway, wife of Silicon Valley venture capitalist and Democratic power broker Ron Conway, has donated over $200,000 to an anti-Kim political action committee. Conway money has been funding anti-Kim attack ads and the billionaire has been caught instructing potential donors how to circumvent campaign finance rules and give unlimited money to super PACs (thanks, Citizens United). Twitter co-founder and former CEO Evan Williams has given $100,000 to a pair of super PACs backing Breed. Multibillionaire cryptocurrency king Chris Larsen has spent nearly $50,000 in support of Breed.
Of the two main progressive candidates, Leno, 66, is by far the most experienced, having served in both houses of the state legislature as well as on the city Board of Supervisors. The Wisconsin native, who has also run a local sign-making business for 40 years, was the first openly gay man elected to the state Senate. Leno boasts an impressive progressive record, from protecting tenants, LGBTQ residents and people with HIV/AIDS while serving on the BOS to authoring bills promoting same-sex marriage, environmental protection and universal health care in Sacramento.
If this were a two-way race between Breed and Leno, the progressive choice would be clear. But then there’s Jane Kim. The 40-year-old civil rights attorney has served nearly seven years in City Hall, where she has been a tireless advocate for the people and a constant thorn in the side of big developers and landlords. A community organizer since her New York City high school days, the daughter of Korean immigrants graduated from Stanford University and UC Berkeley School of Law before getting involved in community activism in San Francisco’s Chinatown.
Kim campaigned for Green Party mayoral candidate Matt Gonzalez in 2003 and ran for a seat on the city Board of Education as a Green the following year. Both lost. Kim tried again, winning a seat on the Board and becoming the first Korean American elected official in city history.
It wasn’t long before Kim courted controversy from critics and kudos from supporters. She opposed the US military’s predatory JROTC program in city high schools. She refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag, citing the nation’s lack of “liberty and justice for all.” She even traveled to Israel on a Green fact-finding mission in connection with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israeli crimes in Palestine.
Kim, now a Democrat, was elected BOE president in 2010 and D6 supe the following year in a surprise upset. Although she raised eyebrows and ire by leading the push for a massive tax break to keep Twitter headquartered in her district, Kim has time and again proven herself a champion for tenants, affordable housing and the homeless. She authored the groundbreaking Eviction Protection 2.0 bill to protect renters from soaring no-fault evictions by greedy landlords. She negotiated record levels of affordable housing in private development projects, successfully taking on giants — sometimes quite literally — in service of middle- and working-class San Franciscans. She’s also leading the effort for universal early childhood education.
Then there are what I believe are the two most compelling reasons to vote for Jane Kim. First, she played a key role in making San Francisco one of the first cities in the nation to phase in a $15/hour minimum wage. Second, she was instrumental in making the city the first in the nation to offer free tuition at City College. While Mark Leno has a long and admirable record of progressive accomplishment, Kim has achieved more, and more recently, here in San Francisco.
Fortunately, I live in one of the few cities in the country with ranked-choice voting. For those unfamiliar with how it works, voters rank their three top choices for mayor on the ballot. If no candidate wins a clear majority, the third-place finisher is eliminated. Their votes are allocated to whoever the voter picked as their second-place candidate. The process can be repeated until one candidate emerges with a majority of votes. I can vote for both Kim and Leno, with room for one more choice.
On Tuesday, I’ll be casting my first vote for Kim, my second vote for Leno and my third for Amy Farah Weiss, an advocate for unhoused residents and founder of the Saint Francis Homelessness Challenge. For comparison’s sake, SF Berniecrats ranks Kim first, Weiss second and Leno third. The progressive political movement Our Revolution has endorsed Kim. Local progressive luminaries including Gonzalez and former D11 supervisor John Avalos also back Kim.
Jane Kim represents the values and vision that made San Francisco the most progressive city in the nation. That vision has been blurred and those values are being threatened by some of the world’s most powerful corporatist interests. San Francisco needs a leader with a solid track record of fighting for human need and against corporate greed, especially during this critical point in the city’s history. Jane Kim has proven herself time and again to be that leader.