BY LAUREN LOW
The death of San Francisco’s mayor, Ed Lee, has launched a competitive mayoral race, pitting various identities and factions of the city against each other. San Francisco has faced a myriad of political issues in recent years, from skyrocketing housing prices to a growing homeless population. The current race highlights these issues and the growing contention in a city undergoing rapid transformation.
This political race will affect not just San Francisco, but the state of California and, potentially, the country as a whole. San Francisco’s prominence makes the mayor a highly visible political role. The next mayor will likely be the face of progressive Democratic politics in the state and will be expected to stand up to the current Trump administration. San Francisco’s leaders like Rep. Nancy Pelosi, and Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris have often gone on to hold important state leadership positions. The next mayor will likely be an important face in state politics for years to come.
Ed Lee was a beloved political figure. He was San Francisco’s first Asian-American mayor and was praised by governor Jerry Brown as “a true champion of the working people”. During his term as mayor, Lee oversaw San Francisco’s dramatic growth as it became a prime location for tech start-ups to locate and for Silicon Valley workers to live. As wealthy tech workers poured into the city, the cost of living was raised significantly. Between 2011 and 2017, the median housing price soared from $656,500 to $1.25 million. Gentrification has run rampant, making neighborhoods like the Mission District uninhabitable for lower and middle income residents. The city is also faced with a dauntingly large homeless population, which, despite the best efforts of the city government, has shown little signs of improvement. Housing prices that make survival impossible for low-income residents and high levels of inequality contradict the city’s “progressive” values. Like many liberal American cities, advocates for diversity and equality have failed to create an urban landscape that reflects these values on a socioeconomic scale. Despite his lifetime of dedication to affordable housing, Mayor Lee was unable to conquer these challenges. While no one person will be able to fix all the city’s problems , this mayoral race is vital, as the next leader will have to decide how to guide the city as it continues to grow. Whomever the next mayor may be, they face the daunting task of rectifying the growing inequality amongst San Francisco’s residents.
While multiple candidates have presented themselves, two clear favorites have emerged. Current front-runner Mark Leno would be San Francisco’s first openly gay mayor. Leno presents himself as a champion for equality. In a press conference in May, he stated that he would fight for renters, homeowners, immigrants, and small businesses. Leno got his start on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1998, where he created an initiative that provided equal health care to transgender employees. In 2008, he became the first openly gay man elected to the California State Senate, where he became a champion for the $15/hr minimum wage. Leno’s main disadvantage in the race is that he does not currently hold public office, which may hurt his name recognition. Though Leno is enjoying a wide range of support, his plans to address the rising costs of housing in San Francisco are vague. While his campaign site details his past accomplishment, the specifics on future policies he wishes to implement are yet to be found.
Leno’s main opposition comes from London Breed, who was appointed acting mayor immediately following Lee’s death. If elected, Breed would be the city’s first African American mayor. Breed’s long history in San Francisco begins with her childhood experiences of poverty and public housing. In 1997, she graduated from UC Davis with a degree in Political Science, Public Service. She has held multiple positions in the city’s government, including the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency. Most notably, Breed served as the President of the Board of Supervisors, the city’s largest legislative job, from 2015 to 2017. During her presidential term she spearheaded several large initiatives, including converting public housing for homeless families and increasing housing along transit routes.
Last week, Breed was removed from her position as acting mayor by the Board of Supervisors. The board elected to replace her with Mark Farrell, a white venture capitalist. The board justified their decision by stating concerns over Breed holding multiple positions of power; however, critics believe the vote was motivated by racism. African American activists have vocally opposed the decision to remove Breed from office. This conflict exemplifies the tensions between progressive factions in San Francisco, making it appear as if some white residents lack consideration for people of color and lower-income residents.
Other notable candidates include Civil Rights Attorney Jane Kim and attorney Angela Alioto. Kim is an advocate for progressive policies, including free birth control, with past successful efforts including making community college in the city free and raising San Francisco’s minimum wage to $15/hr. Angela Alioto is focusing her efforts on the issue of homelessness. She is also suing Leno to keep him from accessing public financing for his campaign. While neither of these candidates have received the same level of public support in the polls as Breed and Leno, their perspectives will add additional flavor to the debate over the future of the city.
While both leading candidates are highly qualified and have a significant amount of legislative experience, Breed seems to have a more practical approach to the major problems facing San Francisco. While Leno has presented himself as the progressive candidate, the lack of specificity in his plans is cause for concern. Breed has high levels of experience working on community initiatives that benefit her native city, therefore, she is the most equipped to face the challenges of San Francisco government.
Whoever the next mayor is will have to contest with both the serious issues facing the city and lead the progressive stronghold during a turbulent political era. Residents will expect the new mayor to stand up to the current administration on issues such as immigration, LGBTQ* rights, and women’s reproductive health. On June 5, the city will decide who they want to represent them in this fight.