San Francisco voters are not particularly happy with City Hall.
Mayor London Breed herself is on the precipice of voter approval or disapproval, with voters split in their views of her job performance in the wake of a Covid-19 pandemic, an ongoing corruption scandal and frequent gridlock with the “progressive” majority on the Board of Supervisors.
The SF Standard poll shows a 49% approval rating of Breed, with just 10% of voters strongly approving of her performance and 25% strongly disapproving. That said, Breed received higher marks from residents who plan to stay in the city long-term, along with respondents who identified as tech workers, at 59% each. And her approval rating was higher than those of the Board of Supervisors and District Attorney Chesa Boudin.
With her re-election contest a year and a half away, it appears that at least some voters place more blame for the city’s problems on Breed’s political adversaries: “[Mayor Breed] is maybe doing her best against the activists who control the [Board of Supervisors] but I think she really needs to take more of a stand and show some spine as our city continues to deteriorate,” said poll respondent Hinh Tran, a Hayes Valley resident.
But with Breed appointees potentially on the chopping block in November, and a mercurial voter base furious about crime and other longstanding issues, the next few months will bring the mayor both opportunities and risks in advancing her agenda and winning re-election in November 2023.
“Public Safety, Public Safety, and Public Safety.” That’s what Breed told the Board of Supervisors on May 10, saying that’s what she’d heard from District 6 residents when she appointed Matt Dorsey, a former spokesperson for the San Francisco Police Department, to replace Matt Haney as supervisor. The decision to appoint someone with both a police department background and a background with addiction struggles crystallized Breed’s approach to the drug overdose crisis, balancing harm reduction and law enforcement in dealing with a surge in overdoses and high property crime rates.
Breed’s emphasis on public safety has riled progressive activists, but shows strong support among voters polled by The Standard. A full 73% percent of those polled supported arresting those who commit minor property crimes like shoplifting and car break-ins; that compares with 46% supporting sending low-level criminals to diversion-type rehabilitation programs instead of jail custody. 59% of respondents see crime as a top problem in the city.
“I fear for my safety, the safety of my family and dog and those who live around here—and the tourists. My husband had to move his office in order to protect his staff,” said poll respondent Susan Jackson, a Marina resident.
The upcoming June 7 vote to recall Boudin from office stands as a key milestone for Breed. While the mayor has yet to take a position on the recall, her administration has been at serious odds with Boudin on policy. Should he be recalled, she would have yet another opportunity to appoint a replacement to a seat vacated by a recall. (Boudin faces an uphill battle to keep his job, according to the Standard Poll)
A November “Referendum.” This November’s election will also be a milestone either way for Breed. That’s because up to five of her vacancy appointments will be up for re-election, including Dorsey, her Board of Education appointees Ann Hsu, Lainie Motamedi, and Lisa Weissman-Ward, and whomever takes Boudin’s place should he be recalled. All will all have to stand for election in their own right.
The recall of three members of the Board of Education, which Breed endorsed late in the last election cycle, passed overwhelmingly last February. Poll respondents who identified as parents were slightly more likely to support Breed, at 54%, and that may bode well for her appointees.
The District 6 race could be more problematic. While the controversial redistricting process will change the voter makeup of District 6, a political infrastructure that is strongly backed by progressives remains in place. Honey Mahogany, former aide to former Supervisor Matt Haney, will likely run with his support, quite possibly on a “I was robbed” platform.
Any replacement race for District Attorney could be a wild card. For one, if Prop C, the “recall reform” charter amendment by the Supervisors, passes in June—which is possible but appears unlikely, according to The Standard’s poll—and Boudin is recalled, whoever Breed appoints to replace him wouldn’t be able to run in that election.
Ending Board Gridlock. The even-numbered districts are up for election this November, and District 6 could be hotly contested. A real race in District 4 may also be possible, with GrowSF and others targeting incumbent Supervisor Gordon Mar. A high-profile candidate has yet to stand up, however.
West side residents are among those most unhappy with the current Board of Supervisors: A whopping 62% of residents of the city's west side neighborhoods disapprove of that body. But it remains to be seen whether dissatisfaction with the supervisors could translate into an ouster of Mar from the District 4 seat.
A District 4 upset would be another political milestone for Breed, and would also contribute to greater balance between progressive and moderate supervisors in City Hall. That would help diminish gridlock and help the mayor advance more of her agenda, if it were to happen.
A Long Road to Re-Election. There are some longer-term, and quite possibly even more influential issues that Breed will have to navigate on the road to November 2023.
Chief among them may be San Francisco’s uneven economic recovery. Breed has made bringing businesses back downtown a cornerstone of her agenda. But workers accustomed to working from home are still avoiding downtown in large numbers, making a grim forecast for downtown businesses that cater to those workers. Breed has also sought to promote tourism, even making a trip to Europe in March to promote the city, but a full recovery of San Francisco’s lucrative tourism sector may be years away.
Another issue looming in the background is the corruption scandal that has been rocking city hall since 2019. A large number of Standard poll respondents feel the city is corrupt to a certain extent: 84% of voters surveyed feel that San Francisco is equally corrupt, or more corrupt, than other cities. Regardless of degree, corruption is a factor in respondents’ jaundiced view of local government. Voters will have to judge for themselves how tainted the mayor is by the corruption at City Hall.
Annie Gaus and Maryann Thompson contributed to this report.
Mike Ege can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org