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Politics & Policy

Who wants to run San Francisco? Mystery polls lay out London Breed’s potential challengers

A composite image depicts San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin, left; Mayor London Breed, center; and Supervisor Ahsha Safaí.

Multiple polls have been commissioned in San Francisco to see who has the strongest odds to win the mayor’s race next year, The Standard has learned. 

The results have not been published, and the list of candidates vary between polls—but at least one of them lists as many as seven individuals, including Mayor London Breed, three supervisors and a tech entrepreneur.

The Standard reached out to the potential candidates, their campaign consultants, political insiders and special interest groups to gauge who has a real interest in running for mayor, as well as what chances they might have to win the race to lead San Francisco.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed speaks to the media following a tour of City Garden in the SoMa neighborhood of San Francisco on April 14, 2023. | Justin Katigbak for The Standard

Mayor London Breed

Mayor Breed is the lone lock to run in 2024. She set up a campaign committee to run in 2023 and raised almost $165,000 by the end of last year. At the moment, there isn’t a ton of urgency for her to bundle more contributions since voters passed Proposition H last November, which moved the mayoral election to 2024. Breed also filed paperwork accepting the voluntary expenditure cap, meaning her campaign can receive public matching funds.

Maggie Muir, the mayor’s political consultant, confirmed that Breed’s camp has not been involved in any polling. However, it’s not clear if a group supporting the mayor commissioned any of the polls circulating.

Todd David, the political director of Abundant SF, a group of politically agitated techies, told The Standard that his group didn’t authorize any of the polls, but it is “100% supporting the reelection of Mayor London Breed.”

Jay Cheng, one of the leaders behind the Neighbors for a Better San Francisco Advocacy committee, which spent more than $5.8 million in last year’s elections, said his organization has not conducted any polling on the mayor’s race. He declined to comment further.

Unless some shocking developments transpire—say, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein retires before the end of her term and Gov. Gavin Newsom appoints the mayor to her seat—Breed will be fighting to retain the bully pulpit here in San Francisco.

Assemblymember Phil Ting speaks during a ceremony at the Golden Gate Bridge on April 13, 2017. | Santiago Mejia/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Assemblymember Phil Ting

Ostensibly fundraising for a state treasurer race in 2026, west side Assemblymember Phil Ting is still widely mentioned as a mayoral contender and has appeared in multiple polls.

Formerly the city’s assessor-recorder, Ting is regarded as a fiscal hawk with progressive roots. He also has curried favor among many special interest groups over the years, given his control over California’s purse strings as chair of the state Assembly Budget Committee. 

In 2011, Ting ran against then-interim Mayor Ed Lee but finished 12th in a long list of candidates. Additionally, a scandal involving an extramarital affair with a financially vulnerable woman has damaged Ting’s reputation in San Francisco’s Asian American community. 

Nevertheless, progressive groups in the city have been circulating a letter to draft him into the mayor’s race, according to a San Francisco Chronicle report. A source close to Ting confirmed that he’s received calls about running but “hasn’t given much thought to it yet.”

City Attorney David Chiu speaking in front of a California flag.
City Attorney David Chiu speaks at a press conference in San Francisco City Hall on Aug. 4, 2022. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

City Attorney David Chiu

The former state assemblymember and current top attorney for San Francisco said the only thing he intends to run for next year is his current position. 

“I hadn’t heard about the poll until your text, and have no idea who’s behind it,” Chiu said. “I’m planning to run for reelection for city attorney next year.”

He may not be interested in running for mayor right now, but that could change in several years. Breed appointed Chiu to his current post during a management shuffle after the City Hall corruption scandal. While it’s an open secret that Chiu has an interest in becoming mayor, that’s unlikely to occur until the next mayoral election cycle in 2028. 

Chiu still has more than $350,000 sitting in a 2026 state Assembly committee, and that money could be used in a variety of ways to position himself for a future run.

Daniel Lurie speaks during a press conference ahead of Super Bowl 50 at the Exploratorium in San Francisco on June 5, 2014. | Lea Suzuki/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Entrepreneur Daniel Lurie

Daniel Lurie, founder and CEO of the anti-poverty nonprofit Tipping Point, is the lone outsider on this list, having never held elected office. He gained stature after serving as chair of San Francisco’s Super Bowl 50 host committee, and dipped a toe in the political waters back in 2017.

However, the temperature of San Francisco’s spicy political climate—combined with the sudden death of Mayor Lee that prompted an appointment battle and special election—might have led him to reconsider.

Lurie could be an attractive candidate to moderates and conservatives who are disenchanted with City Hall and simply want something other than the status quo. The entrepreneur declined an interview request and referred back to a recent statement he gave the Chronicle: “I’m all in to help make [the city] better, and I’ll do that any way I can.”

Lurie likely has the money to self-fund a campaign and raise his name ID among voters, which one influential labor leader said would be necessary. 

“I wouldn’t know that dude if he fell face-first in my soup,” said Larry Mazzola Jr., the president of the San Francisco Building & Construction Trades Council.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin chats with community members at a City Hall protest on April 6, 2022. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

Supervisor Aaron Peskin

A run for mayor would be quite the culmination of a political career for Peskin, who is on his second stint as supervisor of North Beach and Chinatown and recently backed into the role of board president.

Most people in City Hall acknowledged that few, if any, of Peskin’s colleagues understand how to pull the levers of local government like “The Bearded One.” However, the chances of him winning a citywide race seem slim, especially considering the low approval rating of the board and the baggage Peskin has after berating city staff while drunk. Peskin is sober and sharp these days, and he seems to relish his current role. 

He told The Standard he has no intention of running and did not have a hand in any polling. “It ain’t me,” Peskin said. “I have neither set up a campaign nor an external committee to run for mayor.”

Supervisor Ahsha Safaí speaks during a Board of Supervisors meeting at City Hall on Feb. 28, 2023. | Michaela Vatcheva for The Standard

Supervisor Ahsha Safaí

Safaí may not be a full-blown contender at this moment, but he’s at least made his interest in being mayor public. In an exclusive interview with The Standard last month, the Excelsior supervisor said he has been weighing a run next year and the feedback has been supportive.

“As I’ve been talking to people, I’ve been getting a lot of encouragement,” he said.

Safaí declined comment Tuesday beyond saying he did not know who commissioned the polls. His policies are relatively parallel to Breed’s positions, leading to some confusion about why he would even think of running. The easiest answer is: time.

The passage of Prop. H last November extended Mayor Breed’s first full term an extra year, and a lot could happen—i.e. a lot could go wrong—between now and 2024. Safaí could be counting on the business community, as well as residents who are fed up with drugs and homelessness, to turn their backs on Breed—not because of policy, but simply because they would rather hear the message from a different voice.

The recalls of District Attorney Chesa Boudin and three school board members last year showed the severity of voter frustration in San Francisco. More recently, the killing of tech executive Bob Lee this month exposed the venom many people in the city have regarding crime. San Francisco is a political powder keg, and many of the people calling for change seem to care less about who’s in charge and more about seeing change, and fast.

Supervisor Rafael Mandelman speaks during a press conference.
Supervisor Rafael Mandelman speaks at a press conference in San Francisco on Sept. 6, 2022. | Paul Kuroda for The Standard | Source: Paul Kuroda for The Standard

Supervisor Rafael Mandelman

The supervisor of the Castro has higher political aspirations, but climbing the City Hall ladder isn’t on his list. “No idea who’s behind [the poll], but I have no plans to run for mayor,” Mandelman said in a text message.

The most likely avenue for Mandelman to seek higher office is the road to Sacramento, where he could continue to follow in the footsteps of state Sen. Scott Wiener, who previously represented the Castro on the Board of Supervisors. A series of dominoes need to fall for this to happen, though. 

Wiener is exploring a run for former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s seat in Congress. If she retires at the end of next year and Wiener wins the race to succeed her, that would open the door for Assemblymember Matt Haney, who represents the east side of the city, to run for Wiener’s seat in the Senate. Assuming that Haney continues his calculated climb, Mandelman could face off against board colleagues in yet another election.

Supervisor Dean Preston shares a laugh in the Tenderloin District of San Francisco on July 11, 2022. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

The Wild Cards

Wow, you’re still reading. 

Here’s a little bonus speculation on what the polls for mayor do and don’t tell us: Someone not on the above list could run for mayor in 2024, and that person could sneak in the back door if a crowded field gums up San Francisco’s ranked-choice voting. 

As noted, a lot could happen in a year—it’s a generation in the political world. Could multiple moderates challenge Breed? Will a more attractive tech-aligned candidate emerge? Or could progressive voters coalesce around a single candidate and pick off enough votes from Breed to come out on top?

Supervisor Shamann Walton listens during a Board of Supervisors meeting at City Hall on June 4, 2019. | Santiago Mejia/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

A supervisor like Dean Preston, Hillary Ronen or Shamann Walton talking themselves into running is not beyond the realm of possibility. Even a candidate as flawed as former Supervisor David Campos locked up nearly 31% of the vote last November—even though he had shut down his campaign after losing a state Assembly special election to Haney months earlier. 

For now, we’ll have to wait and see if the poll results are publicly released. But one thing is obvious: The 2024 election season has already started.