The San Francisco mayor’s race still has nearly a year and a half to go, but it appears Supervisor Ahsha Safaí—the first notable candidate to challenge Mayor London Breed—is finding people who are receptive to his pitch for new leadership in the city.
Safaí’s campaign provided The Standard an early glimpse of its fundraising tallies, reporting that over a nearly two-month period the Excelsior supervisor raised almost $149,000 from 380 donors. The contributions were split almost evenly between locals—52% of contributions came from San Franciscans—and people living outside of the city, according to the campaign.
“I’m humbled by the outpouring of support we’ve received since announcing our campaign for mayor,” Safaí said in a statement. “Every day, San Franciscans tell me they want our city to be the safe, clean, vibrant city they’ve always known—and they know it’s going to take a change in leadership to get us there.”
Campaign officials said that many of the people outside of San Francisco who gave to Safaí are part of the Iranian American community, as Safaí was born in Iran and emigrated to the United States as a young boy.
Safaí, 50, filed papers to run for mayor on May 9, and he has positioned himself in a moderate Democratic lane not dissimilar from Breed’s. However, Safaí is counting on the mayor’s approval ratings to continue plummeting, and he has spent the last several months ramping up his rhetoric against the mayor. On Tuesday, Safaí found himself on the defensive after his campaign had arranged a fundraiser that was originally advertised as being hosted by two convicted felons with ties to the construction industry.
Safaí’s criticisms of Breed have touched on the city’s inability to make progress on homelessness and mistakes in the Tenderloin that exacerbated the drug crisis. Meanwhile, property crime remains stubbornly high and the Downtown economic recovery coming out of the pandemic has proven daunting.
“The city right now is in crisis, and I’m having a lot of people—on a daily basis—talk about the future of the city,” Safaí told The Standard when mulling a run in March. “Are we headed in the right direction? I think overwhelmingly people are saying, ‘No, we’re not.’”
Breed’s campaign has yet to announce any updated fundraising numbers for the first half of 2023, but her committee had almost $165,000 in the bank by the end of last year, according to campaign filings with the SF Ethics Commission. The mayor’s fundraising haul for the first half of the year will likely dwarf Safaí’s numbers, but both candidates have filed paperwork to accept public matching funds.
Safaí’s campaign noted that it should soon be eligible for more than $165,000 in matching funds once it reaches the required number of donors, and city rules allow mayoral challengers to receive up to $1.2 million in public money. As an incumbent, Breed can receive up to $1,185,500. These numbers fluctuate based on factors like the number of supporters and amount raised, along with spending by outside political groups.
Safaí’s courting of labor union endorsements is seen as pivotal to securing the support of progressive voters while chipping away from Breed’s block of moderate support. He has yet to lock up major endorsements, but he is close to finalizing his campaign team.
The mayoral challenger hired the political consulting firm RALLY and its director Derek Jansen, who has previously worked on campaigns for the late San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao, and Supervisor Joel Engardio—the first-ever challenger to defeat an elected incumbent for district supervisor in San Francisco. The campaign also hired pollster Ben Tulchin, a key contributor to the campaign of New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who was forced to run in a ranked-choice voting election similar to San Francisco’s system.
The number of people running for mayor is expected to grow in the coming months. Last week, The Standard reported that Daniel Lurie—a nonprofit founder and heir to the Levi Strauss fortune—was building out his own campaign team and expected to announce his candidacy in the near future. Lurie’s ability to self-fund his campaign could be a gamechanger in next year’s mayoral election, which could be even more expensive than the $7 million reportedly spent on the 2018 special election following Lee’s death.
Josh Koehn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org