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Politics & Policy

‘Dump Dean PAC’ declares war on San Francisco’s Democratic Socialist Supervisor Dean Preston

District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston speaks at the Board of Supervisors meeting on May 2, 2022. | Camille Cohen

One day after San Francisco held its fourth and final election of 2022, the moderate-leaning political group GrowSF went to work. Steven Buss and Sachin Agarwal—longtime tech workers and the co-directors of the organization—filed papers to create a new campaign committee with one sole purpose: ousting Supervisor Dean Preston from office.

Preston, a democratic socialist who represents the Haight, Hayes Valley and the Tenderloin, has been a lightning rod for criticism since he squeaked out an election victory in 2019. The former tenants-rights attorney has devout support from far-left progressives who prioritize defunding the police and building affordable housing first and foremost. Meanwhile, centrists have bashed him for being anti-housing, anti-police and anti-free market—even though Preston owns massive amounts of stock in four of the biggest companies in the world.

A quick scroll through Preston’s Twitter timeline shows he has a penchant for self-owning.

Social media spats aside, it appears the progressive supervisor’s road to reelection in 2024 is about to get much bumpier.

The GrowSF committee formed last year—colloquially known as the “Dump Dean PAC”—started slow, raising almost $7,500 over two months in 2022. On Monday, which marks the deadline for candidates and committees to file campaign fundraising disclosures for the first half of 2023, the anti-Preston group reported more than $12,500 cash on hand as of the end of June.

But now, after launching an aggressive fundraising campaign in July that was modeled after last year’s successful recall of three San Francisco school board members, GrowSF leaders are claiming they have accumulated $300,000 from as many as 300 donors. All of this money will apparently go toward defeating Preston in 2024. (GrowSF formed a similar committee to oppose Supervisor Connie Chan, although that effort has not been prioritized to the same degree.) 

The startling six-figure sum couldn’t be corroborated by The Standard, as disclosures for July aren’t required until Jan. 31 of next year. But one vocal Preston critic—Garry Tan, the president of tech accelerator Y Combinator—recently announced on the social media platform Threads that he contributed $50,000 of his own money.

A screenshot of a Threads post by Y Combinator President Garry Tan recently wrote a post on Threads saying he gave $50,000 to a GrowSF Pac trying to oust Supervisor Dean Preston. | Source: Courtesy Threads

Buss told The Standard that his anti-Preston committee didn’t really gain steam until this month, when it rolled out a “30 Reasons to Dump Dean Preston” webpage modeled after SF Guardians, the group responsible for recalling the three school board members last year.

“There’s a number of reasons that we think Dean is uniquely bad,” Buss said. “Chief among them is he is a huge opponent to building more housing.”

Other arguments made by the Dump Dean PAC include his opposition to redistricting, which placed the Tenderloin in his district; his positions on public safety; and support for the injunction against clearing homelessness encampments off the streets. Mayor London Breed, who defeated Preston in a 2016 race for the District 5 seat, recently put the supervisor on blast in a contentious public meeting focused on drug arrests.

Last year, GrowSF spent more than $213,000 across multiple elections, backing a measure to keep Golden Gate Park’s JFK Drive car-free and an unsuccessful housing measure. On the candidate side, GrowSF spent more than $80,000 supporting winning supervisor candidates Joel Engardio and Matt Dorsey.

Preston, who cites his work to protect low-income renters during the pandemic and restore Muni lines among his biggest accomplishments, did not respond to a request for comment. In a spicy feud mediated by a SFGATE reporter, Preston slammed the GrowSF agenda.

“Steven Buss is anti-union, anti-tenant and anti-rent control,” said Preston. “His politics are so out of sync and out of touch.”

The fight between Preston and GrowSF may be well-documented, but for now it’s not exactly official. The San Francisco Ethics Commission website does not show that the supervisor has filed forms for reelection in 2024. 

Albany Aroyan, a treasurer on Preston’s last campaign, told The Standard in a phone interview Friday that the supervisor’s 2019 campaign account was under audit—a procedural step for campaigns that receive public matching funds—and that’s why a new campaign committee hasn’t been formed. The most recent campaign filings for Preston’s 2019 committee show he had $200 in the bank as of March.

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

David Latterman, a longtime political analyst in San Francisco, suggested that any money raised by the Dump Dean PAC won’t mean much until a real challenger emerges.

“Godspeed, but you can’t beat somebody with nobody. Who is running to replace him? They can attack him all they want, but there better be a competent alternative who knows how to run a campaign,” Latterman said. “Preston may be vulnerable, but without any political leadership in this city whatsoever, I’m skeptical one good candidate could emerge and be supported by every anti-Dean group.”

Rene Colorado, the executive director of the Tenderloin Merchants and Property Owners Association, recently announced his intention to run against Preston, but he has yet to file papers. Colorado declined to comment on the Dump Dean PAC but noted that District 5 “residents, businesses and property owners—everyone—is really frustrated right now.”

With more than a year to go before San Francisco voters have their say, it appears Preston could be facing an unprecedented level of outside spending in securing a second term.

“I think he’s deeply unpopular in the Tenderloin and out of step with the needs of the residents,” Buss said. “And I do think they will vote against him.”