Daniel Lurie officially launched his campaign to become mayor of San Francisco on Tuesday, laying out his vision for the city—and a rebuke of Mayor London Breed’s leadership—in a speech in front of a packed audience at the Potrero Hill Neighborhood House.
The 46-year-old native San Franciscan, who is the founder of the anti-poverty nonprofit Tipping Point and an heir to the Levi Strauss fortune, said that officials have failed to address the homelessness and drug crises due to a lack of leadership at City Hall.
“Like so many of you, I’m worried,” Lurie said. “I’m worried that a failure to confront our biggest challenges might mean that my children and your children won’t share that same love for this great city. There is nothing progressive about the fact that nearly 8,000 people are experiencing homelessness in our city.”
In an interview prior to Tuesday’s announcement, Lurie told The Standard that he decided to run for mayor after an unsettling moment that has become all too common for many city residents. While walking with his kids to school, a man who was naked and suffering “real distress” ambled across the street near the corner of Valencia and 15th. Lurie said he had no explanation for what was ailing the man or how the city was solving such problems.
“At that moment, I realized that we just had so much more work to do,” Lurie said. “I couldn’t just sit by as people are really mentally ill, living on the streets without care.”
Below are excerpts from the interview with Lurie on why he is running against Breed and Supervisor Ahsha Safaí in the November 2024 election. Answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.
The Standard: Given your lack of experience as an elected official, why do you think people should vote for you over London Breed?
Daniel Lurie: We’re facing a crisis of leadership and, frankly, the direction that this city is headed leaves me deeply, deeply concerned that my children are not going to love San Francisco the way I did growing up. I created and led a large organization that has a demonstrated track record of results on issues where City Hall has missed. I have the skills and experience to bring people together instead of dividing us, and I believe I can meet this moment to make San Francisco safer, healthier and more affordable.
And I will tell you, we have the option of this trend of having insiders continuing to run, but this mayor has been in office in one of the top two positions for eight years. So I would turn the question around and say: If political experience is necessary to get us where we are right now, I’m glad I don’t have that.
Public safety is obviously a top issue for many voters. What is your specific strategy to combat property crime and confront the drug crisis?
Three points: We’ve got to fully staff our police department. You need to deter crime in the first place, so you need to have cops visible in these areas. No one is going to be selling drugs if they see cops in U.N. Plaza. No one is going into Walgreens and Safeway and robbing stores when there is a police officer out front or an increased presence of public safety officials.
No. 2, especially on the drug crisis front, we need to change the type of investigations. We need to make sure that judges are holding these drug dealers in custody instead of enabling them to just have this revolving door where, many times, they get arrested and they beat the cops back to the street. It involves going after them for the conspiratorial nature of their crimes.
And the third thing—this is really important, and it sounds really simple, but it’s not happening, as you and others have reported—you have high-level public officials saying there is not good coordination across the criminal justice system. There is a serious lack of that. We need a mayor willing to work across city departments, state departments and federal departments. We have all of these resources, and we should be grateful to the governor and Speaker Emerita [Nancy] Pelosi for making sure we have [the California Highway Patrol assisting in investigations]. I’m all for that, but we keep hearing there is a lack of coordination.
Where do you stand on the court injunction that city officials say is currently blocking them from clearing homeless encampments?
First, let me be clear, you do not have a right to stay on the street if you have been offered a shelter bed. This injunction came down in December 2022. For me, this is really framing this whole issue about why we need new leadership from the outside. We had this whole protest on the courthouse steps a [month] ago, and yet for nine months, we’ve known what we needed to do, and that is erect enough shelter beds to make sure that everyone has a place to go, shelter-wise.
We can do it compassionately. We can do it empathetically. We can have a place for our unhoused neighbors to store their belongings, have a shower, do their laundry and have case workers. But instead, we just decided to say it's all this one judge's fault. And frankly, that's just one more example of our city and our elected leaders pointing fingers and saying it's this person's fault or that person's fault, or it’s the Board of Supervisors’ fault.
At some point, we need leadership. We need someone to stand up and say, “This is my city, and I’m going to make sure we get the job done.”
So when you say build more shelter beds, are we talking about taking vacant warehouses and creating larger congregate shelters?
I mean, we continue to point out there is a navigation center on the Embarcadero that, you know, the neighbors fought for a long time. And now, they’re all very happy with it. There are no problems; it’s clean, unlike some of the other ones around town. You know, you’ve seen Supervisor [Hillary] Ronen talk about the Mission one being a real problem. I visited San Diego, and they had just this unbelievable shelter: 329 people, showers, places for people to store things, people coming back from work. We would need five or six places like this, maybe not even that many. We’ll say we need about 1,000 shelter beds to abide by this injunction, because we know that when you offer shelter beds, not everybody is going to take it. But if you have enough shelter beds and people don’t take it, it does not give them the right to stay on the street.
What specific proposals will you put forward to accelerate the Downtown recovery?
What I do like is the concept of making Downtown a 24/7 neighborhood. We need to build more housing Downtown. I like the idea of a campus and maybe City College of San Francisco. We have some pretty old buildings currently [at City College], but talk about moving that Downtown?
And we need to diversify who is in Downtown. I love that we are known for being the hub of AI innovation and the AI boom, and we should create that, but as we all know we can't be one-dimensional again. Because we were pretty one-dimensional, and that’s caused us problems when companies fled during the pandemic. So, we should be going after a diverse group of businesses, nonprofits, arts and cultural institutions, and also our restaurant and bars and more housing.
Both you and Mayor Breed are from San Francisco. And she talks a lot about her story and how she came up in the Western Addition in public housing projects. You’ve been tagged as an heir to the Levi Strauss fortune. How do you combat that narrative?
I grew up in a family where I understood the privilege; I understood opportunities. I understood the doors were always open for me. But all four of my parents continually pushed me to remember that I have it good and I needed to be part of the community, that I have an obligation to serve, whatever that meant.
I had a stepfather who was part of Levi Strauss and was the CEO and was committed to LGBTQ rights, committed to building the first desegregated factory. When you talk about San Francisco values, you talk about inclusion, diversity and being a beacon for hope. I saw that with my stepfather’s focus when he was running Levi's. You know, my dad’s a rabbi who has helped tens of thousands of Jews flee persecution. I grew up in a family that was always about the community.
Josh Koehn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org