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Politics & Policy

Fight brewing among San Francisco Democrats for control of powerful board

A group of moderate Democrats, holding signs, smile against a brick wall at a launch party for a moderate slate.
A group of moderate Democrats calling itself the Democrats for Change slate is angling for control of the local Democratic County Central Committee, an influential body that makes political endorsements.|Mike Ege/The Standard | Source: Mike Ege for The Standard

In what’s described as a multiyear effort to take control of San Francisco politics, a group of moderate Democrats is planning to take over a low-profile but influential board tasked with steering endorsements in key local races.

On Saturday in Hayes Valley, state Sen. Scott Wiener and Y Combinator CEO Garry Tan stumped for a group calling itself Democrats for Change, which is running a slate of candidates for the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee (DCCC). 

The committee, known as “D-Trip” to political wonks, is the governing body of the local Democratic Party. Its duties include registering voters and making endorsements that carry the official party endorsement—an endorsement that political observers believe can win or lose elections in deep-blue San Francisco. 

“The Democratic County Central Committee is also incredibly important because it built the Democratic Party in San Francisco,” Wiener told an audience of roughly 75 people who sipped boba drinks and snacked on Malaysian food at the afternoon event. 

“It … really makes sure that people are engaged in the Democratic Party, so that we have diversity in the Democratic Party and that we make clear that we are a big tent party and we are not a party of ideological purity,” Wiener added. 

A group of moderate Democrats including prosecutor Nancy Tung gather in an office sipping Boba drinks.
Nancy Tung, a member of the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee, speaks to attendees at an event promoting the Democrats for Change slate. The moderate slate wants to steer endorsements in future elections.|Mike Ege/The Standard

Entrepreneur Michael Lai, a candidate and co-host of the event, rallied the crowd by ticking off common priorities for local moderates: bringing algebra back to public middle schools, building ample housing and ensuring public safety. 

“If you want these things, we need to win,” Lai said. 

The Democrats for Change slate is running two dozen candidates across San Francisco and is partially backed by the moderate political group Abundant SF. The group’s director, Todd David, said it has around $500,000 in funds committed to the March 2024 DCCC race so far. Other moderate political groups and clubs are also expected to promote the candidates. 

Moderates running for the committee include Supervisors Catherine Stefani and Matt Dorsey, former assembly candidate Bilal Mahmood and supervisorial candidates Marjan Philhour and Trevor Chandler.

Tan, an investor who’s known for taking swings at progressives on his X account, took the floor with words of praise for Wiener and Nancy Tung, a prosecutor and one in a small group of moderates currently serving on the DCCC. 

“[Progressives] are afraid because they should be afraid,” Tan said. "They are not going to win anymore.” 

Lai described the effort to take control of the committee as part of a long-term effort to steer San Francisco politics in a more “pragmatic” direction.

“Right now, I think the [Democratic County Central Committee] is not very representative of the majority of San Francisco,” Lai said.

“It's out of touch, endorsing two of the three members of the school board who were recalled and endorsing against the DA recall,” Lai added, pointing to the 2022 recalls of school board members and former District Attorney Chesa Boudin. 

The committee race—an obscure contest often glossed over by voters—is viewed as a prelude to key November races that could further shake up the Board of Supervisors, where progressives who largely oppose Mayor London Breed hold a narrow majority.

Six of the board’s 11 seats will be up for grabs. The committee will be making endorsements up and down the ballot, holding sway in what could be a highly competitive mayor’s race and other contests.

On the other side of San Francisco’s narrow political aisle—the city’s politics are split between moderate and progressive Democrats—progressives are running their own labor-backed slate of candidates. Progressives who have filed to run include former Supervisors John Avalos and Jane Kim, City College Trustee Vick Chung and Frances Hsieh, an aide to Supervisor Connie Chan.