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Politics & Policy

San Francisco mayor’s race: Pro-Daniel Lurie group likely to spend big bucks

Daniel Lurie speaks at a press conference at the Potrero Hill Neighborhood House on Sept. 26, 2023.
A new committee supporting Daniel Lurie for mayor of San Francisco in 2024 intends to roll out a robust campaign to support his candidacy. | Source: Benjamin Fanjoy for The Standard

A group supporting wealthy nonprofit founder Daniel Lurie’s bid to unseat Mayor London Breed intends to raise a huge sum of money in what could shape up to be a political arms race the likes of which San Francisco has never seen.

It’s unclear how much money the pro-Lurie committee “Believe in SF, Lurie for Mayor 2024” intends to bundle, but a recent report by Puck suggested the group could raise as much as $7 million to $10 million. By comparison, spending in the 2018 special election for mayor—when Breed came out on top in a race that featured eight candidates—totaled $8.4 million.

The new committee was formed by Dan Newman and Brian Brokaw, two longtime political consultants with ties to Gavin Newsom, the former San Francisco mayor and the current governor of California. A source with knowledge of the group said it is expected to tap into Lurie’s deep-pocketed network of friends and family. Lurie is the founder of anti-poverty nonprofit Tipping Point and an heir to the Levi Strauss fortune. 

Newman, who declined to comment for this story, is a longtime friend of Lurie’s and the committee’s local point person. He is expected to raise money from many of the same San Francisco power brokers who have supported Tipping Point, which Lurie founded in 2005. The organization has reportedly distributed as much as $350 million to other nonprofits over the years.

Top donors to Tipping Point include Lurie’s mother, Mimi Haas, and numerous people in tech and venture capital circles. Money is rarely an issue for the people funding Tipping Point’s work on homelessness and housing, as hundreds of people have given individual donations of more than $25,000, according to the nonprofit's website.

Lurie’s affluent connections have become fodder for supporters of Breed, a Black woman who grew up in public housing in San Francisco’s Western Addition neighborhood. In contrast, Lurie is a white man who was raised in Pacific Heights and attended private schools.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed, with a serious expression, looks towards the sky as she's surrounded by other unidentifiable people that are out of focus.
Mayor London Breed could be facing a tough reelection battle as polling numbers show low approval ratings. Her current challengers include nonprofit founder Daniel Lurie and Supervisor Ahsha Safaí. | Source: Justin Katigbak/The Standard

Conor Johnston, an advisor to Breed’s campaign, said Lurie’s connections will try to “buy him the Mayor’s Office.”

“He certainly doesn’t have experience, accomplishments or ideas to run on,” Johnston added.

Max Szabo, a spokesperson for Lurie’s campaign, declined to comment for this story. Under state law, independent political committees can raise and spend an unlimited amount of money in support or opposition of candidates, but they cannot coordinate with an individual’s campaign. 

In September, Lurie formally announced plans to challenge Breed. While the two candidates are aligned as moderate Democrats on most issues, Lurie said the city is suffering from a crisis of leadership and the mayor has failed to properly address the homelessness and drugs crises, as well as facilitate a stronger recovery coming out of the pandemic. 

An unanswered question ahead of the November 2024 election is whether Lurie will self-fund his campaign instead of agreeing to a spending cap that allows candidates to receive public matching funds.

“I learned a long time ago: Take the damn money,” said David Latterman, a longtime political analyst in San Francisco. “Everybody knows he’s a jillionaire. He’s not fooling anybody.”

Jim Stearns, a political consultant who generally works on progressive campaigns in San Francisco, said the pro-Lurie committee will likely be effective in raising his name recognition with voters, but it could also prove effective because of the more unified message it projects.

“Lurie will have a consistent message saying, ‘We want to change San Francisco, and that includes change from a bad mayor,’” Stearns said.

He added that having an independent committee do the big spending while Lurie’s official campaign accepts public matching funds would make it “harder for Lurie to be accused of being a little rich boy.”

Daniel Lurie files paperwork for his candidacy for mayor with the Department of Elections at City Hall in San Francisco on Sept. 26, 2023.
Daniel Lurie files paperwork for his candidacy for mayor with the Department of Elections at City Hall on Sept. 26. | Source: Benjamin Fanjoy for The Standard

Breed has several key advantages in the mayor’s race despite low polling numbers. She has strong name recognition and can use the bully pulpit of her office to make headlines with a single statement or policy rollout. She also introduced three ballot measures for the election in March, including one on public safety, that appear likely to pass. 

Committees to support these measures are not restricted in how they raise and spend funds, and while no explicit endorsement for mayor can be made in ads or mailers, Breed is expected to be featured prominently in the push to pass the ballot measures.

“The ballot measure strategy is entirely about rebranding Breed,” Stearns said.

Jason McDaniel, a political science professor at San Francisco State, called Lurie a “blandly acceptable” candidate based on polling, but he said it’s still way too early to know how Lurie will distinguish himself in an election that could turn on the city’s ranked-choice voting system. Candidates in these elections can pick up additional votes after a losing challenger’s votes are redistributed.

“I’ve told candidates they need to be coordinating a strategy in these ranked-choice voting elections,” McDaniel said, “but I don’t see that happening in this case.”

At this moment, the list of candidates for mayor includes Breed, Lurie and Supervisor Ahsha Safaí. However, rumors are percolating that Supervisor Aaron Peskin and former Supervisor Mark Farrell could jump into the race. 

Josh Koehn can be reached at josh@sfstandard.com