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Politics & Policy

Manny for mayor? Cafe owner weighs challenge to Breed

Manny Yekutiel poses for a portrait photo on the streets of San Francisco.
Manny Yekutiel’s interest in potentially running for mayor of San Francisco came as a bit of a shock to the local political community. | Source: Courtesy Manny Yekutiel

Manny Yekutiel has spent the past five years cultivating San Francisco's preeminent political salon in the Mission District, the eponymous institution Manny’s. But the 34-year-old entrepreneur and political organizer now has aspirations that extend well beyond the role of playing good host.

In a phone interview Thursday with The Standard, Yekutiel confirmed that he is considering a challenge to Mayor London Breed in next year’s election. His interest was first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle.

“I’m going to be having conversations over the next few weeks with people close to me and people in the communities I'm a part of and folks that know a lot more than I do about politics to make this decision,” Yekutiel said. “But I'll make my final decision by Jan. 1.”

Yekutiel’s decision to publicly announce his interest in running for mayor has come as a bit of a shock to the local political community. He recently stepped down from his post as a commissioner for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, and many suspected he might run for a district supervisor seat. A trip to visit family in Israel just before the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas had a profound effect on him.

“There was a moment where I had to exit my car on the streets in Tel Aviv and go find shelter from an incoming missile attack,” Yekutiel said. “That was the moment I decided to leave the MTA board. … I then started embarking on a series of conversations all over the city with neighborhood leaders and policymakers and folks with expertise in different issue areas—journalists, artists, drag queens—about, frankly, what I should do next and how the city is going.”

Those conversations led him to explore running for mayor, Yekutiel said. 

Manny Yekutiel hosts an event at his eponymous political salon, Manny's, in San Francisco’s Mission District.
Manny Yekutiel hosts an event at his eponymous political salon, Manny's, in San Francisco’s Mission District. | Source: Scott Strazzante/San Francisco Chronicle/Getty Images

Yekutiel declined to speak on specific issues—such as the homelessness and drug crises—or his opinion of Breed’s performance as mayor, but he did note that the status quo in San Francisco is unacceptable.

“I’ve been frustrated at how long it’s taken or the lack of progress on some of these issues,” Yekutiel said. “And then I think a set of things happened over the last few months, including being in Israel during the attacks, that just taught me that life is short and you don’t have forever. And I wasn’t willing to wait much longer to try to make a difference in San Francisco to try to bring people together to solve these problems in our city.”

A resident of San Francisco since 2012, Yekutiel, who is openly gay, was raised in a modern Orthodox Jewish family in Los Angeles.  His father is from Afghanistan and worked as a helicopter mechanic, while his mother is from Brooklyn.

If he does follow through on running for mayor, Yekutiel said he would remove himself from all of Manny’s operations to make sure the political gathering spot continues without any undue influence to help his campaign. While he has never held elected office, Yekutiel worked on presidential campaigns for both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and his time on the SFMTA board gave him an inside view of how the city works.

“I focused on safety. I focused on cleanliness. I focused on delivering for our customers and bringing service back,” Yekutiel said. “Honestly, serving on the MTA board in the middle of a once-in-a-century crisis and helping bring it back to a place where we can be proud of is something that I feel very grateful that I was a part of. It's just not what I wanted to keep doing.”

San Francisco’s mayor’s race could quickly become crowded if Yekutiel does run. 

In addition to Breed seeking reelection, Supervisor Ahsha Safaí and anti-poverty nonprofit founder Daniel Lurie have both launched campaigns. Rumors are percolating that Supervisor Aaron Peskin could announce a campaign this spring and former Supervisor Mark Farrell, who briefly served as interim mayor in 2018, is also being encouraged to run.

Yekutiel and Lurie have actually partnered together on the Civic Joy Fund, an arts and cleanup effort to create more vibrancy across the city, which could make for an awkward talking point that both candidates would use to champion their work.

“We do have a friendship,” Yekutiel said. “I’ve known Daniel for a long time, and I’m very thankful that he supported the Civic Joy Fund. And this was not my intention when I started this Civic Joy Fund, for sure. This is not something I've been planning for years. I think we’ll both run races that lead with integrity and honesty and focus on the issues.”

Yekutiel quickly corrected himself to note that he has not made any decision, and that he’ll announce his plans after attending an LCD Soundsystem concert on New Year’s Eve.

Josh Koehn can be reached at josh@sfstandard.com