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Politics & Policy

Police union wades back into San Francisco politics after years of sitting on the sidelines

A group is gathered outside a brick building; some hold a banner, and a woman stands at a podium speaking.
Supporters of Marjan Philhour, center, who is running for District 1 supervisor, rally in front of the Richmond Station of the San Francisco Police Department on Monday. | Source: Han Li/The Standard

After being quiet for years, and sitting out a high-profile recall of District Attorney Chesa Boudin in 2022, San Francisco’s police union is back on the political stage.

The San Francisco Police Officers Association (POA), which represents the law enforcement workforce and is a vocal group against progressive-leaning policies, is officially weighing in on a November supervisor’s race.

“We're stepping back in,” said Tracy McCray, the association's president. “We feel it's the right time, if you look at the state of the city.”

The POA is endorsing Marjan Philhour, a third-time supervisor candidate, against Connie Chan, the incumbent progressive supervisor for the Richmond District.

McCray said the political wind has shifted as everybody's on the “public safety bandwagon” now but, a couple of years ago, the popular narrative in politics was defunding the police.

The union’s main reason for staying away from politics in recent years was the 2019 district attorney election. The union spent almost $700,000 trying to defeat the progressive candidate, Boudin, in a massive media campaign that included television ads. Still, Boudin won the election—and his election night party included an infamous ‘Fuck the POA’ chant led by Supervisor Sandra Fewer, Chan’s predecessor.

“We spent a lot of money,” McCray said. “That didn’t work.”

A person is in a car's passenger seat, looking to the side, with street view behind them.
Tracy McCray, the president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association, appears in an advertisement encouraging individuals to apply to the San Francisco Police Department. | Source: Courtesy SFPOA

In 2022, the POA published a voter guide for its members’ publication but didn’t donate money to any campaign, an apparent move to avoid the recall. McCray said the members talked to the recall campaign and decided to “be there in the background.” Boudin was recalled in June 2022.

Besides endorsing Philhour, the POA also donated $10,000 to her campaign for the local Democratic County Central Committee. It also supported a police-related ballot measure in the March election by submitting paid argument, according to campaign filings.

“I’m so honored to have the support of the San Francisco Police Officers Association,” Philhour said at a rally Monday morning with dozens of supporters and crime victims. “You have all been victims of the anti-police and the anti-public safety policies of a political machine that has been too powerful in our neighborhood for too long.”

Chan, facing a tough reelection campaign after a 2022 redistricting and rising concerns over public safety, slammed Philhour’s embrace of the POA endorsement as “out of step” through her campaign spokesperson, Julie Edwards.

“Richmond residents want an independent voice, and they support a comprehensive public safety strategy,” Edwards said. “[Chan] is going to do what's right for the Richmond—and that includes holding the police department accountable for real results.”

John Hamasaki, a former police commissioner and district attorney candidate, also said on X that the endorsement will have a negative impact on Philhour.

“This is pretty much the kiss of death in San Francisco politics,” he said.

Edwards also added that Chan has consistently supported legislation to make the police department more effective and accountable, including voting in favor of every police budget approved by the budget committee.

But Michelle Jean, a former police captain of the Richmond Station and current police chief of Tiburon, still feels Chan has animosity toward the police department, even though she has supported its budget.

“I feel that there's a vocal minority of individuals who are against the police or anti-police,” she said. “Politicians in San Francisco need to have a more welcoming approach and support in the police department.”

Han Li can be reached at han@sfstandard.com