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Get to know the longshots running for San Francisco mayor

Collage of individuals in business attire with "Vote for Me" and "Mayor in 2024" signs, against a city hall backdrop.
Illustration by Lu Chen; photos by The Standard | Source: Illustration by Lu Chen; photos by The Standard

Storm clouds are gathering at San Francisco City Hall as 2024 brings with it two momentous elections. 

Mayor London Breed faces uncertainty as dissatisfaction with City Hall opens the door for challengers, including Supervisor Ahsha Safaí and philanthropist Daniel Lurie. But Safaí and Lurie lack Breed’s name recognition and have yet to make much traction in their bids to take over Room 200. Political insiders are grasping for alternatives, such as Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin or former Mayor Mark Farrell

But while star political players will weather the biggest political storms, they’re far from the only ones angling for the Mayor’s Office this November. 

Over 30 people have “pulled papers,” or declared their intent to run, for mayor this year. Declaring intent to run doesn’t guarantee you’ll be on the final ballot. In 2019, for example, 33 people pulled papers but only two candidates stuck it out to the final ballot: Breed and archconservative Ellen Lee Zhou. Candidates have until May 15 to submit either a $7,020 filing fee or 14,040 signatures from local voters to get on the ballot. 

The overwhelming majority of people who have pulled papers for the mayor’s race can best be described as outliers. They range from people like Veronika Fimbres, a clinical assistant manager at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and trans rights activist, to Shahram Shariati, a transportation engineer at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency inspired to “bring common sense back to the city” from his experiences dealing with its bureaucracy. 

A woman in a red outfit sits solemnly in an ornate wood-paneled room with flags and a fireplace.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed listens to a question during an interview at City Hall in San Francisco in June 2023. | Source: Noah Berger for The Standard

On his website, Shariati relates his ordeal of dealing with vandalism and other issues at his Mission Street apartment complex. He was eventually able to get local laws changed to help with his graffiti problem, but he told The Standard that “what should have been a no-brainer took so many years.” He’s in the race for the long haul, telling The Standard he already has his $7,020 filing fee saved up. 

If no one is able to unseat Breed in November, the lower end of the mayoral ballot could be seen as another kind of contest—for the title of Lord of the Gadflies. They may have no chance of winning, but they all have something to say. Here’s a closer look at some of the more interesting contenders.

A woman with short black hair, wearing a red blouse and dark blazer, gestures while speaking to someone off-camera.
San Francisco mayoral candidate Ellen Lee Zhou speaks to journalists in San Francisco in 2019. | Source: Liz Hafalia/SF Chronicle/Getty Images

Ellen Lee Zhou, Jan. 6 Participant

Zhou’s 2019 campaign became notorious for a series of billboards that were eventually found to have violated campaign finance laws; they were also called hurtful and racist by detractors, including Breed. 

Zhou, a trained social worker, also brandished a pistol and a rifle at a press conference encouraging Asian Americans to arm themselves in response to reports of rising crime. She also used her spotlight to burnish her MAGA credentials, as a protagonist in multiple stories in the Epoch Times and, in a Trumpist hat trick, by participating in the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol riot. When Election Day came, Zhou garnered a distant second place with about 14% of the vote. 

It wasn’t her first run. Zhou also ran in a special mayoral election in June 2018, when Breed faced off against better-known candidates such as former state Sen. Mark Leno and former Supervisor Jane Kim. Zhou garnered not quite 4% of first-choice votes in that race. Her platform included a plan to entice city residents with spare rooms to house the homeless. 

Zhou is originally from Taishan, China, and moved to San Francisco when she was 16. She attended San Francisco City College and San Francisco State University. A behavioral health clinician, Zhou worked at the Department of Public Health until she was dismissed in September 2022 for refusing to get vaccinated for Covid. She filed suit against the city to get her job back last December.

A man in a suit smirks while someone's hand makes a playful gesture near his face.
Austin Hills attends the opening of a boutique in 2017 in San Francisco. | Source: Courtesy photo

Austin Hills: Coffee Fortune Heir

Pacific Heights resident, photographer, Supercar rental business proprietor and socialite Austin Hills is obviously a man of many hats. In 2022, he pulled papers to run for district attorney, but couldn’t follow through due to an important technicality—he wasn’t a lawyer

This year, Hills, a Libertarian, pulled papers to run for mayor, a job for which he’s more technically qualified. On top of that, he’s one of two genuine San Francisco bluebloods to enter the race. Hills pulled papers Sept. 20; Lurie, a scion of the Levi Strauss fortune, pulled his on Sept. 26. 

Before people made coffee from pods, Americans made their morning joe from ground coffee packaged in vacuum-sealed cans. Hills Bros., founded in San Francisco in 1878, was first out the gate with that product. The resulting fortune elevated the Hills family into the city’s socialite class, and their Grgich Hills Estate is a stop on the Napa Valley Wine Train. Hills’ Instagram, titled “Austin Hills for Mayor,” clearly reflects his rarefied lifestyle, complete with expensive cars, hot air balloons and helicopters—as well as a visit to Breed’s office.

A man stands before a mic; "Honest Charley Bodkin, Mayoral Candidate" is captioned against a Golden Gate Bridge backdrop.
Honest Charley Bodkin, a 2024 candidate for San Francisco mayor, is interviewed on French American TV on Oct. 13, 2023. | Source: Screenshot from French American TV

Honest Charley Bodkin: Yes, That’s His Real Name

The first thing to know about Honest Charley Bodkin is that “Honest” isn’t a nickname. That really is his first name; he’s named after his great-grandfather, which he explains in this interview. He sees his run as “a platform for positive change” and an opportunity to “inject a few good ideas into the discourse.”

Along with a name straight out of a James Fenimore Cooper novel, Bodkin, a software engineer currently working for a cybersecurity insurance startup, also has a plan. His “Bear Necessities Party” platform aims for a society where everyone can feel secure in having the bare necessities in life. 

“I had always been dreaming of moving to San Francisco. I made a scale model of the Golden Gate Bridge in the third grade,” Bodkin told The Standard in an interview. “My love of art, music, as well as technology, there were so many reasons that called me to San Francisco.”

Once Bodkin got here, he also discovered some things about the city he didn’t like so much— like its lack of affordability. He’s a proponent of the land value tax to incentivize building more and cheaper housing. 

“I believe a land value tax could radically change the calculus around property development right now. A parking lot next to the Salesforce Tower is taxed less, yet the Salesforce Tower offers a lot more value to the city,” he said. “So I would say, ‘Let’s increase the taxes on that parking lot so that folks don’t just sit on land and speculate on it and that they turn it into something more productive.’”