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Politics & Policy

As center lane in mayor’s race gets crowded, one candidate tacks to the left

Supervisor Ahsha Safai and Supervisor Dean Preston chat during a board meeting
Supervisor Ahsha Safai (left) and Supervisor Dean Preston chat during the board meeting in San Francisco, on Tuesday, May 16, 2023. | Source: Justin Katigbak for The Standard

In less than two weeks, San Francisco voters will decide on Proposition E, a measure that could increase surveillance measures and give the San Francisco Police Department more latitude in pursuing suspects in high-speed chases. Backed by members of the city’s political establishment and largely funded by wealthy tech leaders, it has become one of the most high-profile items on the March 5 ballot.

Some detractors have characterized Prop. E as bad policy, with the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California claiming it will reduce transparency around police use of force and weaken law enforcement oversight. At a Thursday rally outside the Dogpatch headquarters of startup accelerator Y Combinator, a small coalition of activists and community leaders voiced strong opposition to Prop. E as a cynical measure that won’t effectively address voters’ concerns about public safety.

Among the speakers was Supervisor Ahsha Safaí, who is also running for mayor. Surrounded by representatives of groups like SF Black Wall Street, the San Francisco Latinx Democratic Club and the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club, Safaí emphasized his credentials as a labor organizer and sharply criticized Prop. E for anticipated harm to the city’s communities of color.

“This measure is one of the most racist measures we’ve seen put on the ballot in a very long time,” he said. “And all of a sudden, we’re going to have high-speed chases, and fatalities will happen. Innocent bystanders get hurt, and lawlessness prevails.”

However, polling indicates strong support for Prop. E, with 61% of voters in favor in a recent survey from the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. Notably, all three of Safaí’s major rivals—Mayor London Breed, nonprofit executive Daniel Lurie and former Supervisor and Interim Mayor Mark Farrell—have backed it as well. 

Supervisor Dean Preston, often considered to be the most left-leaning voice on the Board of Supervisors, was expected to show but did not attend. Both Preston and Safaí were among the officials name-checked in a deleted tweet by Y Combinator CEO Garry Tan that was widely interpreted as a death threat.

Long considered a moderate supervisor, Safaí has represented southern neighborhoods like the Excelsior and Oceanview since 2017. Having announced his bid to unseat Breed last May, Safaí has seen the moderate “lane” of the race grow increasingly crowded with well-funded competitors with considerable name recognition citywide.

At present, there is no self-identified progressive candidate in the mayor’s race. Supervisor Aaron Peskin, the termed-out president of the Board of Supervisors, has been widely expected to throw his hat in, but told The Standard in January that he was more afraid of winning than of losing

Nature abhors a vacuum, as they say. Asked if he was making a deliberate play for progressive voters’ support by criticizing Prop. E, Safaí said he was following his conscience on the issue, then threw another jab at the incumbent.

“It’s a hodgepodge of ideas that the mayor threw together at the last minute,” he said. “I’ve been a strong voice for progressive values for a long time. If you look at my track record, [opposing Prop. E is] in line with what I’ve been doing my entire career.”

Still, would Safaí encourage self-identified progressives to support his campaign?

“Absolutely,” he said.

Notably, Safaí is the force behind another issue on the March 5 ballot that pertains to policing. Proposition B, which emerged from the legislative process as an item that ties staffing in the department to future funding, has been called a “cop tax.” The ACLU has come out against that measure as well.