Skip to main content
Politics & Policy

Richmond voters have crime on their minds. That’s a big problem for Connie Chan

A woman in a striped top and beige scarf stands before a vibrant orange background.
Supervisor Connie Chan is facing a tough reelection campaign in District 1. | Source: Noah Berger for The Standard

Diana Zaslaw describes herself as a “dyed-in-the-wool, classic liberal.” In 2020, the Richmond neighborhood resident voted for progressive Connie Chan to represent her on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

But four years later, Zaslaw is discouraged about the state of the city and her neighborhood, and is unenthusiastic about another vote for Chan.

“The tragedy of San Francisco overall is seeping into our neighborhood bit by bit,” said Zaslaw, a 54-year-old film producer. “I would have liked to feel and see and know that [Chan] was launching aggressive initiatives to help turn the tide.”

Instead, Zaslaw is considering casting her ballot for Marjan Philhour, a third-time supervisor candidate and a former adviser to Mayor London Breed. Philhour lost to Chan by 125 votes in 2020 and has put issues of crime and public safety front and center in her current campaign. 

The District 1 supervisor race is shaping up to be one of the most expensive in November’s election and could determine whether progressives lose substantial power on the Board of Supervisors. Chan’s reelection committee has raised $120,000, while Philhour’s has raised $150,000, according to both campaigns.

Billboard critiquing Connie Chan with headlines about crime, paid for by Marjan Philhour's campaign.
Marjan Philhour's campaign posted a Chinese-language billboard asking, “Are you fed up with Connie Chan?” | Source: Courtesy Marjan Philhour

But that’s not the full story. A committee created to defeat Chan, spearheaded by the group GrowSF touting a “Clear Out Connie” campaign, has raised $72,000. And Philhour raised roughly a quarter-million dollars in her successful March campaign to win a seat on the local Democratic County Central Committee—a race not subject to the same fundraising limits as November’s supervisor races.

The Richmond is a relatively quiet residential area that sits north of Golden Gate Park and stretches from the Pacific Ocean east, and more than 40% of its residents are Asian Americans. In 2023, the district made TimeOut magazine’s list of the world’s coolest neighborhoods.

Crime in the Richmond is among the lowest of any part of the city, according to the San Francisco Police Department’s dashboard. Certain violent crimes are trending downward compared with the first quarter of 2023: Robbery dropped from 36 to 23 incidents, and assaults fell from 16 to 13. However, burglary and vehicle theft incidents are increasing. The Richmond police station coverage map and the supervisorial district map largely overlap.

Still, concerns about crime and racially motivated attacks on Asian people have animated voters here. Just a few years after voters showed support for police reform efforts in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in 2020, the pendulum is swinging back toward more pro-law-and-order sentiments and calls to give police more power.

A woman stands in front of a police car, wearing a striped top and a tan scarf.
Supervisor Connie Chan stands for a portrait outside SFPD’s Richmond Station on Saturday. | Source: Noah Berger for The Standard

Philhour has seized the opportunity, hammering Chan for her previous comments about law enforcement and labeling her as anti-police. Chan was an ally of progressive District Attorney Chesa Boudin, who was recalled in 2022. Chan also opposed hiring more police officers in 2020

“Our supervisor, Connie Chan, campaigned on dismantling the police,” Philhour said during a January press conference announcing that the San Francisco Police Officers Association had endorsed her. “Our police officers have been demonized by the ideological far left here in Richmond in particular.”

Philhour has hammered on Chan’s comments from a 2020 candidate forum when Chan said, “Definitely, it is time [to] dismantle and restructure our police department.”

Philhour also used some of her campaign cash on a Chinese-language billboard asking, “Are you fed up with Connie Chan?” and in English, “Had enough of Connie Chan’s crime crisis?”

A woman is speaking into a microphone, smiling, with colorful political campaign posters in the background.
Supervisor candidate Marjan Philhour has put the issues of crime and public safety front and center in her current campaign. | Source: Camille Cohen for The Standard

On social media, Philhour frequently accused Chan of failing to ensure public safety in the district as high-profile crimes have happened, including two shocking incidents involving thieves crashing vehicles into buildings to steal their ATMs. Other Chan opponents have taken to social media to criticize Chan for saying property crime is not a serious crime and to repost videos of constituents who were angered by her support for a progressive police commissioner.

Chan: ‘Why is she fighting me?’ 

Chan was born in Hong Kong and grew up in Taiwan before she moved to San Francisco during middle school. Before being elected as a supervisor, she worked in nonprofits and different city departments as a spokeswoman. She briefly had a column at the San Francisco Examiner covering the Asian American community.

In an interview with The Standard, Chan said she has been working to improve public safety for decades, starting with her work at SF SAFE and the Community Youth Center of San Francisco, before joining the District Attorney’s Office and City Hall as a community liaison and victim advocate.

Addressing the controversial “dismantle” the police quote, Chan said that as a non-native English speaker, she sometimes does not express herself as clearly as she intends to. While acknowledging she said the quote, she explained she meant to say “dismantle the racism” in the police department.

“I wish I was more clear in the way I talked about it than I was in that video,” Chan said.

As for the video that seems to capture her downplaying the seriousness of property crime, she said her comments have been taken out of context and that she was simply pointing out that property crime is different from violent crime. And she denied that she ever supported “defunding the police,” saying it’s a terrible slogan that has divided the community. 

A smiling woman shaking hands with a man on a city street corner, both holding coffee cups.
Supervisor Connie Chan greets SFPD Community Ambassador Rafael Labutan Jr. along Geary Boulevard on Saturday. | Source: Noah Berger for The Standard

In 2020, during the height of the Black Lives Matter movement, Breed led the effort to redirect some of the police department’s budget to community investment. Both Chan and Philhour were supportive of that idea at the time.

“We need a comprehensive public safety plan besides law enforcement, which is the key,” Chan told The Standard. “Prevention [of crime] is important, and we keep missing the point of that conversation.”

Chan said that Philhour’s attacks on her, including social media, billboards and other campaign materials, border on obsessive.

“Why is she fighting me?” Chan said. “Why isn’t she fighting for the Richmond? And join me in fighting for the Richmond?”

David Heller, a beauty product store owner and merchant leader in the Richmond, supports Chan. He said it’s a total lie to label Chan as anti-police and said voters should blame Breed for crime and safety issues, which are citywide problems.

Even though police data show that certain crimes are trending downward in the Richmond, Heller said that he sees evidence that crime is getting worse. Police data may not be accurate, he said, because people are not reporting crimes.

“My shop has been broken into three times. I’m in the process of putting up a gate,” Heller said. “A lot of people’s stores that got broken into more than two times, they don’t report it.”

Chan, who chairs the Board of Supervisors’ Budget and Finance Committee, said she has supported all the police budget increases that have come before her, as well as allocations for police overtime. She said Breed has not delivered results.

Philhour, who helped run Breed’s 2018 mayoral campaign and later joined her as a senior policy adviser at the Mayor’s Office, defended the mayor. 

A woman in a hearing room looks pensive, surrounded by microphones and blurred foreground objects.
San Francisco Supervisor Connie Chan, left, listens to a member of the public speak during the Board of Supervisors' meeting at City Hall on Tuesday. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

She said the supervisors are obstructionists who are not willing to work with Breed, adding that San Francisco voters have tired of progressive members like Chan and have elected more moderate candidates, such as Supervisors Matt Dorsey and Joel Engardio, in recent years. 

Zaslaw, the film producer, said she has not met Chan or Philhour in person and is still doing her research.

“Something could change my mind,” she said. “But as it stands now, Marjan seems aligned with my values and my current concerns.”