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Politics & Policy

Aaron Peskin vows to lead San Francisco’s ‘recovery’ in mayoral campaign kickoff

A man with a beard, wearing a suit, stands at a lectern with a microphone, potentially giving a speech.
Aaron Peskin launches his campaign for mayor at a rally with supporters in Chinatown's Portsmouth Square on Saturday. | Source: Michaela Vatcheva for The Standard

San Francisco’s mayoral race officially entered a new era Saturday as longtime progressive leader Aaron Peskin joined the contest for the city’s top job.

Peskin, 59, president of the Board of Supervisors, formally kicked off his campaign at a rally in Chinatown’s Portsmouth Square, where throngs of his supporters—and a few dozen detractors—gathered.

"I am so deeply and sincerely grateful to have received the support I needed to recover and become sober," Peskin, who previously sought treatment for alcoholism, said to a crowd of hundreds of supporters, "and it has inspired me to dedicate the next chapter of my life to the recovery of this city.

"I believe San Francisco deserves a mature discussion, not a shouting match," he added.

A crowd at a political rally with "AARON" signs, listening to a speaker at a podium.
Peskin speaks to the crowd at his mayoral campaign launch on Saturday. | Source: Michaela Vatcheva for The Standard

Prominent progressive leaders, including former mayor Art Agnos and former state legislators Mark Leno and Tom Ammiano, were among those who showed up to support Peskin, who is currently in his fourth—and final—term as supervisor. Also in attendance were local Chinatown leaders and hundreds of Chinese seniors led by Community Tenants Association.

Other former and current city leaders who attended the rally told The Standard they were supporting Peskin because he knows City Hall best.

“He understands how everything works in the city,” former Board President and Supervisor Norman Yee said. “He could use the knowledge to put things together in a sensible way.”

Supervisor Hillary Ronen said she has sometimes disagreed and fought with Peskin, but she’s excited to support his candidacy.

“It’s undeniable that he’s incredibly smart and competent,” Ronen said. “He truly loves the city. He’s an independent person [who] isn’t controlled by any billionaires.”

A crowd gathers in a city square, with a speaker addressing them, city buildings in the background.
Hundreds of supporters listen to Peskin speak during his campaign launch rally. | Source: Michaela Vatcheva for The Standard

Just outside of the park, a few dozen protesters organized a counter-rally to express their disdain for the board president. Demonstrators slapped fly swatters on signs saying "Anybody but Aaron" and "Pesky Peskin," while blowing whistles and chanting, "Hey Hey, Ho Ho, Pesky Peskin has got to go.”

William Brega, an Asian American community activist who has lived in San Francisco for the past two years, said he believes a Peskin victory in November would be the opposite of progress.

“He hasn’t done anything to promote public safety,” Brega told The Standard. “I believe right now we need change from what we have had from City Hall. The change slate for the DCCC represents the majority. We need a candidate who shares the values of the current DCCC. Not any particular one—but anyone but Aaron.”

Protesters with signs that equate a person named Aaron Peskin with negativity and rebuke.
Jade Tu, campaign manager for former mayor and now candidate Mark Farrell, leads chants during an anti-Peskin protest at the edge of Portsmouth Square on Saturday. | Source: Michaela Vatcheva for The Standard

Shortly after 10:30 a.m., before Peskin's rally officially started, a few protesters got into a verbal altercation with his supporters, with the warring sides both yelling, "Shame on you." Speaking into a megaphone, community activist Forrest Liu told the supervisor's supporters, "If you are here and you are not white, Aaron Peskin wants you to bow to him."

"If you are here and you are not white, bow down to your master, Aaron Peskin," added Liu, who was wearing a black "Recall Chesa Boudin" hoodie.

San Francisco police officers and sheriff's deputies separated the two groups.

Protesters gather outside Peskin's mayoral campaign launch rally. | Source: Joel Umanzor/The Standrd

With Election Day now seven months away, Peskin, one of the city’s most experienced politicians, could very well be the last high-profile candidate to enter the race for mayor. Also running are incumbent Mayor London Breed, former Mayor and Supervisor Mark Farrell, philanthropist and Levi’s heir Daniel Lurie, and Supervisor Ahsha Safaí.

Peskin’s long-rumored candidacy was an open secret in the city’s political circles until last week, when he started calling and inviting people to Saturday’s rally.

Peskin is very popular and has high name recognition in Chinatown, a neighborhood he has represented as a supervisor on and off over the past two decades—making it an obvious choice for his campaign launch. His support for renter protections and low-income families’ rights has made him an ally to many in the community.

People at a rally hold signs supporting "Aaron" for mayor, with buildings in the background.
Peskin is popular and has high name recognition in Chinatown, which he currently represents on the Board of Supervisors. | Source: Michaela Vatcheva for The Standard

During his speech on Saturday, Peskin said, if elected, he would support more police and community policing, clean up corruption at City Hall, strengthen local rent control and open 2,000 new shelter beds.

"I will be a hands-on mayor, using the 25 years of governmental know-how, to once again make San Francisco the city that knows how," he said.

Peskin has never won a citywide race before. Traditionally, voters on the city’s westside, including many Chinese Americans, lean more moderate, but Jim Stearns, a campaign consultant for Peskin, said his strong name recognition in Chinese community will help him get some support from that part of the city.

“Chinese votes will be a key for him to win this election,” Stearns said.

While he has wielded substantial influence at City Hall, Peskin has also regularly sparred with colleagues and city staff and enraged YIMBYs and pro-development groups in the city by blocking new housing projects. Following complaints about his behavior, Peskin acknowledged in 2021 that he had a drinking problem and went to rehab.

After Peskin confirmed his candidacy on Wednesday, other candidates wasted no time in attacking the supervisor, comparing him to the Terminator and calling him “abusive” and “toxic.”

When asked if Peskin's entry into the race would split the moderate vote among the rest of the candidates, Jade Tu, Mark Farrell’s campaign manager, told The Standard that she believed his candidacy would do the opposite.

“Take a look at this,” Tu said, pointing to the crowd of counter-protesters. “‘Moderates have not been this united, like they are now, to get rid of Aaron Peskin and make sure he isn’t mayor.”