Election night results suggest San Francisco’s political shift—not fully to the right, but certainly right-adjacent to the more liberal, progressive wing of the Democratic Party—is in full swing.
The moderate camp of city politics appears to be on the verge of keeping all of Mayor London Breed's appointees on the school board, retaining one member on the Board of Supervisors and potentially adding another, while also passing one notable ballot measure—Prop. J, the battle to keep JFK Drive car-free. Breed and her supporters are keeping their fingers crossed for Prop. D, a measure aimed at streamlining housing production.
One question being asked in the hot-take time machine that is the present is whether the mayor can capitalize on the gains from Tuesday’s election.
The short answer: Kinda?
Breed, who will have another year tacked onto her mayoral term before running for reelection in 2024 thanks to the passage of Prop. H, saw three of her preferred candidates—two of whom she appointed—take early leads Tuesday: District Attorney Brooke Jenkins (likely to win), Supervisor Matt Dorsey (likely to win) and supervisor candidate Joel Engardio (too close to call).
A Jenkins victory would solidify the mayor’s preference for a tough-on-crime prosecutor—or at least someone tougher than Chesa Boudin—who can partner with a no-longer hibernating police department when it comes to dealing with open-air drug markets.
How soon residents can expect progress in making the city’s downtown core safer, or at least appear safer, remains to be seen. But with the mayor’s office, police and the city’s top prosecutor all on the same page, the possibility for improvement sooner than later exists.
In an interview Tuesday afternoon, Mayor Breed suggested that victories for her preferred candidates would speak less to voters signing off on her goals and more about residents’ basic desire to live in a functional city.
“It's not about my mandate; it's about what people in San Francisco want,” Breed said. “They want to be safe. They want transportation to work. They want housing to be affordable. They want our schools to function and work for our kids. They want teachers to get paid.”
All three of Breed's appointees to the San Francisco Unified School District—following a recall election in February—appear poised to hold on to their jobs, which combined with a victory for appointed community college trustee Murrell Green at City College of San Francisco would make the mayor a perfect six-for-six—assuming, of course, Engardio holds on to his slim lead in D4.
As for getting a jet-fuel injection into her legislative agenda, Mayor Breed may still find that a tough sell. Even if Engardio gets elected, progressives still hold a relatively firm 6-5 majority. However, the mayor can still potentially pick off a couple of swing votes depending on the issue in front of the board.
Supervisor Aaron Peskin, a progressive who has made compromise agreements with Breed on issues from reforming trash-hauler Recology to police surveillance, suggested that any talk of a consolidation of power for the mayor—or really just a change in the status quo—is overblown.
“This Board of Supervisors rarely gets in the mayor's way, and this mayor rarely gets in the board’s way,” he said. “This is not a board that is hostile to the executive branch. I don’t think [Tuesday’s election results] make a rat’s difference.”
Prop. D, which was backed by the mayor, was too close to call early Tuesday night, so housing issues, in particular, will not get any easier despite a new board makeup. Even if Engardio had been around to join the mayor’s board allies for the controversial vote on the Stevenson Street project, it still would have died by a 7-4 vote.
One of Breed’s top priorities going into next year—perhaps only second to public safety—will be coming up with an actual solution to the coming commercial real estate collapse.
Massive layoffs in the tech sector—Elon Musk annihilated Twitter’s workforce last week after taking over as CEO, and Salesforce announced its own wave of layoffs Tuesday—are only exacerbating fears over grim tax revenue due to the abandonment of in-office work by many companies.
“You could have 11 supervisors and the mayor all on the same page about reinvigorating the downtown core, but that’s not going to get [Salesforce CEO] Marc Benioff to change the behavior of his employees,” Peskin said.
A major concern is that the economic worst is still to come.
If more layoffs occur and a new wave of tech companies looks for greener pastures in, say, the deserts of Texas, San Francisco’s economy could truly crash through the floor. Any consolidation of power to be had between now and then would put the person in charge in the crosshairs of an even angrier electorate.
Josh Koehn can be reached at [email protected]