This November, USF students who are hungering for a taste of the political process will get a chance to cast their votes in San Francisco’s Mayoral election. With Mayor Ed Lee’s million dollar war chest — funding gathered from donors long before the election — the incumbent is the favorite to win. There is also an absence of career politicians in the race against Lee. “There would have to be a serious earthquake politically for us to see Ed Lee leave office right now,” said USF Professor of Urban Affairs Rachel Brahinsky.
So far, the Ed Lee for Mayor 2015 campaign has raised over one million dollars in campaign contributions, and has spent around $967,000 according to forms filed with the SF Ethics Commission. These are numbers that discouraged potential mainstream candidates like Supervisor John Avalos, State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, Public Defender Jeff Adachi, and State Senator Mark Leno from entering the race, but others have said that Lee’s funding actually inspired them to run.
City College professor and technology consultant Keith Freedman made the choice to oppose Lee, in part because of the Mayor’s money. “What I read was that they [Leno and Ammiano] decided not to run because Lee had too much money, and it seemed odd to me that someone should get a free ride to reelection only because they were able to collect a lot of money,” he said.
Also among the candidates is Francisco Herrera, a cultural worker and community activist. “None of the regular politicians who we know and care for were going to run against Lee because he had too many millions of dollars,” Herrera said, “So I said if we can make a 12 year plan and build a city alliance across parties [and] across sectors, then I am more than happy to throw my hat in there.”
Candidate Amy Farah Weiss joined the race for a similar reason. “I was feeling despair about the status quo and the future of San Francisco under Ed Lee’s leadership,” she said. Her campaign has raised approximately $9,000, about as much as Herrera’s.
“How amazing to have a million [that could be used] in support of co-creating solutions, having teach-ins and forums, because this is the future of SF and we’re in a crisis. But how has he used that money? He’s made a bunch of bags that say ‘I’m an Ed-head’ and it’s just a squandering of money,” said Weiss.
“To bring money in that form makes a mockery out of democracy,” Herrera agreed.
Where Does the Money Come From?
Nearly all of the $1,105,000 that the Ed Lee’s committee has raised comes from individual donors who are allowed to give up to $500. Among these contributors are prominent members of Bay Area business communities, including Dick Costolo of Twitter, James Freeman of Blue Bottle Coffee, and Josh Tetrick of Hampton Creek.
Mayor Lee owes his relationship with the San Francisco business community to former mayor Willie Brown, according to Professor James Taylor of USF’s Political Science department. Mayor Lee is “an extension of the Willie Brown machine,” said Professor Taylor.
In the first six months of 2015, the Ed Lee campaign spent close to $967,000, of which $231,150 went to campaign consultants. Freedman speculated on why the Lee campaign has spent so much compared to others. “It may be that he’s spent that much to make sure that he can edge people from running and its seems to be effective,” he said.
Professor Brahinsky said, “Even without major challengers, any sitting mayor would want to use the election as a bully pulpit. His [Lee’s] team probably sees the election as an opportunity to improve and solidify his image in general.”
Of the 17 candidates who have declared their intentions to run, several have filed FPPC 470 forms indicating that they don’t expect to be receiving more than $1,000 during this election year.
“One, Two, Three and Replace Ed Lee”
Candidates Weiss, Herrera, and Schuffman have decided to combine forces to defeat Lee by asking voters to put their three names on the ballots. Their strategy will take advantage San Francisco’s ranked-choice voting system, whereby voters can choose up to three candidates to vote for. “The idea is to fill up that whole slate with one, two, three and replace Ed Lee,” said Weiss, “[We] are the candidates that took a stand and decided to step up and disrupt pay-to-play politics and support an equitable SF. I and Francisco and Stuart have the courage to step forward and say that we are going to take this on.”
Freedman, excluded from Weiss’s ballot scheme, is skeptical of her approach. “It’s kind of odd when you’re suggesting that people vote for a slate, and Amy [Weiss] always puts herself first, so I wonder what benefits the other two get out of that,” he said.
The Big Issues
Affordable housing is among the many issues that the candidates will be discussing. “We need to “protect people from these immoral evictions that are happening simply because people want to make a buck” say Herrera. He points to a gentrification process that he and others have observed taking place in the city. “This generation of folks haven’t come to San Francisco because they want to take part in San Francisco,” he said, “They’ve been brought here by corporations promising to them that they’ll become a millionaire in couple of years. It’s very much a gold rush kind of drunken fever.”
Professor Brahinsky sees affordable housing as an issue that spans different sectors of the population. “On one end, people care about evictions, on the other end, they worry about the cost of buying a house. They all care deeply about housing and their ability to stay in San Francisco,” he said.
Weiss believes affordable housing can be achieved through growing the economy sustainably and providing jobs for San Franciscans. “The most important issue is to work together to co-create a truly equitable, sustainable and livable San Francisco,” she said, “We need to diversify industry, we need to connect educational opportunities to economic opportunity and we need to support housing affordability and grow sustainably.”
So what does Freedman think is the most important issue facing the city? “General management of departments. If departments are well-managed and they have all the resources they need then they will do their job,” he said.
While Schuffman said affordable housing was his top priority, he added that homelessness was also a large concern. Schuffman’s plan for helping the homeless involves building shelters that “help them transition from being a street person who has mental disabilities or drug issues, to being a more functional member of society and getting them back on their feet.”
What The Election Means to USF
On a clear day, the gold-leaf City Hall Dome can easily be seen from the USF campus, but the Mayoral elections might seem distant to some students, especially those who live outside of San Francisco. Speaking about the outcome of the Mayoral elections, Professor Taylor said, “Its direct impact on USF might be more long-term than immediate, and that would be speaking in terms of who heads city departments and different agencies in the City.”
Taylor still encourages students to vote, however. “I think it’s important that students engage in the political process because San Francisco is a city in flux. There’s a great deal of change going on and it relates specifically to the impact of younger people.”
Professor Brahinsky said, “How important you think the election is for USF and USF students depends on how you feel about the current state of the City.”
The elections will take place on Nov. 3. Students can register to vote at http://registertovote.ca.gov and vote in person at City Hall or at their local polling place.
Photo courtesy of Mike Koozman/SF Examiner