by Randy Shaw on February 20, 2024 (

No Clear Frontrunner

Mark Farrell added another “moderate” to San Francisco’s mayor’s race last week. The city’s first even year mayoral election still lacks a clear “progressive” despite progressives pushing a November 2022 ballot measure shifting mayoral elections to a higher turnout election cycle.

Considering that multiple progressives ran against a much politically stronger incumbent Mayor Ed Lee in 2011, the absence of a clearly identified progressive candidate in 2024 is unusual and surprising. 2024 also remains the most open mayor’s race in decades, with no clear front runner.

Here’s my take on the state of the race and how Farrell will impact it.

Farrell Goes Specific

Mark Farrell broke from standard candidate announcements by offering specific policy positions he would implement as mayor. Farrell promoted three stances I have pushed in articles: the replacement of Chief Scott (I called for that two years ago), the repeal of the Market Street car ban, and the need to use Mid-Market and Tenderloin sales taxes to improve public safety in those neighborhoods.

I’ve been surprised that neither the mayor nor her prior challengers jumped on repealing the car ban. It’s gotten a huge positive response. Now Mark Farrell has jumped on an issue that will definitely help him with the voters he needs to win (not however, with SFYimby according to Bobak Esfandiari).

Farrell will primarily take first place votes from Daniel Lurie. That may explain the Lurie campaign’s press release claiming supervisor Farrell voted with Breed “95% of the time.” It also stated, “public records also show the number of police officers fell during his time as mayor while 911 response times and the number of homeless encampments increased.”

Breed backer Conor Johnston went further, tweeting that as interim mayor the new candidate “oversaw the Farrell Crime Wave.” Johnston even quoted Lurie in stating that “officer numbers went down under Farrell.”

Do voters remember what happened during Farrell’s brief tenure as mayor? I doubt it. And as for his “95% of the time” aligned with Breed, I bet every supervisor voted with Breed at least 90%. After all, most Board votes are not contested.

Lurie’s big picture theme that San Francisco can do better resonates with voters. So does his core message, “It’s time for a new era of accountable leadership,” which reflects both his and Safai’s view that the mayor’s race is about who can best manage the city. Lurie is strongest speaking to small groups and is spending a lot of time in such meetings.

Lurie’s website has a “Priorities” section that sets forth his big picture vision. But I’ve heard from many  unclear on what Lurie would specifically do as mayor. His mailings announce specific goals but not specific actions he would take to achieve them. Farrell announcing precisely what he would do was a smart move; I expect Lurie to soon do the same.

Farrell’s challenge is threefold. First, a lot of voters have no idea who he is. Second, ask people to identify Farrell’s successes as supervisor or mayor and you are likely to draw a blank. Third, Farrell took some controversial positions on tenant protections and housing that his opponents are likely to highlight. Based on his supervisor record Farrell would be the city’s most conservative mayor since Frank Jordan.

To the extent that many voters are first learning about Mark Farrell from his candidate announcement, he’s off to a good start. Let’s see where he goes from here.

A 1991 Rerun?

The 2024 election has parallels with 1991.

1991 began with Mayor Art Agnos a seeming lock for re-election. But that spring two other SF Bay Guardian favored progressives—Angela Alioto and Richard Hongisto—entered the race. The combination of Agnos being hit by both candidates from the left and by former police chief Frank Jordan from the right badly damaged the mayor. He would have won re-election under ranked choice voting but it was not in place; Agnos lost to Jordan in a runoff.

Mayor Breed now has three fellow “moderate” challengers. She is not assured of getting the most second place votes from any of her rivals. The biggest challenge for all four candidates is winning the most second place votes. If this remains the field, the candidate that can best navigate ranked choice voting will win.

Breed has some advantages Agnos lacked. She is the only woman in the race and the only African American. She is the only candidate who grew up in poverty (Safai grew up in a working-class family whose stepfather was a taxi driver and mother a secretary). Breed is a far more dynamic public speaker than her rivals.

Breed also benefits from her opponents attacking each other. That’s a sharp contrast to the all-out piling on against Agnos (one reason Jordan won is that the other challengers ignored him).

Finally, if the moderate slate wins control of the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee  Breed could win the Democratic Party mayoral endorsement.  That would offer her a huge boost in the November 2024 election cycle when a lot of San Franciscans will be voting the complete Democratic Party slate.

Will Peskin or Chiu run?

Dean Preston put Prop H on the ballot in November 2022 to get the larger voter turnout he felt was necessary to elect a progressive mayor. What was the point if no progressive runs?

Ahsha Safai has aligned with labor and progressives on key issues. He’s a solid progressive by the standard definition but has yet to be invited on to the San Francisco progressive island. If labor and progressives’ strongly backed him he could win. But that’s a big if.

Aaron Peskin has gone out of his way to tell reporters he’s not running.

David Chiu is the only person who people talk about running who is not currently in the race and could potentially win. Chiu would likely sweep the Westside. He would also get some progressive votes although, like Safai, Chiu has not been accepted in the progressive camp. This despite his once being among the most progressive members of the State Assembly.

Some progressives oppose Chiu over to his office defending the city in the Coalition on Homelessness lawsuit. Chiu also angered progressives during his 2014 Assembly race against David Campos; it’s been a decade but I’m not sure those wounds have healed.

Would Chiu run against the mayor who appointed him City Attorney? We’ll soon find out.

Post-March Upsurge

Other than Farrell’s announcement there has been little media attention on the mayor’s race. That should change following the March elections. Mid-March offers a great opportunity for Breed’s challengers to build name identification among voters and stake out what they would do differently as mayor. It also gives Breed a chance to remind voters why they elected her in 2018.

We could even know by April whether this is indeed the complete mayoral field.

Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the Director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which publishes Beyond Chron. Shaw’s latest book is Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America. He is the author of four prior books on activism, including The Activist’s Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. He is also the author of The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

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