The rollicking, at times humorous and other times downright mean, race for state Senate in San Francisco is drawing to a close with less than a month remaining before Election Day.
State Senate candidates Jane Kim and Scott Wiener are both lawyers and members of the Board of Supervisors, and both represent the contrasting political spectrums within San Francisco’s Democratic Party.
The winner will replace termed out District 11 state Sen. Mark Leno to represent San Francisco and northern San Mateo County.
Their debates and campaign platforms strike to the very core of the dueling ideological camps playing out everyday in San Francisco’s politics — moderates, like Wiener, versus progressives, like Kim.
The two have spent about a year convincing voters of their stark differences, while also sharing many similarities.
They have fought over donors, third-party “dark money” spending, work ethic, records on tenant rights, homeless policies, whether to build a new jail and more — all while rents and evictions have soared, and the economic pressures of a vibrant technology industry persist.
Heading into November, Kim had momentum after prevailing in the June primary. Wiener noticeably went on the offensive, waging sustained attacks against Kim.
On Monday, the two squared off in a nearly two-hour debate, where conviviality was mixed with sharp attacks, marking the latest opportunity for the two to seize upon the other’s perceived weaknesses.
During the final push of their campaigns at the debate at University of San Francisco on Monday night, they traded barbs over housing, campaign contributions, the proposed soda tax and a recent spat over a Brisbane development.
Kim argues that among the top differences between her and Wiener is housing policy.
“My opponent really believes in build, build, build,” Kim said. She took aim at the supply-and-demand premise that simply building more units of all types would draw prices down.
“The only way to make San Francisco more affordable is to build as much affordable and middle housing as possible,” Kim said. She highlights her negotiating skills in getting developers to build more than the required amounts of below-market-rate units. “I negotiate hard,” Kim said.
Wiener, however, characterizes his housing philosophy as “let’s have enough housing so that the average rent is no longer $3,500 a month,” and he calls Kim a housing development obstructionist.
In the final weeks of the campaign, Wiener has honed in on not only Kim’s opposition to the soda tax on the November ballot, but also the third-party spending the soda industry is contributing to support Kim.
“I will fight the soda industry in Sacramento,” Wiener said. “I’m not going to be in the pocket of the soda industry. I don’t think the same can be said of my opponent.”
Kim defended her position on the soda tax. She argues that she is against flat regressive taxes that impact the poor. “I just don’t believe that is the way that we should get behavior to change,” Kim said, adding that she supports subsidizing healthier food options instead.
While Kim notes she passed one of the toughest eviction laws in 2014 at the board, she criticizes Wiener’s real estate support, which includes those who funded efforts to eliminate state rent control.
“His donors have certainly decided who best represents their values and interests,” Kim said.
Wiener said he doesn’t share the same views as his real estate backers.
“I have a long history of supporting rent control. I have been a supporter of Ellis Act reform,” Wiener said.
Wiener criticized Kim for benefiting from the soda industry’s third-party spending, which he said was $180,000 for the Affordable Housing Alliance, which sent out mailers supporting her.
Kim said it’s unfair to criticize that spending without looking at all of the spending in the race. She pointed, for example, to Airbnb spending hundreds of thousands supporting Wiener and his allies during the June primary.
“If we are going to start talking about dark money, there is over a million dollars that have been poured into the race just in the month of September in negative attack ads against me,” she said. She noted some 680,000 from “speculators and landlords who are fighting Ellis Act reforms” and $200,000 from tech investor Ron Conway.
Kim noted she had wanted to take the Elizabeth Warren pledge and donate to charities the equal amount of “dark money” supporting them, but Wiener declined, calling it a gimmick among several other pledges Kim called on him to sign.
When Brisbane was recently discussing the development of a 600-acre Baylands site for office and commercial space but not housing, some Bay Area leaders were steamed. Kim put pressure on Brisbane by suggesting San Francisco take over the land.
Wiener was critical of Kim’s approach.
“That is not how you work across county lines,” Wiener said. “You do it by working in partnership, not by saying you are going to clobber you over the head and conquer you if you don’t do what I say. That was not well-received
in San Mateo County,” Wiener said.
Kim responded, “Well, it may not have been well-received, but it worked because now Brisbane is saying that it plans on building housing on the Brisbane Baylands.”
The winner goes on to Sacramento, leaving a vacancy on the Board of Supervisors. Mayor Ed Lee will appoint someone to fill the seat for the next 18 months, unless voters approve Proposition D on the November ballot.
That measure would restrict the appointee from running in an election to fill the seat, which would likely be scheduled within months per the measure.