With less than two months left until November’s election, a new question is dividing candidates in the mayoral race: Is the Central Subway a train to nowhere?
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City Attorney Dennis Herrera, a mayoral candidate and former subway supporter, will soon publicly oppose Muni’s $1.6 billion plan to connect SoMa to Chinatown. Michela Alioto-Pier, a supporter while on the Board of Supervisors, now says it lacks vision and should benefit more than one neighborhood, her campaign manager said.
Public Defender Jeff Adachi and former Supervisor Tony Hall also oppose the project.
Mayor Ed Lee and most other mayoral candidates continue to support the project. On Wednesday, Lee dismissed the growing opposition as “political shenanigans.”
But former supervisors Aaron Peskin and Jake McGoldrick — both one-time backers of the plan — also have recently become opponents. That makes the subway one of few divisive issues in the race, and one that is uniting progressive and moderate opponents along nonideological lines.
“The Central Subway seems to have the potential to be a huge issue in this race, particularly since a lot of supporters are starting to revisit their opinion on it,” said Corey Cook, a politics professor at the University of San Francisco.
Hall, a longtime opponent, sees his challengers changing their positions to differentiate themselves from Lee, who has a sizable lead in early opinion polls.
Herrera is expected to issue a paper detailing his opposition in the coming days. Spokesman Matt Dorsey said the project’s ballooning costs and faulty design prompted the city attorney to reassess his prior support. As evidence, he cited a recent grand Jury report that was highly critical of the plan.
“Dennis thinks that the Central Subway, as currently planned and for its current costs, has ceased to be a prudent investment,” Dorsey said.
Originally slated to cost $643 million, the project’s total price tag has ballooned to $1.6 billion.
Herrera’s about-face provoked a hostile backlash in Chinatown, where support for the subway is strong. On Tuesday, prominent community members urged residents to oppose Herrera for his new stance. Eddie Au, vice president of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, called Herrera a “political rat.”
Supervisor John Avalos, Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting and venture capitalist Joanna Rees still support the project despite concerns about its costs and design. David Chiu, Bevan Dufty and Leland Yee also reaffirmed their support.
At a news conference Wednesday, new Muni chief Ed Reiskin said the subway still enjoys broad support among elected officials.
“For a major project, this has received an incredibly wide range of support,” said Reiskin.