I’ve always wanted to say it, so here goes: Heeeeere’s Johnny!
Yes, cats and kittens, he’s back. Former supervisor John Avalos has started the paperwork rollin’ (“pulled papers” in insider parlance) Tuesday to campaign for his former seat representing San Francisco’s southern neighborhoods, the Department of Elections confirmed.
Avalos already served two terms on the board, where he championed The City’s local-hire law, ensuring jobs for thousands of workers building municipal construction projects.
In 2016 he was termed out, and the stalwart progressive was replaced by his one-time rival, now-Supervisor Ahsha Safai, who has traditionally — but not always — been aligned with The City’s moderate Democrat faction.
But Avalos is taking advantage of the same city charter language that let Supervisor Aaron Peskin return to the board after being termed out. Essentially, even if you’ve hit your term limit, if you sit out at least one term you can run for your supervisor seat all over again.
Avalos is doing just that.
Speaking to me Thursday, he said housing needs to be built for San Franciscans, a task he argued Safai is not up to.
“We need the type of development that’s not driven first by the profit-makers, but driven first by community need,” Avalos said.
Safai was unimpressed by the news. I’m sure he expected it.
“It’s a democracy and I welcome anyone that decides to run to continue to advance our city in a positive direction,” Safai told me.
If Safai were to lose his District 11 seat, Mayor London Breed could have an even rougher first full term than expected. Already with soon-to-be supervisor Dean Preston’s win this election, the progressives will have a veto-proof majority to put forth their own visions on housing, transportation, mental health and homelessness — which are often directly in conflict with Breed’s vision.
But if Safai were out, Breed would lose one of her last consistent allies among the supervisors.
Sure, a tenacious mayor could perhaps peel off a vote or two. But a nearly clean slate of all the supervisors? That spells trouble for the Lion from Galileo High School.
Jason McDaniel, a San Francisco State University political science professor, said Avalos would likely pose a significant challenge to Safai. He described it as a rare battle of equal advantages in a San Francisco supervisor race.
“Running against an incumbent with high name recognition (among voters) can be a huge advantage. We saw that clearly with Peskin coming back” in 2015, McDaniel said, when Peskin beat Julie Christensen in a landslide. However, Safai versus Avalos will be different.
“We rarely see this well known, high name recognition incumbent versus another well known, high name recognition incumbent,” McDaniel said.
Our recent election, however, showed The City’s progressive base is energized. It used to be common knowledge among political insiders that progressives do well in high-turnout elections, like presidential races, and moderates do well in low turnout elections.
District Attorney-elect Chesa Boudin and Supervisor-elect Dean Preston’s wins flip that script, signaling progressives may be gaining ground.
“Ahsha could lose very easily,” McDaniel said, especially if his campaign does not incorporate ranked-choice voting strategies. Moderate Suzy Loftus failed to do so in her race, giving Boudin the upper hand.
Dave Ho, a political insider who ran an independent expenditure campaign supporting Safai in 2016, said the supervisor has delivered for Asian San Franciscans. That’s why he stumped so hard for Ahsha — so the supervisor would help that key constituency.
“He’s consistently supported the Chinese and Filipino communities” in the budget process, Ho said.
That’s especially key in the neighborhoods of District 11, Ho said, which is home to a robust Filipino community.
Speaking of independent expenditure committees, like the one Ho ran, those big-money-backed groups tend to run the most brutal attack ads in any election. Avalos has some vulnerabilities in that regard, including an Ethics Commission violation for a campaign spending snafu, and a romantic liaison in his office that I won’t highlight too strongly here.
But McDaniel said it’s unlikely any such campaign ads would sway voters.
“I think it’d be a mistake to use his personal life” in campaign messaging, McDaniel said.
Jim Ross, a veteran campaign consultant who has worked for Gavin Newsom, said District 11 is a place where neighborhood issues truly come to the fore.
But if there are any lessons from our most recent election, he said, it’s that “people are upset about the direction of The City and are looking for an alternative.”
And that may tip the scales enough for Avalos to put some heat on Safai.
“I think he has a real race on his hands,” Ross said.
District 11 won’t be the only hotly contested seat in 2020, when odd-numbered supervisorial districts will be in contention. In District 7, representing the south-west side of The City, Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee will be termed out. So far, Karim Salgado and Joel Engardio, a former San Francisco Examiner columnist, have pulled paperwork to run in District 7.
“I’m running for supervisor to be an advocate for Westside residents who are tired of being City Hall’s ATM when they feel besieged by crime, potholes and quality of life issues,” Engardio said in a statement. “I believe San Francisco’s best days are ahead, but only if we tackle today’s problems with equal doses of innovation and common sense.”
Rounding out the supervisor races, Supervisor Aaron Peskin has pulled papers to run in District 3, as has Spencer Simonsen. Supervisor-elect Dean Preston has pulled paperwork to defend his seat in 2020 as well.
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