Ever since Mayor London Breed nominated Dennis Herrera to lead the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, City Hall insiders have speculated on how the political dominoes will fall.
If all goes as planned for Herrera, Assemblyman David Chiu is widely rumored to be next in line for Herrera’s spot as city attorney. But what does that mean for Chiu’s job in the state legislature?
While nothing is certain this early on, the biggest names possibly considering a run for assembly are District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney and David Campos, vice chair of the California Democratic Party and chief of staff to District Attorney Chesa Boudin.
Of the two, only Campos has confirmed he is interested in potentially seeking the job at this point. But if both decide to run, the race could turn into a showdown between two progressive candidates that could expose tensions within the furthest-left coalition of City Hall.
“We are both trying to work it out,” Campos told The Examiner.
Haney said he’s currently focused on his job representing the Tenderloin and South of Market. If the assembly position does open up, he said it’s important for San Francisco to have a strong leader on “tenant protections, health care, housing and economic justice and recovery.”
“Whatever happens, I’ll be very involved in helping making sure we have someone representing us in the assembly who continues to lead on those issues,” Haney said.
Campos was initially considering running against Chiu for city attorney, if the assemblyman is appointed as expected and stands for election, but said his attention has shifted toward the possibility of running for the state seat representing the eastern side of San Francisco instead.
“From my interaction at the state level, my work with the state Democratic Party, I do think that there is a need for strong progressive voice especially among communities of color and within the Latinx community in particular,” Campos said.
Haney and Campos are only part of a large pool of potential candidates who are registered to vote in Assembly District 17 and could jump into the mix. At least one other official has said she is considering running: Thea Selby, a past president and member of the Board of Trustees at City College of San Francisco.
“The thing about San Francisco is there’s always a huge bench of potential candidates for office, no matter what that office is,” said political consultant Jim Ross.
Ross said the most likely candidates to run for the position will come from the Board of Supervisors. Both Chiu and Campos were supervisors when they ran against each other for assembly in 2014 and Chiu won in a victory for the moderate faction.
But all of the current supervisors who live in his assembly district — Haney, Rafael Mandelman, Aaron Peskin, Shamann Walton, Hillary Ronen and Dean Preston — identify with the progressive wing of City Hall.
“They are all pretty progressive,” Ross said. “The question is do they run against each other? Does that split up the field?”
Of the bunch, Mandelman was also rumored to be mulling a run for city attorney or assembly. But he told The Examiner he has no plans to do so at this time.
And while moderate-backed supervisors Ahsha Safai and Catherine Stefani represent areas that bleed into the assembly district, neither supervisor is registered to vote in AD 17 or eligible to run.
Jason McDaniel, an associate professor of political science at San Francisco State University, said the situation speaks to the strength of the progressive coalition and longtime failures of recruiting by leaders in the moderate wing.
While Breed, Chiu, Sen. Scott Wiener and Gov. Gavin Newsom are considered powerful moderate politicians, McDaniel said they are facing “more competition from a well-organized and often quite united progressive coalition.”
McDaniel pointed to the losses the moderate faction has had not just at the Board of Supervisors, backing candidates who lost against progressives like Peskin and Preston, but at the school board level and for district attorney.
“That’s a problem,” McDaniel said. “I think the moderate bench is a little weak right now, in terms of city positions.”
If the race does shape up to be a competition between Haney and Campos, McDaniel said he could see the race exposing fractures along the lines of endorsements from leaders, political groups and unions within the progressive wing.
“I wouldn’t say it would split the progressive base, but it might cause tension within what I’d call the progressive elite,” he said.
McDaniel could also see a situation in a race between the two progressives where Haney leans moderate, and grabs key endorsements.
“If he could, I think that would make him a very powerful possibility,” McDaniel said.
On the other hand, Ross said the fact Campos is vice chair of the state Democratic Party could help him.
“In any of these races, there’s two endorsements that really matter,” Ross said. “That’s the party and labor. If he has an inside track to getting the party in any of these races, that’s a huge advantage.”
The other factor looming in the background of whether any candidate decides to run for assembly is the amount of other seats that could open up in the future.
If House Speaker Nancy Pelosi or U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein decided to retire, for instance, Breed is considered to be a potential contender for either seat. That could trigger a mayor’s race for San Francisco.
“The question about who runs I think goes back to who wants to hang out and run for mayor,” Ross said.
For now, Breed has yet to say who will be next city attorney. A spokesperson for the mayor said she is waiting for Herrera to finalize the terms of his contract with the SFPUC before announcing a decision.
When asked whether Breed has offered him the appointment or if he would accept it, Chiu responded in a text message, “haven’t discussed with the mayor.”
“I love fighting for San Francisco in our state capitol, but would give the city attorney role serious consideration if the opportunity arose,” Chiu said. “I’ve always looked to how I can best serve our city, and will continue to do so.”