Vallie Brown began Tuesday night with a strong lead over opponent Dean Preston in the race to represent San Francisco’s District 5, but Preston had claimed a slim majority by the end of the night.
In the first round of results released shortly before 9 p.m., Brown had 48.3 percent of first-choice votes to Preston’s 39.1 percent. With ranked choice voting taken into account, Brown was leading by an even larger margin at 54.4 percent to Preston’s 45.5 percent.
By the last round of results released after midnight, however, Preston had inched ahead and claimed 50.86 percent of the vote after ranked-choice voting preferences were taken into account, while Brown’s was at 49.1 percent.
Many ballots remain to be counted over the coming days. In low-turnout San Francisco races such as this one, elections have been known to come down to a difference of a few hundred votes.
Maureen Erwin, a consultant who ran campaigns for state Sen. Scott Wiener, said earlier in the night that if Vallie Brown wasn’t winning by a wide margin in early voting results than Preston could come out ahead as more ballots were counted.
That’s because mail-in ballots, which are counted early, tend to skew towards political moderates. Day-of votes tend to skew progressive, she said.
“If I have a moderate candidate and they’re not ahead on election night … by a healthy margin, I’d be worried,” Erwin said.
Brown herself sounded a cautious note as positive early results came in.
“I’m waiting,” she said. “I always say when you run (for office), you should always run scared.”
As the night came to a close with the election still undecided, Preston sounded a confident note in a speech to his chanting, enthusiastic supporters.
“Thank you all for fighting this fight with us,” Preston said. “We will be watching these results. We don’t know what will come of it, but we do know we’re going to fight, we’re going to fight to make sure that every vote is counted, and at the end of that I am confident and optmistic that we will win.”
Brown, a mayoral appointee who trumpeted her record of legislation passed and neighborhood bonafides, faced off against tenant advocate Preston, a Democratic Socialist with big, bold ideas and progressive backing but no experience as a city office holder.
Brown has built on her experience working for previous supervisors in District 5, including Ross Mirkarimi and Mayor London Breed. Breed appointed Brown to her seat in January after she was sworn in as mayor.
Preston founded and led tenant advocacy group Tenants Together, and helped lead a campaign for last year’s Prop. F, which gave all tenants in San Francisco faced with eviction the right to city-subsidized legal counsel. He previously ran for supervisor in 2016 against Breed and narrowly lost that race.
The stakes for the election extend beyond District 5, as a win by Preston would guarantee a veto-proof majority for the progressive wing of the Board of Supervisors, reducing the mayor’s ability to advance her agenda. A win by Brown, however, could give Breed some continued leverage in negotiations with the Board of Supervisors.
In her time on the Board of Supervisors, Brown has championed the creation of a triage center where homeless people living in RVs and other vehicles can stay and obtain city services. She also was instrumental in pushing for higher pay for Muni bus and train operators, which is expected to help ease a driver shortage that has slowed Muni service for thousands.
She was virtually alone on the Board of Supervisors in her support for state Sen. Scott Wiener’s Senate Bill 50, which would have allowed taller housing to be built near transit lines across California. Brown has also drawn fire from progressives for her opposition to oversight for the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing.
Brown has also come under fire in recent weeks after the news emerged that she had evicted tenants from a property in the 1990s and then falsely claimed in campaign materials and public statements that those tenants had not paid rent. That claim was later proven incorrect after the San Francisco tenants union unearthed documents connected with the eviction and one of the tenants, Mary Packer, came forward. Brown has since apologized for the false statements.
Preston has called for city crackdowns on Uber and Lyft drivers and free Muni service for all. He has also called for San Francisco to begin licensing landlords, so that if a landlord violated the law, their license to operate could be revoked.
He has not held elected office previously. Preston suffered a blow to his campaign when he could not muster enough votes at the local Democratic Party board to earn their endorsement, a coveted stamp of approval.
Nomvula O’Meara and Ryan Lam, two other candidates for the District 5 race and relative newcomers, did not raise significant campaign funds and were not expected to garner a significant portion of the D5 vote.
Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez, Ida Mojadad and Sara Gaiser contributed to this report.