Hard-fought SF supervisor races flip board majority

If Election Day results hold as they are expected to, the Board of Supervisors has lost its progressive majority.

That will usher in a new era of board politics contrasting the past year when the progressive majority bloc dictated the board agenda and clashed with Mayor Ed Lee.

The race that shifted the political tide was the District 11 contest, where moderate Ahsha Safai bested progressive frontrunner Kimberly Alvarenga and three others. Safai’s victory gives the moderates a 6-5 voting bloc.

Safai, political director for SEIU Local 87, the janitors union, greatly outspent his opponents, benefiting from more than $1 million in combined campaign contributions and third-party spending.

The District 11 seat was held since district elections in 2000 by a progressive supervisor, first Gerardo Sandoval then John Avalos, who is termed out this year.

Moderates and their allies have long eyed District 11, along with District 1, as the most vulnerable progressive districts that could swing moderate, political consultant David Latterman said Wednesday at the annual post-election talk held by public policy think tank SPUR.

“D1 and D11 are dead in the center of San Francisco [political ideology],” Latterman said. “D-11 runs a little bit right of the center. D-1 is right straight in the middle. And they’ve had progressive supervisors straight through since 2000.”

Latterman added, “This is the first break that we have seen. People have been waiting for that happen.”

That also explains why more than $1 million flooded the District 1 race in support of moderate frontrunner Marjan Philhour, but that wasn’t enough to swing that district the other way as what happened in District 11. Instead, progressive Sandra Lee Fewer appears to have prevailed.

“This was always going to be a very close race,” Latterman said. “Sandy obviously had the name [recognition]. She was known from the school board. She is from the Richmond. She is Chinese.”

Philhour ran a “textbook campaign” during the past 18 months, but apparently came up short. Part of the reason she lost was because voters who supported moderate candidate David Lee had more of their other votes under ranked choice voting going to Fewer than Philhour.

Latterman said he was expecting to see the votes of those voters backing Lee, who came in third, to split 50-50 but instead it was 60-40 in favor of Fewer.

In other contests, Board of Supervisors President London Breed received 53 percent of the vote in her race against tenant rights activist Dean Preston to represent District 5.

“A few people have been a little surprised that Dean did as well as he did. But District 5 is the most progressive district,” Latterman said. He added, “This is London’s solid win here.”

Alex Clemens, another political consultant who hosts the post-election SPUR event, said Breed ran the race from the beginning as if she wasn’t an incumbent and as if the polls were unfavorable to her. “She ran this as if she was going to lose,” Clemens said. “Given the narrowness of this margin that was a very smart call early on.”

Another race with an incumbent was District 7, and like Breed in District 5 Supervisor Norman Yee was able to keep his opponents at bay. Some thought he was vulnerable since Yee has voted with the progressive bloc on the Board of Supervisors but represents the second most conservative district, though Latterman said none of the candidates could effectively make a strong case for change.

Arguably the most contentious race was the District 9 contest to represent the Mission District. Progressive Hillary Ronen prevailed with a significant vote margin, keeping that district in the hands of the progressives.

Latterman credited her strong showing to support she received from Bernal Heights. “Bernal Heights controls the political narrative in District 9,” Latterman said.

Over in District 3, Supervisor Aaron Peskin won a four-year term to the board without much effort, beating one candidate.

One of the biggest unknowns for the board was who would prevail in the state Senate race between supervisors Jane Kim and Scott Wiener. A Kim victory would have put the historically progressive District 6 seat at risk of going to a moderate, but it appears Wiener has prevailed.

Mayor Ed Lee is tasked with appointing someone to fill the board vacancy.

The November election marks the end of a long and tense political season. San Francisco voters will have a bit of a break, with no election expected until 2018.

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