Mayor London Breed is up for re-election Tuesday, but there isn’t a more closely watched contest on the ballot than the race for district attorney.
San Francisco’s race for top prosecutor began as the first contest of its kind in more than a century without an incumbent in the running. Then a number of unexpected moves made the race even more interesting.
A few weeks before the election, Breed appointed her preferred candidate Suzy Loftus as interim district attorney. And in a last-minute surge of spending, the police union has dropped hundreds of thousands of dollars on ads attacking Loftus’ strongest opponent and the farthest-left challenger in the race, Chesa Boudin.
While the mayor is all but certain to triumph over her own opponents Tuesday, the real test of her strength on election night is whether Loftus can prevail over Boudin as well as candidates Leif Dautch and Nancy Tung.
Breed also faces another battle in District 5, where her mayoral appointee Supervisor Vallie Brown seeks to fend off progressive challenger Dean Preston and keep the Board of Supervisors from shifting further left.
On Monday, Boudin supporters who are largely at odds with Breed rallied outside City Hall. They denounced television ads and mailers from the San Francisco Police Officers Association that depict Boudin as dangerous, and told voters not to fall for the “fear-mongering.”
“The message to San Franciscans is do not let the special interests control the outcome of the election irrespective of who you support,” said former Supervisor David Campos, chair of the local Democratic Party. “Make sure that you read the fine print and that you don’t let this happen.”
Law enforcement groups including the SFPOA have spent more than $650,000 to oppose Boudin in a race that has become the most expensive district attorney contest in San Francisco history, with outside interests shelling out cash to support all four candidates in the running.
Campos said the police union is spending so much against Boudin because he would hold officers accountable as district attorney. The spending has intensified the tensions between Boudin and police, with the candidate using the $650,000 figure to energize his campaign on social media.
At the same time, Loftus has played up her relationships with law enforcement by making several announcements during her brief tenure as interim district attorney. Last week, she joined Police Chief Bill Scott and Sheriff Vicki Hennessy for a press conference on car break-ins.
Over in the District 5 contest, Brown has been slugging it out with Preston over the seat that she was appointed to when Breed became mayor.
Should Brown lose, the election would cost Breed influence on an already progressive-leaning board and make it more challenging for the mayor to push her agenda in the coming four years.
Jason McDaniel, an associate professor of political science at San Francisco State University, said the election will determine whether Breed has allies who she can work with in the District Attorney’s Office and in District 5.
“The election of Preston in District Five would move the board even further away from Mayor Breed’s agenda than it currently is, and would empower those members of the board who have been most critical of the mayor and her agenda,” McDaniel said.
Like the district attorney’s race, the District 5 contest has drawn outside interests including the California Association of Realtors, which has spent $117,000 on mailers attacking Preston.
As recently as Monday evening, a tech and real estate-funded group called Progress San Francisco donated $10,000 to a commitee supporting Brown, as well as $25,000 to a committee backing Loftus.
A committee largely funded by the United Educators of San Francisco teachers union, meanwhile, has spent $97,500 to back Preston.
While the success of Breed’s chosen candidates is the most obvious indicator of her political influence, observers will also be watching to see what percentage of the vote the mayor wins by.
That percentage could be used as a “rough gauge” to determine the level of support Breed will have for her political agenda and her chosen candidates in elections going forward, McDaniel said.
When the late Mayor Ed Lee similarly ran for reelection in 2015 against no credible challenger, he won just 55 percent of vote, which was considered low for an incumbent.
By comparison in 2007, then-Mayor Gavin Newsom ran against no serious contender and picked up nearly 74 percent of the vote.
If Breed picks up at least 60 percent of the vote, political consultant Maureen Erwin said it will show voters “think she is doing an OK job.”
Political consultant Jim Stearns said, “London would definitely want to be where Gavin was.”
“Anything lower than 70 percent is embarrassing,” said Stearns, who is running the Boudin campaign and who ran Mark Leno’s unsuccessful bid for mayor against Breed last year.
Stearns said Breed could claim an election night victory if Loftus and Brown won, but “losing either one is a real blemish.”
On Tuesday night, Breed is holding her re-election party with the campaign for Proposition A, a $600 million affordable housing bond. The measure addresses one of the most important issues in San Francisco.
While Breed might claim it as a victory, observers say it would be wrong to construe the success of Prop. A as a demonstration of her political strength. Since 2007, all but one bond measure has passed in San Francisco.