San Francisco remains in a throes of a political slugfest over crucial high stakes policies, at least judging by the amount of money flowing into the June election, which includes more than $200,000 from Airbnb alone.
That means that while midyear elections are often overlooked, the direction of San Francisco politics may hinge upon the outcome of the June 7 election.
In addition to five local ballot measures, there is also a contest over who serves on the Democratic Central County Committee, which is viewed as an important piece of the political landscape through its endorsement power and ability to push a political agenda.
And that race has turned into a slate card battle.
Left-leaning politician Jon Golinger, a long-time supporter of progressive Supervisor Aaron Peskin, is among the slate calling itself “reform candidates,” vying against a group they’ve dubbed the “real estate slate.” This “real estate slate” calls itself the “perform slate.”
These monikers, Golinger explained, stem from the head of the DCCC Mary Jung, the lobbyist for the San Francisco Association of Realtors, a deep-pocketed group that organizes against progressive housing policies. Jung and her allies on the committee are largely funded by developer and technology company interests.
As for the “enormous” amount of money flowing into the races, Golinger said it indicates that June “is now the ground zero for the battle for the direction of San Francisco politics.”
One DCCC candidate, Joshua Arce, who is of the “perform slate” or “real estate slate” and is also running for supervisor in November, has raised the most, at nearly $80,000. The campaign finance deadline filing was April 28 for the period that ended April 23.
Golinger added that the DCCC contest is also a “precursor” for November Board of Supervisors elections, with outcomes that will determine whether the board retains a progressive majority.
The November board election comes as many left-leaning political leaders are riding the momentum created by Peskin’s victory last year to the District 3 seat on the Board of Supervisors over Mayor Ed Lee’s appointee to that seat.
Peskin’s victory was seen by some as a referendum on the mayor’s policies — an opinion supported by the mayor’s ever-declining poll ratings —and a resurgence of the progressive faction, which favors increased affordable housing, tougher tenant protection and greater regulation of technology companies like Airbnb.
Among measures with the most political contributions is Proposition A, a $350 million public safety bond supported by Mayor Ed Lee and the Board of Supervisors. The measure would seismically upgrade San Francisco General Hospital’s current emergency room and fire stations, as well as improve homeless shelters and health clinics.
Contributions for Prop. A totaled $291,507, the majority of which came from tech or real estate firms. The money includes $100,000 from the Committee to Expand the Middle Class, Supported by Airbnb and $100,000 from Nicholas Pritzker, director of Tao Capital Partners, a company that invests in real estate and technology companies like Tesla and Uber. A $50,000 contribution was made by George Marcus, chairman of Marcus and Millichap Company, a real estate investment firm.
Proposition B, introduced by Supervisor Mark Farrell, would mandate an increasing level of funding for the Recreation and Park Department. As of April 23, the filing deadline to disclose political contributions, the measure received $145,358, including $75,000 from the Parks Alliance. An additional $100,000 came from the Airbnb-supported committee after the filing deadline.
Supervisor Malia Cohen’s Proposition D, which would increase investigations of officer involved shootings, received $4,500 as of April 23. That money includes $1,000 from former Mayor Willie Brown’s Institute on Politics and Public Service organization and $500 from real estate investor Daniel Safier of the Prado Group.
(Safier also recently made a controversial donation to Supervisor Mark Farrell, who proposed an amendment to a proposal that would have benefited Safier. Farrell has since returned that contribution.)
On April 25, Airbnb donated $10,000 to Prop. D as well.
The Airbnb committee also contributed $20,000 to DCCC “perform” candidates seeking re-election, including current chair Jung, Rebecca Prozan, Alix Rosenthal, Kat Anderson, Zoe Dunning, Francis Tsang and Leah Pimental.
Last November, the DCCC opposed Proposition F, which would have increased regulations on Airbnb, which the company spent more than $9 million to defeat. Airbnb’s contributions are seemingly an effort to retain those who would vote more with its interests.
On Friday, Airbnb issued a statement in response to questions about its flurry of political spending. “This is one part of our growing effort to stand with those who fight for the middle class in San Francisco,” the statement reads. The company’s $257,000 in political donations came just days after Supervisor David Campos introduced legislation to penalize hosting platforms like Airbnb $1,000 daily for listing short term rentals not registered with The City as required. The contributions include $20,000 that went to a local political committee called Progress for San Francisco.
Alix Rosenthal, who is on the “perform slate,” said she received a text message from Airbnb’s lobbyist David Owen about the company’s plan to donate to her campaign and that was the extent of any communication. She said the donation was made likely because “they know I’m an ally. But nothing has ever been transactional,” Rosenthal said.
Rosenthal blasted the real estate label. “I’m very much in favor of tenants’ rights and affordable housing,” Rosenthal said. “I think it’s unfair to paint us all with a broad brush.”
But those like Golinger see the Airbnb contribution as the sort of money that is unduly influencing policymakers at the expense of the interests of longtime residents at large.