Battle Heats Up for Board of Supervisors President

Breed will step down from the role on Tuesday, which means her colleagues have to vote in a replacement.

Supervisor Malia Cohen chats with Supervisor Ahsha Safai during a Board of Supervisors meeting on Jan. 23, 2018. (Mira Laing)

As we witnessed with the coordinated unseating of London Breed from the acting mayor position, the Board of Supervisors does a fair amount of its internal politicking behind closed doors. This week, they’ve once again retreated out of public eye to negotiate who to support for the impending opening of the president of the Board of Supervisors seat, which Breed will vacate Tuesday, June 26 in preparation for her upcoming role of mayor.

The Board president is no small role; The person elected to the position works closely with the mayor, and also selects the heads of each subcommittee, who subsequently wield a hefty amount of power in pushing forward or holding back legislation.  

When news broke this week that Breed would be stepping back from her role as president soon – despite not becoming mayor until July 11 – it threw the progressive’s plan of taking over the role into chaos. Supervisor Hillary Ronen was gunning for the seat, and endorsements began rolling in, with author David Talbot penning a long Facebook post highlighting her attributes. But Ronen’s powerful speech slamming Breed prior to her participating in a vote that ousted her from the role of acting mayor in January means there’s probably no love lost between the two, raising questions about how well they’d work together as mayor and Board president.

With that in mind, soon-to-be-Supervisor Rafael Mandelman was floated as a possible neutral party. But, he doesn’t take Supervisor Jeff Sheehy’s spot until July, meaning he can’t participate in the vote for Board president on Tuesday.

That leaves us with a Board that for now still has a moderate majority, and chances are slim that Ronen will win enough support to take the seat. Sources who are familiar with the closed-door proceedings at City Hall tell SF Weekly that the battle for the job is now between Supervisors Ahsha Safai and Malia Cohen.

Cohen would most likely work well with Breed; the two have partnered on a number of pieces of legislation. But, Cohen is campaigning for a position on the Board of Equalization, and whether or not she wins, her office tells us, she’ll have to vacate her position of supervisor when her term ends Jan. 8.  Even though the Board of Supervisors will hold another election for the position of president in January, it means that Cohen couldn’t be re-elected if she was selected on Tuesday, thereby opening up the position to someone with more progressive politics.

Safai is one of the most-moderate supervisors on the Board. He and Cohen govern quite differently, evidenced most recently by their approaches to police reform. On Thursday, Cohen held a hearing on the police budget and their request to hire 100 new cops. She interrogated Chief Bill Scott and SFPD leadership with a blistering line of questions, threatening to cut an academy class based on its whopping $7 million cost per year. The hearing has been continued until Monday.

In contrast, Safai has shown strong support for the Police Officers Association, standing in the way of a city-sponsored measure to speed up police reform.

Either way, it’s likely that the next Board of Supervisors president will be a moderate to go along with our new mayor. It’s an interesting position to be in, with the Board gaining a progressive majority foothold once Mandelman takes his seat.

Tuesday’s election will no doubt be a carefully coordinated play for power, so grab the popcorn and tune in. We’re going to take a wild guess that the next six months are going to be pretty bumpy in City Hall.

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