For eight days in early June 2018, San Francisco voters were on the edge of their seats. The June 5 election came and went, but the race for mayor was so close that for more than a week journalists were anxiously hitting refresh on the Department of Elections site, waiting for the minuscule number of votes that would swing the results one way or another. On June 13, state Senator Mark Leno conceded to London Breed. Once all the ballots were counted, he lost by a mere 2,500 votes.
This November, Breed once again is running for her seat. The last year consisted of finishing out the now-deceased Mayor Ed Lee’s run, so her first four-year term will start in January. But unlike last June’s election — which had the highly-qualified Leno in the race, along with progressive darling Jane Kim — Breed is running largely unopposed. In a city with a plethora of politically-ambitious people and a large population who are unhappy with Breed’s homeless policies and real estate connections, it begs the question: Why isn’t she being challenged by another competent candidate?
Competent is a keyword here, for Breed is technically being challenged. When voters head to the polls on Nov. 3, they’ll be asked to choose between seven candidates for mayor. Of those, only one has any semblance of clout; Ellen Lee Zhou ran last year and garnered 9,521 votes, but she’s still miles away from affecting Breed’s road to victory.
There are a handful of reasons that a legitimate challenger hasn’t stepped up to the plate. Ask any political consultant in the city, and they’ll tell you that San Francisco loves an incumbent. It takes a lot to remove someone from office. And as we’ve seen countless times in supervisor races, even those challengers who run with a strong platform and widespread support usually fall a handful of votes short of winning.
Fall 2019 Election Preview Coverage
- Why Is the District Attorney’s Race So Important? — The district attorney race
- And Then There Was One — Single candidate races
- Affordable Housing Looms Large in November — The ballot measures
- November’s Only Supervisor Race Should Be Close — District 5 supervisor race
Breed is also powerful. No matter what one thinks of her policies, she has the support of many big players in San Francisco, and is subsequently armed with wealth and influence. With tech mogul Ron Conway, Governor Gavin Newsom, and Senator Kamala Harris behind her, she’s a formidable candidate for even a seasoned politician to run against.
San Francisco is also short on seasoned politicians who have an interest in running for mayor, particularly on a progressive platform. While there are some veritable ladder-climbers on the current Board of Supervisors, no one yet has the resume or popular support to challenge Breed.
We’ve seen this play out before. Despite widespread dissatisfaction with the performance of Mayor Ed Lee in his first term, no serious challenger ran against him in 2015. He won despite garnering only 56 percent of the vote.
It’s not like we didn’t see this coming. As one member of the progressive group League of Pissed Off Voters recently wrote on Twitter, “When we warned you that Breed could be mayor for 10 years, this is what we meant.”