People watch news on Valencia Street Tuesday night as election results are released

Big-money donors’ costly failure to derail Supervisor Dean Preston — and Preston’s Prop. I — spurs big questions

Update: Minuscule batch of votes added. See end. 


Forty-three votes is not a lot of votes. Even Kanye West received 20 times that many votes here in San Francisco (so far!). 

But that’s the lead District 1 supervisorial hopeful Marjan Philhour holds over Connie Chan (13,609 to 13,566). 

The other candidate races in San Francisco appear well settled. Aaron Peskin cruised to an easy re-election; Dean Preston beat Vallie Brown handily (more on that in a moment); Myrna Melgar today received a concession from Joel Engardio and is in the catbird seat; Hillary Ronen ran unopposed; and Ahsha Safai easily outdistanced John Avalos. 

Every revenue measure passed, easily (more on that, too). There are some 90,000 votes left to count, and how they break will answer many of our earlier questions — and determine the outcome, naturally, of District 1.

Yesterday — and for a while — we’ve been wondering how the pandemic and a high-turnout, early vote-by-mail-dominated election would deviate from San Francisco’s normal patterns. 

And, so far, it really hasn’t.  As we wrote yesterday: We may yet end up in a normal place via an extremely abnormal process. 

In normal years, late-arriving votes and day-of-election votes tend to skew more progressive. But this is not a normal year. And, starting today, we’ll see if that pattern holds.

If it does, Connie Chan should win in District 1. And if it doesn’t, Marjan Philhour could. It’s hard to say; 43 votes is just such a small margin. We’ll also see how strong the Chinese American bloc is — right now Philhour is actually getting a higher percentage of David Lee’s No. 2 votes than Chan. Lee and Chan agreed on a 1-2 strategy — but only in the waning days of the race. 

If late votes do indeed trend progressive, you’d expect Chan to take the lead and see it grow, as was the case four years ago for Sandra Lee Fewer. But if there is no pattern, then this miniscule margin could seesaw — for days and days. 

People watch news on Valencia Street Tuesday night as election results are released

So, with the caveat that the District 1 race is too close to call, we can take a step back and marvel at the costly ineffectuality of both the Neighbors for a Better San Francisco independent expenditure committee — which spread millions of dollars through a Russian Doll-like series of Democratic clubs and anodyne-sounding groups to hamstring tax measures and sully progressive candidates — and the Chamber of Commerce and real-estate developers’ $5 million-plus effort to undo Prop. I. 

Prop. I, which doubles the transfer tax on sellers of real estate priced at $10 million or more, polled at nearly 60 percent at the end of Nov. 3. Its backers raised somewhere in the neighborhood of one-twentieth the funds used to fight it. 

Prop. I was the brainchild of Dean Preston. Preston was also the No. 1 target of Lee Atwater-caliber ads festooned with tents and menacing dope fiends, underwritten by the Neighbors PAC. 

He amassed 52 percent of the vote by day’s end Tuesday, easily distanced himself from challenger Vallie Brown, and closed out the night drinking cheap champagne in the panhandle with his inner circle. 

Knowledgeable political professionals predicted Preston would retain his seat — and also wondered why so much vitriol and money was being poured into this race, especially when others — namely District 1 — were so much tighter. 

Perhaps Prop. I accounts for some of that. And perhaps it’s something else: Residents of District 5 received text messages urging them to vote for Vallie Brown “for better health care for all.” 

But this wasn’t about health care per se, but, rather, a development proposition: “Dean Preston sides with NIMBYS to OPPOSE world-class healthcare and life-saving research in our district…” read the text message, which included a link to a Neighbors for a Better San Francisco website hosting a compendium of anti-Preston ads. 

Without referring to it by name, this text was about UC San Francisco’s proposed expansion. Clearly, the PAC would rather the supervisor of the district in which UCSF is planning a sizable expansion be Brown rather than Preston. 

It warrants mentioning that, among the Neighbors for a Better San Francisco’s top donors, you’ll find five people who gave more than $1 million to UCSF, one who gave at least $25 million, and a $30 million donor. 

In any event, analyzing the spending priorities and efficacy of this group, and the No on I campaign, would figure to be a fascinating endeavor. If Chan does outpoll Philhour, they will have been wholly ineffective, and at great cost. 

The next batch of results drops at about 4 p.m. This story will be updated at that time. 

Update, 4:13 p.m.: The Department of Elections tabulated another 1,035 votes as of just after 4 p.m. It is unclear if this is all the additional voting that will be reported today; we have written to the department to ask about that. Some 90,000 ballots were reported outstanding at the beginning of the day; 81,000 of those are vote-by-mail ballots and 9,000 are provisionals.

It’s not possible to gauge patterns or trends with this few votes. But another ranked-choice voting tabulation was undertaken. And, now the margin between Marjan Philhour and Connie Chan is even tinier: Just 25 votes (13,616 for Philhour, 13,591 for Chan).

Update, 5:08 p.m.: The Department of Elections responds that it ceased processing mail ballots yesterday in order to accommodate in-person voters. Thursday’s update should be much larger.

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Managing Editor/Columnist. Joe was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left.

“Your humble narrator” was a writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015, and a senior editor at San Francisco Magazine from 2015 to 2017. You may also have read his work in the Guardian (U.S. and U.K.); San Francisco Public Press; San Francisco Chronicle; San Francisco Examiner; Dallas Morning News; and elsewhere.

He resides in the Excelsior with his wife and three (!) kids, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

The Northern California branch of the Society of Professional Journalists named Eskenazi the 2019 Journalist of the Year.

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  1. The hysterical warblings of San Francisco’s Karen class (I’m talking about you, Marina Times) about tents, drugs, Preston and Boudin was excruciating this cycle. The cynical tactical deployment of feigned compassion, compassion they’d never tax themselves to make real, even more disgusting. They’ve revealed themselves as what they are, conservatives who are outraged that most all of their neighbors disagree with them politically.

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  2. 24 hours after dropping my ballot off at my local polling place my ballot does not show it was received – I’ve checked three times today. Been following the camera in the sorting room (from LWV twitter link and it was empty from noon until 2:00pm. People started to trickle back in. Then some guy decides now is the time to vacuum the machines. I see tons of ballots in the room waiting to be sorted and then sent for counting. So where are these election numbers coming from?

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