Surely it was a coincidence that Mayor London Breed announced her new initiative to force welfare recipients into mandatory drug testing and treatment at the very moment Daniel Lurie was signing papers to run for mayor.
If you spend even a moment to examine the substance behind her proposal, it dissipates like a mirage: The city lacks available treatment slots for willing participants, let alone the unwilling; housed drug users would risk being put out onto the streets during an ongoing homelessness crisis; and drug users denied income would resort to theft and robbery.
But, as a capital-s Statement, it suffices. The mayor is Tough on Crime and this is what Accountability looks like — and it forces those namby-pambies on the Board of Supervisors to explain why they’re Soft on Crime and hate Accountability and why giving money to dope fiends is good (and when you’re explaining, you’re losing).
Lurie’s long-foreseen and highly choreographed entry into the race today prompts two immediate questions: Can he win? and How will he affect the campaign? The answer to the first question will become clearer over time, but the answer to the second is already manifesting itself.
It sure feels like Breed has reached the point in her mayoralty that Nixon did in his presidency when he compelled Henry Kissenger to kneel and pray with him. Her proposal to force welfare recipients to piss in a cup before getting their subsistence dollars sounds like something Pete Wilson or Kevin Faulconer would’ve tubthumped for while they were serving as mayors of San Diego. So, it’s hard not to read moves like this one as an attempt by the mayor to shore up her right flank as a scion of the San Francisco establishment tosses his hat into the ring.
The competition for center-right votes in San Francisco appears to be at a premium. In addition to Lurie and Breed, Supervisor Ahsha Safaí is a declared candidate for mayor. As such, there appears to be a gaping lane to run in for a candidate-to-be-named-later espousing center-left ideas. And, now, the mayor is facing new constraints.
The real winner today? It may be the establishment and the powers-that-be. Union stalwart Safaí may serve as a check against the mayor, facing a horrifying 2024 budget scenario, wholly unloading on labor. And establishment scion Lurie could serve the same purpose, to rein in Breed from doing anything that much upsets the business community.
The deeply unpopular mayor, already facing a difficult reelection bid as the city’s economic and social climates falter, now must additionally navigate between this political Scylla and Charybdis.
Daniel Lurie, 46, bucked the San Francisco trend and actually wore a tie with his suit when he signed papers today at the Department of Elections. He’s a trim man, and not particularly tall — unless he’s standing on his wallet.
He is the heir to the fortune of Levi Strauss, the pants company that epitomizes San Francisco (and, indeed, the free west). But his wealth is matched by the scope of his Rolodex. Lurie has spent his adult life fundraising among local and national heavy-hitters to direct money — theirs and his — to benevolent nonprofits. This fundraising prowess will figure to serve him well in his nascent run for office.
If you’re a Lurie fan, you’re hoping voters will focus more on what Lurie has done with his money than the staggering amount he’s got. For Mayor Breed, who grew up in abject poverty in the city’s rough projects and has lived a life befitting a Horatio Alger tale, it’s hard to conceive of a better matchup when pitching voters on lived experience.
The problem for the mayor is that she’s the multi-term incumbent. There are few politicians in the history of politicians who can out-origin-story London Breed. But there are few mayors who’ve ever come back from underwater polling numbers and the perception of filth, lawlessness and chaos on city streets that have coalesced around Breed in her five-and-a-half years — five-and-a-half years — as this city’s elected leader.
Political strategists I spoke with were split on whether Lurie needed to find ways to distinguish himself from the mayor, policy-wise, or simply assert that they differ little ideologically, but she’s incompetent and he is not. Vamos a ver.
It will also be on Lurie to convince voters that he is, indeed, competent. Tipping Point, his nonprofit, has raised and spent gobs of money on homeless and social causes. But has it made a difference? That’s Lurie’s argument to make; it certainly hasn’t helped to the extent he would’ve wanted. It will also be on Lurie to tell us who the hell he is, exactly. Unlike another billionaire San Francisco Daddy Warbucks-type figure, Marc Benioff, Lurie is not well-known outside of the world of wealthy philanthropists.
Benioff, meanwhile, has used his personal and business wealth to play an outsize role in this city, even though nobody actually knows what Salesforce does.
Lurie was all smiles today at his official kickoff but, strategically, he’s poured himself a bit of a drink from the poisoned chalice. If he fails to gain traction against the mayor described in the Washington Post as “hapless,” then that’s hardly optimal. But if Lurie, indeed, strips away support from our faltering mayor, then other candidates may feel inclined to leap into the fray.
There are only so many ways you can split the moderate vote, and the 2024 mayoral race may yet recapitulate the 2019 district attorney’s contest — in which moderate candidates locked down some two-thirds of the first-place votes, but Chesa Boudin won by effectively gobbling up second- and third-place ballots (and, in Mayor Breed’s case, it doesn’t figure that many voters choosing her competitors will put her as a No. 2 or No. 3).
So the answer to the big question — can Lurie win? — is complicated. Because the better he does, the more competition he figures to engender. Nobody is saying much right now, but nobody has to. Breed is faced with the unenviable task that doomed Boudin, of attempting to convince voters that their subjective perceptions of filth and chaos and lawlessness are, in fact, not objectively rooted. If her poll numbers continue to hit rock bottom and start to dig, would-be contenders needn’t make any serious moves until 2024. They can keep their powder dry — and next year may yet start off with a bang.
Even potential candidates professing no interest in the job haven’t yet taken a Sherman — an unequivocal statement akin to Gen. William T. Sherman’s that they will not run for election and, if somehow still elected, will not serve. And there will be plenty of tea leaves to read. What does it mean that City Attorney David Chiu is holding public-safety town halls throughout the city, and paying for them out of his campaign funds? Perhaps quite a bit. Or perhaps this, too, will dissipate like a mirage.
Does Daniel Lurie’s entry portend a tipping point in this mayoral race? So it would seem. One way or another.