Daniel Lurie pulling papers to run for mayor, with his wife Becca Prowda standing behind him
Philanthropist Daniel Lurie today affixed his signature to the necessary papers at the Department of Elections to run for San Francisco's mayor in 2024. Behind him is his beaming wife, Becca Prowda. Photo by Xueer Lu. September 26, 2023.

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. 

Mayor London Breed in November 2018. Photo by Abraham Rodriguez

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.   

Supervisor Ahsha Safaí, a mayoral candidate, says voters have give Mayor London Breed her shot: ‘She’s had six years, going on seven. It’s hard to argue that anyone is obstructing her ability to lead this city.’ Photo by Joe Eskenazi

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. 

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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. it’s exactly what we need….. unlike the criminal in office now who is all about pay offs and how much money can be slid under the table to whoever she wants. He won’t need pay offs and he will get things done without needing funding from lobbyists. FUND THE POLICE and stop giving free money to everyone who registers to need it. WAKE UP

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  1. I disagree with your analysis of how Boudin won in 2019. Boudin was the 1st place vote leader by about 8,800 over Loftus. After Dautch was eliminated, Boudin’s lead shrank to about 7,000. Boudin won by 3,000 votes after Tung was eliminated. Almost 16,000 Tung votes didn’t transfer to Loftus or Boudin. Boudin didn’t win by “gobbling up” second and thred place votes. He won because Tung voters dropped out, by picking only Tung. They weren’t split moderates. They were purely identify voters. Actual moderates got the message and made strong efforts to attract the Tung identify voters. That’s borne fruit in the subsequent recall and D4 supervisor elections.

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    1. I want a mayor who will do basic things
      1. Punish Crime
      2. Keep the streets clean
      3. Bring businesses back to SF
      4. Reduce the gigantic $14 Billion budget, and return the surplus funds to SF Residents – scrutinise the non-profits and city depts, if they are not making the city & its real residents better they get axed.

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  2. Three candidates running for carceral solutions and the right-wing vote. It’s going to get real when Peskin throws his hat in the race.

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  3. Lurie it’s exactly what we need….. the city gives free money to all people who say they are homeless… free internet …. tents everywhere…. the rest of the country sees housed people travel to San Francisco to live on the streets so they can get their 500$ a month and do what they want. Take all that money and put it towards the small businesses and cleaning all the neighborhoods of encampments…. corruption in the city is rampant….. when dept of parks who is in bed with the bike coalition said they would count numbers of bikes on Valencia vs. number of pedestrians on the sidewalk THEY DID THE COUNT WHILE SPRINKLERS WERE TURNED ON THE SIDEWALKS. When asked what was up with that …. the worker said he was told what to do by Supervisors office and to take it up with them. When they did a count of bike riders travelling from Daly City to SF via Lake Merced route …. the bike coallition organized 1000 bike riders to show up …… they ARE CREATING FALSE DATA and it IS RUINING SMALL BUSINESSES and removing hundreds more parking spots all over the city … WE NEED A TOUGH MAYOR WHO CAN NOT BE BOUGHT OFF . PERIOD.

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  4. I never been in politics, but I’ve been wanting to change things for the better. Born and raised San Francisco Mission District, & now in Bernal Heights I can beat Breeds poverty ruff neighborhood story, and San Francisco don’t need a rich person who does nothing for everyday working people, low income, SFUSD & the teachers. Sounds good but rich help get polices done for rich people who they know.

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  5. Joe,

    I am a candidate for Mayor.
    Only Media outlet in town that has taken my comments is SFist.
    Did about ten or fifteen then they erased them.

    I’m left with you and I ran into Eleni at Homeless events and she said it wasn’t her spiking my comments on her work.

    You gave ‘BC’ just at 200 words, please give me the same.

    As your Mayor:

    I will move Farmers Market back to UN Plaza
    I will Place a Charter Amendment before the BOS to elect Police Chief.
    I will use Mayor’s votes on Police Commission to press for Foot Patrols
    I will offer a proven Student Monitor Program for SFUD.
    I will move to resurrect SFPD/SFUSD ‘Wilderness Program’.
    I will present a Sister Cities Security with Peace Corps structure except we Exchange cops and Firefighters for 2 years.

    Go Niners !!


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  6. San Francisco has more money per capita than any large city in known human history, $14Bn for 815,000 residents, and nearly double what is was 10 years, and with fewer residents. This is 45% more than New York City, per person! It is not compassion to continue to support people falling into addiction & death with the same solutions that don’t work, or allowing small businesses and tourists to be robbed blind continuously. Those benefitting are our city employees and elected leaders making $200-600k while we struggle under their lack of accountability.

    My point is we have more than enough resources to make the city safe, fair, and a place of opportunity for more than the wealthiest who can pay out of failing public institutions. That is the reality of where we are. Please let us all acknowledge what we are doing is not working.

    It is time to modify our strategy, and while Lurie might not be perfect, I am positive the current path is wrong. I don’t hold the money against him, welcome to US politics; I want results.

    – SF resident for 12 years; no stake in this outcome other than the safety and future of my family

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  7. London Breed’s Willie Brown pedigreed flying reptile Conor Johnston has been screeching on twitter against Lurie.

    Clearly Breed is scared that, like the poverty nonprofits, she’s done nothing more on her watch than cash checks and mark time and cast blame onto everyone else as circumstances deteriorated, and voters are on to her scam.

    Always pleasant to see fear in the eyes of Brown hacks. It has been too long.

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