Guide to S.F. Mayoral Candidates: Lee vs. People-Powered Challengers

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On Nov. 3, San Francisco voters will be asked to decide between Mayor Ed Lee and five other candidates for San Francisco's top political job, which Lee has held since 2011.

None of Lee’s challengers have a track record in politics, nor do they have strong name recognition. The mayor has received nearly $1.5 million in campaign contributions, compared with about $42,000 raised by all five of his opponents combined. Some news outlets have gone so far as to state that Lee is running unopposed.

Yet his challengers are still making the rounds to try and drum up support as Election Day nears, holding happy hours to introduce themselves to voters or even climbing aboard Muni buses to deliver impromptu stump speeches.

On Oct. 8, every contender who has thrown his or her hat into the ring had a chance to sound off at a forum organized by the San Francisco League of Women Voters. Questions were formulated by members of the audience, and contenders were allotted 60 seconds each to deliver an answer.

Here's a rundown of who's running and what they said in response to selected questions.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee.
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee.

Candidate: Mayor Ed Lee, incumbent

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Lee was appointed to serve as interim mayor by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in January 2011 after then-Mayor Gavin Newsom was elected lieutenant governor. Despite initially stating that he had no intention of seeking a full term, Lee entered the November 2011 race and won. Among his opponents were two members of the Board of Supervisors and several elected officials who held citywide office.

In his words: In 2011, "We were coming out of the worst recession ever. People were looking for all kinds of answers, but they ultimately wanted jobs. And the reason that I concentrated with supervisors on Mid-Market was ... every third storefront was empty. Porno shops every block ... There was misery in that whole site. ... So I made a promise ... that we would show our efforts there as to how to clean it up. Well, guess who led that effort?  It was local artists. ... Yes, the companies took advantage, at our invitation, to come in for six-year exemption. And guess what? It's revitalizing."

Q: The current transportation infrastructure in San Francisco is inadequate to accommodate the rapid influx of new residents supported by the unbridled building boom. How will you address this problem?

A: “We put together a transportation task force … but we do need infrastructure money. And I am a true believer  in not only making sure we extend the Central Subway to Fisherman’s Wharf ... I think we need to have more subway systems in the city, we need to have that extra BART tube ... and we need to have the federal government and the state government support us.”

Q: What will you do about the increase in homeless families prior to the Super Bowl (and afterward)?

A: “We have thousands of people on the streets. Our latest model, which is the Navigation Center, we believe puts together the best services. But also [it's] inviting, gets rid of the shelter rules and makes sure people live in dignity as we place hundreds of units of housing behind that. We should work with  the school district, with the Human Services Agency, to make sure that our children who are in school who are homeless … to make sure there is sustained housing for them.”

Q:  As mayor, how will you ensure that tech companies pay their fair share of taxes?

A:  “This past year we were able to pass a two-year budget that had no budget cuts … because we have a very strong economy. That strong economy is a reflection of good relationships with our business community.”

Lee has collected endorsements from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Gov. Jerry Brown and a host of other elected officials and political organizations. Visit his website.

Mayoral candidate Amy Farah Weiss answers a question during a mayoral candidate forum at the University of California San Francisco on Oct. 8, 2015.
Mayoral candidate Amy Farah Weiss answers a question during a mayoral candidate forum at the University of California San Francisco on Oct. 8, 2015.

Candidate: Amy Farah Weiss

Weiss has nearly a decade of experience working in the nonprofit sector, including on community garden projects. She got her start in San Francisco politics by organizing opposition to a Chase Bank on Oak and Divisadero streets -- favored by Lee's Office of Economic and Workforce Development -- which displaced two independently owned businesses.

In her words: “The only tool that’s available to us to be able to acquire power is grass-roots democracy. When our leaders are not accountable to us, when they’re not using that power in a way that gives us an exciting vision for the future that’s truly inclusive and equitable, then we need to become those leaders.”

Q: The current transportation infrastructure in San Francisco is inadequate to accommodate the rapid influx of new residents supported by the unbridled building boom. How will you address this problem?

A: “We need an environmental impact review for the tech buses. We need an environmental impact review for Uber and Lyft, and it’s ridiculous that taxi drivers have had to endure what they endured with the regulations that are put upon them, but aren’t being placed on the [transportation network companies]. The administration is just capitulating to these large corporate interests.”

Q: What will you do about the increase in homeless families prior to the Super Bowl (and afterward)?

A: “I have a background in transitional housing, mental health, reactivating spaces, starting urban gardens. I came up with an idea called transitional eco-villages where we identify all of the under-utilized city property ... and we create these transitional eco-villages. I call it the St. Francisco Super Bowl Homelessness Challenge.”

[Note: Weiss said her project title is a reference to this statement made by Mayor Lee.]

Q:  As mayor, how will you ensure that tech companies pay their fair share of taxes?

A: “[Venture capitalist] Ron Conway was actually part of the plan to change our tax structure in San Francisco … but we went too far with that, and we should have put more onus on tech companies who are coming into our city to pay their fair share. … As mayor, I’m going to figure out how we get more balance.”

Weiss received second-place endorsements from the San Francisco Green Party and SEIU Local 1021, the city's largest public employee union, among others. Visit her website.

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Stuart Schuffman

Candidate: Stuart Schuffman, aka “Broke-Ass Stuart” 

Schuffman writes a column for the San Francisco Examiner titled "Broke-Ass City," and is the author of "Broke-Ass Stuart's Guide to Living Cheaply in San Francisco" and two other books on living cheaply. He also created and hosted a travel show on IFC called "Young, Broke and Beautiful."

In his words: “People say they leave their heart in San Francisco -- I found my heart in San Francisco. I found a community, I found a place where everybody was welcome, no matter where they were from, or what they did, or what they were like. And that’s what we’re losing. Part of it has to do with housing, a lot of that has to do with corruption. We need to take our city back.”

Q: The current transportation infrastructure in San Francisco is inadequate to accommodate the rapid influx of new residents supported by the unbridled building boom. How will you address this problem?

A: “I met my first serious girlfriend on Muni. I love Muni. Part of being a San Franciscan is using mass transit ... The city feels congested … and part of that’s because of ride-sharing. … There has to be a way we can regulate who is driving here. Also, I think that if we put a higher charge on the stops of Google buses, then we can put that money into Muni.”

Q: What will you do about the increase in homeless families prior to the Super Bowl (and afterward)?

A: “There’s roughly 10,000-ish homeless people on the streets of San Francisco. And there’s roughly 10,000-ish Airbnb rentals out there -- I’m just sayin’. ... These are people who are veterans, they are people who come from broken homes, people who come from abuse, they are people who need our help, and 71 percent of them were in San Francisco residences before they were on the streets. And so, we need housing first.”

Q:  As mayor, how will you ensure that tech companies pay their fair share of taxes?

“Make them pay their taxes! I can’t wait for these tax breaks to expire -- $55 million worth of tax breaks were given to these tech companies. There are three meals per day served at the Twitter building, and there’s one meal per person at St. Anthony’s.”

Schuffman was endorsed by comedian Margaret Cho -- because, according to his blog post, she was impressed with his plan for solving San Francisco's poop problem.

Visit Stuart Schuffman's website.

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Francisco Herrera

Candidate: Francisco Herrera

Francisco Herrera has lived in the city for nearly 30 years. Originally from Mexicali, he studied political science and graduated with a master's degree in theology. He's a musician, activist and co-founder of San Francisco's Day Labor Program. After his closing remarks at the forum, Herrera treated participants to a short a cappella tune.

In his words: “Forty thousand jobs -- but for people who don’t live here.  Ten thousand people have been kicked out of the Mission. The Bayview-Hunters Point has been completely devastated. People are feeling the angst, a general angst, at what this has created. So, this planning is not for us. We have to come back to plan and develop for our communities.”

Q: The current transportation infrastructure in San Francisco is inadequate to accommodate the rapid influx of new residents supported by the unbridled building boom. How will you address this problem?

A: “We need to start by limiting where these [tech] buses travel. We need to have them pay into the public common good, so that we can have a better Muni for all workers together. This corporate cheating, corporate welfare called tax breaks, just does not work, and it creates a two-tier among working people.”

Q: What will you do about the increase in homeless families prior to the Super Bowl (and afterward)?

Herrera: “Homelessness starts at the moment that people can’t pay the rent. There’s folks who have jobs who are living in their cars. … We all have to support Prop. F and we have to support the systems that are helping people deal with their own experience of homelessness.”

Q:  As mayor, how will you ensure that tech companies pay their fair share of taxes?

Herrera: “This whole idea of tax breaks is nothing but corporate welfare. … Make the investor pay their fair share.”

Herrera won first-place endorsements from SEIU Local 1021 and the San Francisco Green Party, among others. Visit his website.

Reed Martin

Candidate: Reed Martin

Reed Martin is a tech-sector employee who also serves on the board of San Francisco Transit Riders.

In his words:  "As someone who has spent time working in the tech industry, I understand the power of technology to influence our lives, to bring us closer, and to shape a more equitable future. At the same time, the impact this industry has on our city has not always shared these values."

Q: The current transportation infrastructure in San Francisco is inadequate to accommodate the rapid influx of new residents supported by the unbridled building boom. How will you address this problem?

“Transportation has been my passion for the last 10 years or so. Every single building that gets built in San Francisco has to be putting money in [for transportation offsets]. The problem that we’ve seen in development in San Francisco is a lot of the development itself is happening to us, it’s not happening by us.”

Q: What will you do about the increase in homeless families prior to the Super Bowl (and afterward)?

“I actually think the Navigation Center is an interesting model. I think there are a lot of different ways that we need to be tackling homelessness in San Francisco, and the first of which is making sure we’re treating everybody with respect and taking a housing-first policy. This has to be something we do as a regional level.”

Q:  As mayor, how will you ensure that tech companies pay their fair share of taxes?

“We do have a strong economy, and yet we’re talking about all of the problems. I think San Francisco has a corruption problem at our core. My background is in tech, I work in tech, and we don‘t really have a tech problem. We have a corporate tech problem, and it’s money that’s coming with the corporate side and it’s working with the city.”

Visit Reed Martin's website.

Kent Graham
Kent Graham

Candidate: Kent Graham

According to his website, Kent Graham holds an MBA from Pepperdine University and has a background in business management.

In his words: "I think San Francisco deserves a manager running the show and not a politician."

Q: The current transportation infrastructure in San Francisco is inadequate to accommodate the rapid influx of new residents supported by the unbridled building boom. How will you address this problem?

A: “I’m not so interested in what’s going to happen 20 or 30 years from now. I mean, I know we have to do it, and the transportation systems, the high-speed rails, that all has to come. But I’m going to put emphasis on how do we get this done in the next six months?”

Q: What will you do about the increase in homeless families prior to the Super Bowl (and afterward)?

A: “Homelessness is not a crime, it’s a condition. Before you can do anything, you have to go up to the person, find out why he’s homeless, get a read on that. Social workers in other areas of the country do this … it’s those types of things, we need more social workers involved.”

Q:  As mayor, how will you ensure that tech companies pay their fair share of taxes?

A: “Well, I’m troubled by the amount of new development that comes in and doesn’t pay their fair share and has workers from out of town. You can’t keep doing that and sustain what we want in San Francisco. I think we have to tax the corporations at the rate that we need to support our current population.”

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Visit Graham's website.