Former San Francisco Supervisor David Campos (left) on May 16, 2019, and current Supervisor Matt Haney, on Nov. 16, 2021. The two are competing in a heated runoff next month to represent the eastern part of San Francisco in the state Assembly. (Santiago Mejia and Gabrielle Lurie/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)
Candidates running for elected office are known for making rosy promises, giving grandiose speeches, and singing soothing songs of better days to come.
And while that already makes choosing whom to vote for difficult, the race to represent San Francisco in Assembly District 17 (the city’s east side) between former Supervisor David Campos and current SF Supervisor Matt Haney can be even tougher to parse. That's because finding the daylight between the two Democrats, on the issues, can be like searching for a clean sidewalk downtown.
To wit: It ain’t happenin’.
Well, gentlepeople, as a wise group once said, don’t believe the hype. Instead of looking at what they’ve promised, look at what they’ve done. We’ll even help.
KQED has read every law these two lawmakers stamped their names on, or co-sponsored, while serving on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Yes, all of them.
That may serve as a window into their futures, as one of the key jobs of members of the state Assembly is writing laws. The scale of whom those laws affect is just wider by, you know, some 39 million people.
To help get a handle on their political futures, here are some top-line findings on their political pasts: While the legislators make similar public statements, and support similar causes, you can find significant differences in their approaches. They both agree there’s a housing crisis, for instance, but wrote entirely different sets of laws to help ease it. And while both have focused extensively on public health, their specific aims have been notably different.
And, lastly — with caveats — one other big takeaway: Campos tended to focus more on citywide legislation, whereas Haney’s legislative portfolio is more of an even mix, with ordinances sometimes centered on the specific neighborhoods he has represented, instead of San Francisco writ large.
There’s not much time left: The special election to fill the Assembly seat vacated by now-SF City Attorney David Chiu is April 19. And if you’re asking yourself, “Didn’t I vote for one of these guys already?” — you very well might have. Campos, Haney, Bilal Mahmood and Thea Selby all were listed as candidates for the Assembly seat on the city’s Feb. 15 ballot. But because no one got a majority, a special election was called between the top two vote-getters — Campos and Haney. Vote-by-mail ballots were sent out just last week.
So to help you with that vote, here’s more on what we found.
How much work did they actually do in office?
To answer that, we first just straight-up counted all the proposed laws the two candidates wrote or sponsored. One major caveat: Campos spent eight years on the Board of Supervisors, versus Haney’s three.
Ordinances are legislation that becomes law, often drafted by the City Attorney’s Office at the direction of a supervisor, who becomes its “sponsor,” in wonk-speak.
Resolutions, by contrast, are policy statements to express approval or disapproval, that are introduced at Board of Supervisors meetings and voted on. For instance, an April 2021 resolution sponsored by Haney put the city on record “urging support of eliminating the United States Senate filibuster.” A January 2010 resolution by Campos recognized “the grand re-opening of the Bernal Heights Branch Library and commending the San Francisco Public Library and its team for their hard work and commitment to San Francisco and its residents.”
The supervisors vote on it, and — presto, change-o — it becomes a statement of record.
Lastly, hearings are meetings of the board, convened by one or more supervisors, to seek information or opinions on a topic of interest, wherein a representative of a city department may be asked to answer specific questions. Often these are a way to shine light on an issue for public understanding, or to establish a certain baseline of facts.
Former San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim, Haney’s predecessor, hasn’t endorsed either candidate, but has long considered both of them allies and friends. We asked Kim to offer her own analysis on the two candidates’ lawmaking histories.
“Hearing these numbers for the first time, I would say that both Supervisor Haney and former Supervisor David Campos are both very active supervisors legislatively,” said Kim, who now runs the California Working Families Party.
Noting that both candidates often wrote ordinances directly influenced by the hearings they called — rather than prompting one hearing after another without a clear goal in sight — Kim also suggested looking at those two tallies in tandem to gauge their productiveness.
By 2016, Campos had introduced an ordinance requiring owners of buildings with three or more dwelling units to comply with annual fire alarm testing and inspection requirements every two years, and upgrade existing fire alarm systems, among other changes.
By September 2019, he had convened a street-level drug-dealing task force to develop recommendations for further action.
“I do think that it contributed to the urgency that led to the [Tenderloin] state of emergency and some of the solutions that have been deployed,” Haney said of the task force’s findings. One of those recommendations led to the presence of nonprofit Urban Alchemy’s unarmed ambassadors, Haney said, who patrol the neighborhood to provide increased safety.
Which laws did the two candidates work on?
We categorized Campos and Haney’s legislative histories based on subject area.
Some laws were aimed at spurring housing development or tackling the homelessness crisis, or were inclusion-related laws aimed at helping a specific group, like the LGBTQ community or people of color. Other laws were intended to help specific businesses in each supervisor's district, or a particular neighborhood, like when Haney created a local dog park in Mission Bay. The “reform” category includes new government ethics laws, improved access to voting, or cleaned-up errors in city code.
Categorizing laws is more art than science — for instance, a public health law may specifically aim to help homeless people, so is it a health care law, or a homelessness law? We mostly focused on who the law aimed to help.
Reading their legislative histories, one top-line observation jumps out: The majority of laws Campos sponsored were citywide in scope, as opposed to targeting only his neighborhood. Haney, by contrast, has introduced more neighborhood-focused legislation. That differentiation could signal how they’d legislate in the Assembly, although, as Kim noted, it may also be circumstantial, given the open-air drug dealing, overdose deaths, poverty and homelessness that Haney has tried to address in his district.
Also, Kim said, supervisors in the beginnings of their careers tend to focus more on the neighborhoods and districts that helped them get elected. But, “as they log on more years, they become more citywide in perspective,” she said.
For his part, Campos attributed his dearth of neighborhood-facing legislation on an inclination to develop citywide solutions to issues he identified in his own district.
“What we realized after the navigation center had been open was that no one else was opening navigation centers in their district, that ours was the only one,” Campos said. “That's an example of something that was neighborhood-specific that then grew into a larger city issue.”
Haney said he has focused more on his district because the South of Market and Tenderloin neighborhoods have “a lot of huge challenges.”
That said, he trumpeted some of his own citywide laws, including placing on the 2020 ballot Proposition B, which split San Francisco’s embattled Public Works Department into two separate departments, one of which now focuses solely on sanitation and streets.
Housing: same issue, different approaches
The Assembly candidates tackled housing from noticeably different angles during their times on the Board of Supervisors.
On the whole, Campos tended to concentrate on protecting existing housing, while Haney has focused more on enabling new housing construction.
Part of this is situational: Haney’s district includes South of Market and part of downtown, two neighborhoods that encompass much of the city’s development. By contrast, Campos’s district includes the Mission, a hotbed of tenant advocacy.
“When you look at these two candidates side by side, they’re not going to differentiate a lot on their positions around tenant protections, but a voter may decide that one candidate just has a greater wealth of experience in regards to the technical aspects, or just experience working on tenant-protection legislation,” Kim said.
In 2013, Campos authored an ordinance to provide Rent Board hearings for tenants who allege landlord harassment. He also sponsored eight additional tenant-protection-related ordinances, including fire protections, relocation payments to evicted tenants, tenant buyout agreements, and no-fault eviction protections for families with children under 18.
And while Haney in 2019 wrote legislation extending some eviction protections to units constructed after 1979, his main legislative focus was promoting construction of housing. For instance, in June 2019, he sponsored an ordinance approving a development agreement between San Francisco and KR Flower Mart LLC, for the development of an approximately 6.5-acre office and retail site located at Fifth and Brannon streets that was expected to generate $166 million in community fees, with $54 million earmarked for affordable housing. That development is ongoing.
Haney also sponsored neighborhood redevelopment plans intended to spur housing and office construction and increase a jobs/housing linkage fee to fund new affordable housing development.
While some of these plans were started by other lawmakers, and were years in the making before his time in office, they still stand in stark contrast to his opponent’s record, including Campos’s proposed “Mission moratorium,” a controversial 2015 ordinance to halt housing construction in his district.
Campos told KQED he was largely responding to the wishes of his community at the time, when headlines often trumpeted high-profile evictions, and the issue of gentrification in the Mission District was on the tips of many tongues.
But the city’s politics have shifted ever-so-slightly in recent years to more strongly favor building dense construction — and amid that backdrop, Campos said he now supports building more housing than he did while serving as supervisor. But it should always be affordable housing, he added, as opposed to “luxury housing,” a term some use to refer to market-rate construction.
Campos said he would not repeat or replicate the Mission moratorium in Sacramento.
“In this business, you learn from your mistakes,” Campos said. “It's actually something that came from the community. They actually collected signatures and brought it forward. And I think that in the end, you know, supporting it was a mistake. And if I had to do it over again, I wouldn't do it.”
The health care divide
As supervisors, both also focused extensively on health policy, but in different areas.
Campos’s landmark health-related legislation sought to plug a loophole in Healthy San Francisco, the landmark law authored in 2006 by his predecessor, Tom Ammiano, that offered universal health coverage to city residents. But while one provision in the bill asked for companies to establish health care accounts to disburse money for employees, it also had a loophole that allowed the companies to get away with never giving the money away at all.
Campos’s legislation prevented companies from getting out of funding their employee health care accounts. “David was the cavalry,” said Ammiano, who in addition to his role as supervisor also served in the Assembly, and is supporting Campos. “He came to the rescue of Healthy San Francisco and closed a loophole, and now Healthy San Francisco is still healthy, especially given the COVID crisis. That politically, personally, morally meant a lot to me.”
Campos also authored health-related ordinances to establish a Medical Cannabis Task Force, and to require the city to create a plan for equitable distribution of health care services, among other legislation.
By contrast, Haney’s health-related legislation illustrates his timing as a leader during the pandemic.
Haney had only been a supervisor for a year when the pandemic struck. Immediately, many citywide priorities were dropped as legislators and department heads came to grips with the invisible threat.
By March 2022, Haney had sponsored 10 COVID-19 emergency ordinances, the majority of which were extensions of two emergency laws. One requires grocery and drug stores, restaurants, and on-demand delivery service employers to provide health and scheduling protections to their employees during the pandemic. He also required the city to provide toilets and handwashing facilities within 1,000 feet of any tent encampment.
"There were some areas where I didn't feel like our response as a city was robust enough, whether that was protecting essential workers, providing for bathrooms or handwashing," Haney said. "There's still clearly areas where I needed to legislate to get people off the streets, to protect workers, to provide bathroom access."
Ultimately, whom you decide to support may come down to a single issue. But, Kim advised, as you browse the lists of laws each candidate has written or sponsored, think about which laws you consider most vital and whom you would want to represent you based on their experience writing them.
“It’s possible,” she said, “that the person with the greater experience in that legislative work will have a leg up the day they take their office in Sacramento.”