Matt Haney speaks to supporters after initial State Assembly election results are announced at the food truck park in San Francisco's District 6, on Feb. 15, 2022. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)
It didn't take long: San Francisco Supervisor Matt Haney declared victory early Tuesday night in a special state Assembly election against former supervisor David Campos.
The race to represent the eastern side of the city was decisive early on, with Haney leading over Campos by 27 points, or roughly 16,000 votes. Haney maintained that lead throughout the night.
“This coalition that we pulled together is one that I think we haven’t seen before in San Francisco,” Haney told KQED at Victory Hall and Parlor during his election night party. “Working people, labor unions, housing advocates, people from neighborhoods all across the city.”
As of the latest count at 10:02 p.m. Tuesday night, Haney led with 63% of the vote, over Campos’s 36%.
Haney's legislative aide Honey Mahogany said the election's wide margins made sense for a reason many may not widely know.
"Supervisor Haney is actually the drag daughter of Juanita MORE!. And Juanita MORE! named Supervisor Haney 'Victoria Landslide,'" Mahogany said. "I think tonight's results reflect on how accurate that name is."
Campos conceded in a speech to his supporters at El Rio bar in the Mission.
"I'm not sure what the numbers will look like in the end, but it doesn't seem like we're going to be able to win this race," he said. He told his supporters his campaign was a "fight for the soul of San Francisco," because the city must be "a place that welcomes all people," including poor and working-class San Franciscans.
Ultimately, Campos said, "Big money has figured out how to win elections ... and that's what happened here."
Campos declined an interview with KQED following his concession speech. His spokesperson would not comment on whether Campos would run in the next election for Assembly District 17, against Haney, which is set for June.
The runoff for Assembly District 17 follows February’s general election in which both candidates bested the original pack of four, but neither managed to gain the requisite majority to win — with Haney ahead of Campos by less than 1 percentage point.
Thea Selby, one of those four candidates, spoke to KQED at Campos's El Rio election night party and reflected on the low voter turnout in April's race. The message that there was another election failed to reach many voters.
"Nobody knew this [election] was happening, and I find that to be so sad. This is a really important election," she said. "I was the first person to vote in person at my precinct today. It was a full hour, hour-and-a-half into when people could vote."
Although mail-in ballots for Tuesday’s contest were issued last month, early voting participation was quite low, with just 21% of eligible voters returning their ballots as of April 19, according to the SF Department of Elections. John Arntz, director of the Department of Elections, told KQED the count would continue after Election Day to allow for late ballots. But the first ballot count Tuesday night would encompass nearly all the mailed ballots before Election Day.
By Election Day, turnout ticked up to 23% of total eligible voters.
That low turnout defied an avalanche of spending: Independent spending on the race topped $1.7 million from PACs supporting Haney and pushing against Campos. Campos and Haney's direct campaign spending has been mostly even, with each spending roughly $700,000 between January and April.
And while Haney made a point of saying he was running a campaign with a more positive tone than Campos's campaign, the independent campaigns took the more negative road for him. One PAC opposing Campos, funded principally by the California Association of Realtors, sent mailers to voters claiming "we're suffering with Chesa Boudin and David Campos in charge," and that Campos and Boudin have "left victims of domestic violence behind."
Both Democratic candidates are self-billed progressives who have promised to represent the interests of renters both in San Francisco and across the state. Haney's victory Tuesday will see him serve the term David Chiu left when he stepped down in October to become San Francisco city attorney.
Despite an often contentious campaign, Haney and Campos largely aligned on most statewide issues, from supporting Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed CARE Court, which would compel services for some mentally ill people who refuse care, and are opposed to bringing back to voters Proposition 47, a criminal justice reform that’s come under increased scrutiny.
Before the first ballots were counted, Assemblymember Phil Ting said he was excited to see another progressive San Franciscan colleague in the state.
"San Francisco members aren't just progressive members, they're leaders," Ting said. "They push issues no one else in the state does. We're lucky to have amazing constituents who expect us to try new things and challenge other parts of the state."
For many San Francisco voters, however, housing has become a dividing line between the two candidates. In a bid to drive down the city’s sky-high rents, Haney has consistently advocated for an increase in overall housing construction, while Campos has pushed to prioritize affordable developments over anything else.
That split is evident in the number of new homes that were approved each year in the districts that Haney and Campos represented during their tenure as city supervisors. In Haney’s District 6 — encompassing the Tenderloin, South of Market, slices of downtown and Treasure Island — that’s amounted to some 2,255 new homes each year during his roughly three years on the board, according to “The NIMBY Report,” a site by a UC Berkeley professor that tracks the housing performance of San Francisco leaders. By contrast, just 157 homes were approved annually in District 9 — including the Mission, Bernal Heights and Portola neighborhoods — which Campos represented for more than eight years, through 2017.
“I fought for tenants' rights and delivered. We extended eviction protections. I authored the law to every tenant in San Francisco, and my position on tenants' rights has not changed,” he said. “I've also been consistently pro-housing, building more housing in my district than any other, including a lot more affordable and supportive housing. And that's a big reason why I'm running. [Campos has] been against housing, so yes, his position has been consistent. It's been consistent against housing.”
Selby said the Yes in My Back Yard movement was successful at shifting the conversation in San Francisco, and the state, to the idea that more housing has to be built to bring rental prices down.
"Now, progressives understand, and I don't think it's just the YIMBY's, that in our country we haven't built enough housing for a long, long time. Now we have progressives who are well aware we have to build housing, and lots of it, for all different levels of people."
The two candidates' legislative records also revealed other notable differences. As a supervisor, Campos wrote more legislation geared toward aiding marginalized groups of people like immigrants and the LGBTQ+ community and focused his efforts to a greater extent on citywide measures, including an ordinance that plugged a loophole in San Francisco’s universal health care law requiring more employer participation. Haney, meanwhile, focused more energy on the specific neighborhoods he represented, including efforts to address drug use and crime in the Tenderloin.
Before taking citywide office, Haney served on the San Francisco Board of Education, where he championed a restorative justice process as an alternative to suspensions for students. As a supervisor, he chaired the board’s Budget and Finance committee, helping to craft the city’s nearly $12 billion budget.
Among Haney’s key pieces of legislation is Mental Health SF, first introduced in 2019 to overhaul the city’s mental health care system. That effort included the creation of a Mental Health Service Center and additional mental health services for unhoused residents.
Despite his win Tuesday, Haney will be up for election again in June. Speaking to KQED before the results of the election, Susan McEntire, political director for the Assembly Democrats, said they would back whoever ultimately wins the seat.
"We are excited to be adding back to our caucus to be getting to full strength at 60 members. This is one step closer," she said, adding, "Once you're a member of the Democratic caucus, we are always backing our incumbents."
In the meantime, Mayor London Breed will soon be able to appoint a successor to Haney on the Board of Supervisors. Mahogany, Haney's legislative aide, is a long-rumored successor of his Board of Supervisors seat representing District 6
When asked about her future as a potential next supervisor, she told KQED, "I will say that I have been working in supervisor Haney’s office since the beginning, and I think that we’ve done some incredible work, and yet I think that there is still more work to be done."
She added, "I just hope that I can continue delivering for the residents of District 6 and also rebuild San Francisco after this pandemic. There’s a lot of people that are looking for some hope, and I think that hope is right around the corner. And I’m happy to be a part of the solution there."
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