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Chinatown Rally Launches Aaron Peskin Mayoral Run

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A middle aged man with whitened hair and beard and glasses wearing suit and tie speaks with blurred supporters behind him holding green signs.
Board of Supervisors president Aaron Peskin speaks during a rally to announce his campaign for mayor of San Francisco in Chinatown’s Portsmouth Square in San Francisco on April 6, 2024. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin launched his mayoral campaign at Portsmouth Square in Chinatown Saturday.

“We’re here today because we all love San Francisco, and we know our city is struggling,” Peskin told the hundreds of supporters. “We are a city in need of recovery. And recovery is something I know a little something about.”

Peskin spoke of his history of alcoholism in his speech. He also outlined his policy positions.

He will prioritize building affordable apartments over market rate developments. To tackle the fentanyl crisis, he wants to focus on arresting drug dealers instead of criminalizing people suffering from addiction. He also pledged to create enough homeless shelters to get people off the streets. To stem City Hall corruption, he wants to create an inspector general position who can investigate government officials.

More than a dozen community leaders and politicians were seated behind Peskin, including former Mayor Art Agnos, drag queen Juanita MORE!, former Congressman John Burton and Community Tenants Association President Wing Hoo Leung, among others.

A protest organized by Mark Farrell, another mayoral candidate, rallied outside of Peskin’s event. Farrell was not present. About 40 people blew whistles and held signs that read “ANYone but AARON,” “Pandering Peskin needs to go” and “Pesky Peskin.”

Catch up fast

The other candidates — Mayor London Breed, philanthropist Daniel Lurie and Farrell — have each tried to show they’re tough on crime. In early March, voters approved a Breed-backed ballot measure that will require some welfare recipients to be screened for drug use.

An older lady sits with people on either side and supporters of Aaron Peskin behind her waving signs.
Tsipora Peskin (center left), 84, the mother of Aaron Peskin, smiles as she is recognized by her son during a rally to announce his campaign for mayor of San Francisco in Chinatown’s Portsmouth Square in San Francisco on April 6, 2024. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Last month Farrell, who previously served as interim mayor, announced that he would declare a fentanyl state of emergency if elected. He would also request more California Army National Guard soldiers be deployed in the Tenderloin and South of Market. Lurie announced a similar declaration around fentanyl the day before Farrell.

Peskin, a progressive Democrat, aims to shift the tone of the race away from the rightward rhetoric.

Peskin said people have been whipped into a frenzy about crime in a deliberate attempt to paint San Francisco as lawless.

“(It’s) an effort to make people feel afraid for their own political gain,” he said. “We’ve seen an administration try to solve crime by press releases, instead of public policy.”

Peskin, who helped create unarmed ambassador programs in Chinatown, said he wants to replicate the effort citywide. He has also called for more foot patrols by San Francisco Police Department officers who speak Cantonese.

The opposing view

William Brega, who stood on the sidewalk outside Portsmouth Square, was surrounded by people smacking protest signs with fly swatters and chanting “swat Aaron!”

Protesters rally against mayoral candidate Aaron Peskin near a kickoff event for his campaign in Chinatown’s Portsmouth Square in San Francisco on April 6, 2024. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Brega said Peskin put the public at risk by opposing the recall of former District Attorney Chesa Boudin in 2022. Boudin was criticized for not being tough on crime.

“He didn’t stand with the Asian community,” said Brega, who worked on the unsuccessful judicial campaign of Assistant District Attorney Jean Mygunjin Roland in March.

Brega also said Peskin’s record of blocking housing projects is bad for San Francisco. Brega, 23, lives with his grandparents in the city and wishes to move out. He said San Francisco will only become affordable if officials allow enough housing to be built to lower rent prices.

Peskin shot back at his housing critics in his speech, saying the city should not embrace Reaganomics. He said “luxury housing” would not eventually “trickle down” to one day become affordable to San Franciscans.

What we are watching

Peskin’s campaign depends on support from a coalition of groups including progressives, west side homeowners and the Chinese community. His opponents have been making inroads with Chinese business and community groups for months, concerning some of Peskin’s allies who wanted him to announce his mayoral run sooner.

Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin waves to crowd gathered at a rally to announce his campaign for mayor of San Francisco in Chinatown’s Portsmouth Square in San Francisco on April 6, 2024. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

At Peskin’s rally, hundreds of attendees were from the Asian community and chanted in Cantonese. Connie Liu, who has lived in Chinatown for 30 years, said she came to support Peskin because she heard about the event through Chinese-language radio station KTSF.

Speaking in Cantonese through a translator, Liu said she trusts Peskin to solve public safety, housing and economic issues.

“I’ve known him for many years, that’s why I support him,” she said. “I saw him work so hard for our community.”

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