San Francisco Mayor London Breed is facing several early challengers ahead of next year’s mayoral election, all of which are critical of her performance as the city faces a drug overdose epidemic, a growing homeless population, and high crime rates.
The latest threat to her 2024 reelection campaign is Daniel Lurie, an heir to the Levi Strauss clothing fortune. The 46-year-old philanthropist announced his challenge to the Democratic incumbent this week. San Francisco Supervisor Ahsha Safaí filed paperwork in May for the city’s top political job and is considered another prominent challenger.
While Breed, Lurie, and Safaí are running in the same party, the candidates come from contrasting backgrounds.
Lurie, 46, is the founder and CEO of the nonprofit group Tipping Point Community. He signed paperwork launching his bid to unseat Breed on Tuesday at a rally at the Potrero Hill Neighborhood House.
Speaking to a crowd of reporters, Lurie blasted Breed for failing to solve the city’s threats, such as the fentanyl crisis, staffing shortages in the police department, homelessness, and crime, all problems voters believe are the city’s most pressing challenges.
“This is not a crisis of resources. This is a crisis of leadership,” Lurie said. “We don’t have a mayor who’s challenging the system. We have a mayor who’s entrenched in it.”
“She’s been on the Board of Supervisors or in the City Hall for over a decade. What do we get? No solutions. We get excuses and finger-pointing,” Lurie added.
Under a Lurie administration, he said he’d focus on ending “open-air drug markets” and “the perception that lawlessness” is an acceptable part of the city.
San Francisco is on track to have the highest number of accidental overdose deaths in city history this year, driven by the synthetic opioid fentanyl that is being seized at record levels in the city’s open-air drug markets.
Breed called in Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA), a former mayor of San Francisco, to assist with the crisis, calling in the National Guard and partnering with California Highway Patrol to tackle increased drug use. During the first two quarters of 2023, the San Francisco Police Department collected enough fentanyl to result in 30 million lethal doses.
“We have too many people that have been in power for far too long doing things the same way they’ve always been done,” Lurie said in a campaign video. “We have tremendous resources. We have everything at our disposal, and yet our streets are unsafe. We need to end the era of open-air drug dealing.”
Part of Lurie’s plan to curb crime and decrease 911 response times in the city is to boost staffing in the police department. The plan is in response to concern about a dire shortage of police officers.
“With proper staffing levels at SFPD, we will put officers in commercial corridors to deter smash and grab crimes and perform foot patrols in Chinatown so our seniors no longer fear being assaulted as they walk through Portsmouth square,” Lurie’s campaign states.
As of July, San Francisco is about 600 officers short of its recommended staffing levels, which propose 2,182 officers, according to a city-commissioned staffing analysis. However, the latest class of recruits is the largest and most diverse the city has seen in three years, according to Breed’s office. Police department applicants also hit a five-year high.
Lurie pledged to provide enough homeless shelter beds for all San Franciscans who seek one as the city copes with an overflow of homeless encampments.
The city has been embroiled in a lawsuit for more than a year after the Coalition on Homelessness sued the city for clearing homeless encampments. In the September 2022 suit, the organization alleged the city was in violation of state and federal laws that ruled a firm offer of shelter must be issued before citing and arresting people living on the streets. In December, Magistrate Judge Donna Ryu issued an injunction barring the city from clearing encampments in San Francisco. The city has been trying to tackle what “involuntary” homelessness means in court.
On Monday, the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals clarified that Ryu’s preliminary injunction does not apply to residents who refuse shelter or have a bed but choose to stay on the street. “Individuals are not involuntarily homeless if they have declined a specific offer of available shelter or otherwise have access to such shelter,” Breed said in a statement.
The second-term District 11 supervisor, Safaí, 50, filed paperwork in May to challenge Breed in the 2024 election. Safaí started his political career when he won election to the board of supervisors in 2016 against his progressive opponent, Kim Alvarenga, by less than 4 points. Although municipal elections in California are nonpartisan, Safaí was widely viewed as centrist. Safaí sits on the board’s Budget and Appropriations Committee.
Running on responding to the city’s drug crisis, addressing a rise in crime, and improving homeless services, Safaí has been critical of Breed’s performance in those areas, similar to the newest challenger.
Safaí was once a Breed ally, and he has urged unity with the mayor’s office and the board of supervisors.
“I have known London Breed for 23 years. I don’t see this as an affront to her,” Safaí told Mission Local in July when asked about his relationship with Breed.
He blasted Breed for opposing Proposition H, which moved mayoral and other city elections to align with the U.S. presidential election, moving the mayor’s race to 2024 when it passed last November. Supporters of Prop H believe the measure would increase voter turnout.
“If you want to have maybe around 50% of the people elect the most important position in this city, that’s your opinion,” Safaí said. “But I would rather have 75, 76, 77%, the highest voter turnout, determine the outcome of the most important race. And [Breed] was staunchly against that.”
Safaí said to tackle the drug epidemic plaguing San Francisco, he would focus more on the creation of sober living environments, helping people with substance abuse disorders get access to recovery services, according to an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle in May.
The city has spent millions of dollars to end the drug crisis in recent years, but San Francisco has long had a severe shortage of treatment beds. Breed has ramped up efforts in providing treatment options to those struggling with an addiction, making some controversial moves. Starting on July 3, officials launched a disputed new tactic — requiring those who are arrested for drug use or possession for a second time to attend a specialized court offering treatment services.
“I saw the amount of money we spent on homeless services and drug addiction, and things were getting worse, not better,” Safaí said.
Breed launched another initiative last week, ordering people who apply for county adult assistance programs to be screened for substance use disorders, and if they are found to be drug users, they must enter treatment before they can get San Francisco County cash assistance.
The proposal requires approval by the board of supervisors, and President Aaron Peskin, who has been floated as a possible mayoral contender, brushed off Breed’s idea.
“We fund a wide range of services, and we want to help people get the care they need, but under current state law, local government lack tools to compel people into treatment,” Breed said in a statement on Tuesday. “This initiative aims to create more accountability and help get people to accept the treatment and services they need.”
Touching on the police staffing shortage, Safaí plans to fill jobs that are going vacant, including 911 call operators and police officers.
Drugs in Tenderloin and South of Market neighborhoods are flooding in at an alarming rate, with about 154 pounds of fentanyl seized as of July, according to the city’s Tenderloin Police Station.
Safaí sponsored Proposition C, a 2022 November ballot measure that created the Homelessness Oversight Commission, composed of seven commissioners. Despite Breed’s opposition to the measure last year, it passed, and the city set the new oversight commission this year.
Other widely mentioned mayoral contenders include Democratic Assemblyman Phil Ting and San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu — both have expressed their disinterest in entering the race. Peskin, supervisor of North Beach and Chinatown, said he has no intention of running.
The Washington Examiner reached out to Lurie and Safaí for an interview.