By Zach Drucker
After a year with no local elections in San Francisco (only the third time since 2000), San Francisco voters will face a flurry of local races in 2022. San Francisco voters will participate in a special election on February 15 and an all but guaranteed special election on April 19, in addition to the two regularly set elections on June 7 and November 7. With next year turning into a pivotal moment that could lead to significant turnover within the City government and a change to the current power dynamics, here is everything you need to know about the upcoming elections and what they mean for San Francisco.
2022 ELECTIONS FOR SAN FRANCISCO VOTERS
As the graphic shows, the 2022 election cycle in San Francisco asks a lot of San Francisco residents. Not to mention the slate of both local and state ballot measures that will certainly make the ballot. At the time of this writing, four statewide measures have qualified for elections next year, while no local measures have qualified yet —though do not expect that to last too long.
The list can still keep growing too. If either of the recall elections succeeds that would trigger another special election for the 2022 election cycle.
THE DOMINO EFFECT CREATED BY MAYORAL APPOINTMENTS
As part of the fallout from the City’s latest corruption scandal, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) General Manager Harlem Kelly and City Administrator Naomi Kelly resigned from their respective posts. The high-ranking vacancies set off a wave of mayoral appointments, including their successors as City Attorney Dennis Herrera became the next SFPUC general manager and Assessor-Recorder Carmen Chu became the next city administrator.
How Does the City Replace the Longtime City Attorney?
Once the SFPUC finally came to an agreement with Herrera about the terms of his contract on September 28, Mayor Breed appointed Assemblymember and former President of the Board Supervisors David Chiu to the open city attorney seat. Chiu, who also worked as a civil rights attorney and prosecutor for the San Francisco District Attorney’s office, had been the longtime favorite to replace Herrera.
Despite recently being sworn in as city attorney, the pressure is already on Chiu to get off to a fast start. Chiu faces a short window of time to prove himself as city attorney before facing voters in June. The winner in June will then carry out the rest of Dennis Herrera’s original term to January 2024. Fortunately for Chiu, though, no other candidates have filed to run against him, for now.
Will Challengers Join the Assessor-Recorder Race?
Earlier this year on January 27, Mayor Breed appointed Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD) Director Joaquin Torres to become the next Assessor-Recorder. Torres had until the next scheduled election before he had to face voters, which was originally set for June 2022. However, that changed with the addition of the February special election.
The winner in February will carry out the remainder of the term and will have to run again in the November election. The quick turnaround in November will at least result in a full four-year term. As of right now, no other candidates have filed to run against Torres.
THE SCRAMBLE TO FILL THE OPEN DISTRICT 17 ASSEMBLY SEAT
Mayor Breed created a rare opening to represent San Francisco at the state level by appointing Assemblymember Chiu to city attorney. Chiu had held that seat since 2014 and faced no real competition in his bids for reelection. If not for an opening at a higher office, Chiu could have stayed in that position until 2026.
To fill the seat open seat, Governor Newsom set the special election primary for February 15. If no candidate receives a majority of the votes in the primary, the top two candidates will then face off in an election on April 19. The winner will serve out of the remainder of the term until January 2023 but will have to face reelection in the June primary and the top-two general election in November.
Four candidates have filed to run for the open Assembly seat at the time of this writing. This includes District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney, Chief of Staff for the San Francisco District Attorney and former District 9 Supervisor David Campos, San Francisco City College Trustee Thea Selby, and Billal Mahmood, a scientist, entrepreneur, and philanthropist.
One note to highlight, a win by Supervisor Haney would further add to the changes in the makeup and political dynamics of City Hall as Mayor Breed would appoint his replacement.
What Issues Will Take Center Stage?
With the name recognition and political clout, Haney and Campos are the presumptive favorites in the race. This has set the stage for progressive infighting as both candidates sit squarely in the progressive camp and share the same voter base. The intra-progressive warfare will include fierce competition over many of the same financial backers and endorsements.
With the candidates aligned together on many core issues, one area emerged as a differentiator: housing. How the candidates position themselves among the many facets of the housing discussion will significantly impact the race. In a real-world example, the candidates have used the recent Board of Supervisor’s decision to reject a 495-unit apartment complex in the South of Market (SOMA) neighborhood as a housing litmus test.
The SOMA development established clear dividing lines in the race. While Campos agreed with the Board’s decision to reject the development, the other three candidates disagreed with the Board’s decision. This represents a prime opportunity for the other candidates to court moderate voters—who fundamentally differ from progressives on housing issues—especially with no established moderate running.
As for the other candidates, Selby and Mahmood face an uphill battle to finish in the top two of this race. Even with Campos and Haney fighting over Progressive votes, the shortened campaign places them at a serious disadvantage. Selby and Mahmood must act fast and start aggressively wooing Moderate voters and financial backers to gain ground against the established frontrunners.
RARE RECALL CAMPAIGNS WILL REACH SAN FRANCISCO VOTERS
For the first time since the failed recall effort of then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein in 1983, San Francisco voters will participate in not only one, but two local recall elections next year.
Voters will decide the fate of the three recall-eligible members of the San Francisco Board of Education (BOE), President Gabriela Lopez, Vice President Faauuga Moliga, and commissioner Alison Collins, in February and District Attorney Chesa Boudin in June. If a majority of voters choose to recall any of these elected officials, Mayor Breed would then appoint their interim replacements.
What’s at Stake in the Board of Education Recall?
During the pandemic, the BOE8 immersed itself in months of controversy after the slow reopening of schools, the failed effort to rename 40 schools, the end of Lowell High’s merit-based admissions, and the controversies surrounding Commissioner Collins, which included a series of anti-Asian tweets and an $87 million lawsuit against the school district among others. The controversies fueled a successful grassroots campaign that easily passed the signature threshold by around 20,000 and raised $520,000 in funding, with more than half of the individual donations at 100 dollars or less.
Support to recall the BOE members even reverberated throughout the City’s political leadership. High-ranking officials such as Mayor Breed and Senator Wiener endorsed the recall of all three candidates, while other elected officials endorsed recalling at least one or two of the candidates.
The recall election comes at a crucial time for the district as it faces a $125 million shortfall next year and will need to replace retiring Superintendent Matthews. In some positive news for the school district, Mayor Breed and Supervisor Mandelman passed legislation to cover the $12 million cost of the three upcoming special elections, including the school district’s $5.1 million share for the recall.
What’s at Stake in the District Attorney Recall?
Since being elected district attorney in 2019, Chesa Boudin has become a polarizing figure in San Francisco. Boudin has faced intense pushback from residents, who say his progressive policies on criminal justice reform have made the City less safe.
The culmination of rising property crime, allegations of office mismanagement, and highly public stories of repeat offenders led to the recall efforts of the District Attorney. At first, it appeared Boudin would not have to face the voters when the original recall campaign failed to meet the signature threshold. The second recall campaign, however, submitted over 30,000 signatures more than the threshold and easily qualified for the ballot.
This recall race will garner national attention throughout the next seven-plus months, especially with how much money has already poured in. The pro-recall side has raised around $1.6 million so far, while the anti-recall side has raised around $650,000. The deep coffers of each campaign should set the stage for a campaign that will constantly be in front of San Francisco residents.
While the recall campaign raised significant funding, no prominent elected official has officially endorsed the recall of the District Attorney yet.
THE MATTER OF REDISTRICTING
To make the 2022 election cycle even more complicated, San Francisco and California will have new district maps for the U.S. House, State Senate, State Assembly, and Board of Supervisors. The new boundaries go into effect starting in the June election and stay in place for the next decade.
What does Redistricting Mean for San Francisco’s State and Federal Representation?
The California Citizens Redistricting Commission has until December 27 to approve new maps for the U.S House, State Senate, and State Assembly districts. While the U.S. House and State Senate will stay relatively unchanged for San Francisco, the latest State Assembly map proposal would substantially change San Francisco’s two Assembly districts.
The changes in the proposed Assembly map would move several working-class communities with large populations of color—the Outer Mission, Bayview-Hunters Point, and Visitacion Valley— to District 19. While District 17 would gain mostly white and affluent neighborhoods—Pacific Heights, Sea Cliff, and the Marina district.
The changes would make District 17 a white-majority district—increasing from 40 percent to 56 percent white—and would make District 19 an overall more diverse district. Despite increasing the diversity of District 19, local leaders have expressed their outrage and fear that the new district boundaries would dilute the influence of Latino, Black, Asian American, and LGBTQ residents.
Additionally, if the changes hold, it could lead to a situation where District 17 Assembly candidate David Campos (who lives in Bernal Heights) could be drawn out of the district and ineligible to run in the regularly scheduled elections. Unless, of course, he moves.
What does Redistricting mean for the Board of Supervisors?
In San Francisco, the volunteer redistricting committee (three each selected by the mayor, supervisors, and election commission) started the process of redrawing boundaries for all 11 Supervisorial districts this fall and must finalize a new map by April 15. The committee has not released a new map proposal yet, but with an uneven population increase of 8.5 percent throughout the City, there is a high likelihood that the new map could drastically change the boundaries of each Supervisorial district…and potentially a changing of the guard on the Board of Supervisors.
LOOKING AHEAD TO WHAT’S NEXT
Next year is shaping up to be a whirlwind of an election cycle that could see new faces enter political leadership and legislative power change hands. As San Francisco moves forward in its recovery from the pandemic, the next wave of elected officials will have an outsized role in shaping the City’s path. We know that it’s challenging to keep up with the details for one election, but now San Francisco voters have to contend with four elections. To ensure that you don’t fall behind on the latest San Francisco political news, keep up to date with sf.citi as we expand our election coverage next year to bring you the most important details and stories on the upcoming elections.
Voting is the easiest way to participate in our democracy. Make sure to register to vote for the February 15 election by the January 31 deadline!