Dozens of political hopefuls have officially announced they are running for a seat on San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors, with the deadlineto file still more than a month away.
Five of eleven seats — from The City’s even-numbered districts — are up for grabs this November. However, with four supervisors seeking re-election, it is less likely that there will be any major changes to the legislative body.
Two years ago, when elections were held for the six odd-numbered district seats, five incumbents regained their posts. That was the same year that The City switched to a new system that allows voters to rank up to three candidates — to avoid costly runoff elections.
Ranked-choice voting gives incumbents a "tremendous advantage," according to San Francisco-based political consultant Eric Jaye. A challenger can get more votes than the incumbent, but if the seated official gets more second- and third-rank votes, they can still win the race.
"[Before ranked-choice voting,] all you had to do is push an incumbent into a runoff, then you’d have equality," Jaye said. "Now, you don’t just have to make the incumbent the second choice, you have to make them the fourth choice."
Which is why political pundits say one of the main races to watch is the one with no incumbent. In District 4, Fiona Ma, who won the Democratic nomination in the 12th Assembly District last month, is vacating the board.
To date, eight supervisorial candidates have filed to run in District 4. One candidate, Ron Dudum, a local businessman, came close to beating Ma in 2002. Ed Jew, another small-business owner, came in third place in 2002. San Francisco lawyer Doug Chan has not run for the office previously, but he was appointed by Mayor Gavin Newsom to a post on The City’s Police Commission.
"District 4 is a free-for-all," said Jim Ross, another well-respected San Francisco political consultant. "Each candidate is known within their opinion-maker circles; now they need to get out and reach out to the broader voter base."
The outcome of the District 4 race is also notable because it could possibly tip the precarious balance of power that often provides Newsom with veto power over board legislation. Ma, along with Supervisors Michela Alioto-Pier, Sean Elsbernd and Bevan Dufty, are known allies of the mayor and more moderate in their politics.
This November, Alioto-Pier and Dufty, as well as Supervisors Chris Daly and Sophie Maxwell, are up for re-election.
Maxwell and Alioto-Pier seem secure at this point, according to race-watchers, but Daly’s hold on District 6 and Dufty’s on District 8 are not so certain.
The controversial Daly is a former housing organizer who has a steadfast focus on serving his predominately low-income constituents, much to the chagrin of the business interests in his district. In November, he faces 13 challengers in a seeming repeat of 2002, which came to be known as the "Anybody But Chris Daly" contest.
Dufty only faces three challengers, but one may prove to be formidable.
Alix Rosenthal, a deputy city attorney in Oakland, has billed herself as the progressive alternative to Dufty. It’s a similar platform to that of community advocate Eileen Hansen, who in November 2002, picked up more votes than Dufty, only to have him triumph in the December runoff.
Unless Dufty’s challenger captures more than half of the votes, history could repeat itself and he could win in the "instant runoff" that ranked-choice voting provides.
"Bevan Dufty is a classic example of someone who will do well in the RCV situation since he’s not disliked by most voters," Jaye said. "Even if you don’t put him first, you’re likely to make him your second or third choice; you’re not going to reject him."