San Francisco mayor’s progressive archrival jumps into the race

Incumbent London Breed’s campaign is planning to focus on the candidates’ sharp differences in housing policy.

SAN FRANCISCO — After months of centrist Democrats dominating the narrative, an avowed progressive has jumped into the race for San Francisco mayor.

Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin confirmed Wednesday night that he’s running in the November election against his archrival, incumbent Mayor London Breed, because he’s frustrated by what he calls her polarizing style and shift toward more conservative public-safety policies — approaches he says don’t reflect the city’s liberal spirit.

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“The politics of today are marked by blame and not taking responsibility. The buck stops with the mayor,” he said in an interview. “And it’s time to inject a mature, collaborative discourse that’s befitting of San Francisco.”

Peskin confirmed earlier reporting by The San Francisco Standard that he will launch his campaign during a rally in Chinatown on Saturday. He said the event, in a neighborhood he has long represented at City Hall, has been a poorly-kept secret, noting it could draw up to 900 supporters.

Joe Arellano, a spokesperson for Breed’s campaign, was quick to attack Peskin, whom he blamed for creating barriers to building housing amid a citywide shortage. Peskin’s name, he said, is synonymous with City Hall “intimidation, obstruction and dysfunction.”

“He’s the Terminator,” Arellano said in a statement. “Aaron Peskin occupying the Mayor’s Office would mean ‘hasta la vista, baby’ for our local economy, our housing and our city’s future.”

Peskin’s foray into the race sets off a seismic shift in the direction of the campaign. Until now, Breed’s chief rivals have been moderate Democrats like her, including Daniel Lurie, a nonprofit executive and Levi Strauss heir; and Mark Farrell, a former interim mayor and city supervisor. The fifth candidate, Supervisor Ahsha Safai, also leans moderate, though he’s tried to appeal to progressives lately.

Breed and her chief rivals, Lurie and Farrell, have proposed competing plans to increase law enforcement presence and force more people into addiction treatment — a rightward shift from the city’s progressive policies.

The mayor has increasingly embraced more aggressive responses to the city’s crises with fentanyl addiction, homelessness and theft. Last month, she convinced voters to overwhelmingly approve ballot measures that expand police powers and require drug-screening for welfare recipients.

Breed’s allies have cheered Peskin’s entrance into the race. They argue that Peskin, especially his opposition to her proposals to build more housing, will give her a valuable foil in the campaign.

Peskin said that despite the narrative about San Francisco voters shifting to the middle, he can beat his moderate opponents on a presidential election ballot, when turnout is much higher. On housing, he said he wants the city to be pro-construction without running the historic charm of its neighborhoods.

“It’s still a progressive town,” Peskin said, adding that he supports arresting drug dealers at the same time he opposes punitive measures for people suffering from addiction.

Peskin, who has been in recovery for alcoholism for the last three years, also evoked his personal struggles in announcing his campaign: “I have, in recent weeks, come to the conclusion that the city I love is struggling and needs to recover. And I think I know a little bit about recovery.”