all photos by Christopher Cook
You wouldn’t know it from the local media’s electoral coverage, but there are in fact 21 San Franciscans challenging Mayor Ed Lee, whose incumbency and tech-funded war chest have scared away more established contenders. Three self-declared “people powered” candidates – Francisco Herrera, Amy Farah Weiss, and Stuart Schuffman (aka "Broke-Ass Stuart") – have formed a unique electoral coalition, “Vote 1-2-3 to Replace Ed Lee,” which appears to be capturing public attention and interest as the campaign enters its final month and voters begin to sit up and take notice.
Earlier this October, at the one and only debate to evaluate who should hold San Francisco’s top political office for the next four years, before an overflowing audience in a stuffy hot auditorium, “alternative” candidates for mayor repeatedly elicited vigorous applause, while incumbent Ed Lee inspired frequent jeers and hisses. Hosted by the League of Women Voters in Genentech Hall, the debate offered the diverse crowd a unique chance to see mayoral candidates on an even playing field – a democratic forum that has been starkly absent in an election where media of all stripes reject the mere existence of a “mayor’s race.”
For once, Mayor Lee was on the same horizontal stage as his opponents, who criticized him roundly for presiding over an era of rising inequality, rampant evictions and displacement, and skyrocketing housing prices. Lee defended his record of drawing tech sector and other employment, and supporting affordable housing measures such as the housing bond on this November’s ballot. A second debate, planned for the following week, was abruptly canceled when Lee backed out.
After months of slogging in underfunded obscurity, three alternative candidates and their intriguing ranked-choice voting gambit have garnered an array of endorsements, from prominent labor unions and numerous local political clubs (see their websites for endorsement lists). They face an incumbent backed by media, money, and the Democratic Party establishment. As the Chronicle reported in August, Lee has raked in more than $1.4 million, including hefty donations from tech company CEOs and staff. Media have repeatedly declared Lee the “unopposed” incumbent headed to a slamdunk reelection.
But – what if voters knew they have a choice, and that they have the opportunity to consider other options on the ballot? This is one of those “imagine” moments: what if this year’s mayoral election were about ideas, positions and platforms, rather than money, name recognition, and pundits’ prognostications?
To assess this, People Power Media interviewed these three “alternatives” about their visions and priorities for San Francisco, and about what it means to be a “viable” or “serious” candidate. What emerges are three thoughtful, dedicated, and passionate candidates who are raising more issues than money – giving voters a “chance and a choice,” as Jesse Jackson famously preached in his insurgent 1988 bid for the presidency.
Here are selected outtakes from our interviews.
What is your campaign fundamentally about?
Weiss: I really believe in co-creating solutions through the participatory democratic process. My goal is to tackle the key issues and challenges facing San Francisco right now, and come up with solutions in a strategic collaborative way. When we feel that the leadership is not being accountable to the greater good, and to neighborhoods, and justice, then we need to become those leaders.
Herrera: It’s really about developing a peace economy. This war economy is destroying us. It’s just a swindle where the rich get richer and the rest of us foot the bill. It really destroys local economies. In this case, our Mayor Ed Lee has opened the door to rich investors. They call themselves developers, but what they really are is investors. They are here to do one thing, make money at our expense. I don’t see what they have done for the people of San Francisco, other than make some people very rich while displacing a large sector of working people – by that I mean the 99%. For Latinos and African-Americans, it has actually meant death. Our goal is to ignite a people’s movement across party lines, across sectors, across ethnic and religious lines. We want a San Francisco that is a community of communities, that is friendly to working-class people, a working family-friendly city.
Schuffman: I’m about people power. People-first initiatives, people over profit, people using their voices to speak truth to power. We are using social media to get people involved. I’m interested in building affordable housing that is actually affordable, being a public advocate to fight corruption in City Hall, and getting poop off the streets. I didn’t feel that any of the major players were going to run, and I have a large, loud voice in the city and I want to use it for good and get people involved and fight this crazy machine. Three top issues: homelessness, affordable housing, mismanagement/ corruption of government, and getting corporate money out of politics.
What makes a candidate serious, or viable?
Schuffman: Having been a politician in San Francisco should actually preclude you from being mayor of San Francisco. Everything is so crooked and corrupt. I don’t think [holding prior office] should matter, I mean look at Al Franken. I would say I am running a very serious circus. I’m serious that I care about the city; I mean everything that I say, I believe in the issues and have thought them through, but I’m also using humor to get people to pay attention. I don’t think you need to be a finger-wagging politician to be serious.
Herrera: Honest media makes a candidate viable. It’s no hassle for the media to be a little bit honest and responsible…It’s the duty of the media, to say, “there is a millionaire running who is an incumbent, but there are five other candidates who have made the sacrifice, made the time, actually organized campaigns, let’s look at each of these candidates, run a segment on each one.” Instead of this high school mentality that, oh, this person is viable – it’s completely lackadaisical.
Weiss: Somebody who is willing to go beyond critiquing, and strategically, collaboratively create solutions. Somebody who has knowledge about the City and County of San Francisco in a thorough, interdisciplinary, multi-sector way, which I do. Someone who has devoted a significant portion of their life to the betterment of San Francisco. Someone who has the ability to lead. People ask me all the time, why are you running for mayor instead of supervisor, and I tell them, it was necessary. That’s what I do in life, I see what’s necessary and I step up to it.
What has this campaign process taught you?
What have you learned?
Weiss: We are not fighting against Ed Lee, we’re fighting against apathy. If everyone who was disillusioned with the policies of Ed Lee’s administration, which, has caused some of the greatest displacement of all time in San Francisco, if everyone who felt that despair and outrage and concern about the future of San Francisco voted, we would win by a landslide.
Schuffman: That the system is broken, it’s just to serve the people at the top. Just to get into the race you have to pay a bunch of money.
Herrera: We need to have a plan. The damage caused by the Newsom and Ed Lee administrations forces us to ask, what kind of San Francisco do we want? Ed Lee has a plan, high towers going from the Financial District all the way out to Ocean Beach. They are very clear about their plan, which is to kick us out. We have to be very clear about our plan, which is to flourish.
How is your campaign engaging people?
Herrera: Our platform was developed in conversation with over 200 people from different sectors (eight point plan for the 99%), based on affordability, health, education, culture, arts, living wage, local hire. We’ve had a flow of about at least a couple hundred volunteers that have come through and worked on one thing or another.
Weiss: Our [“1-2-3 to replace Ed Lee”] coalition has gotten people’s attention, because it’s new, it’s something people haven’t heard of before. We identified and framed 13 issues, including taxis/TNC’s, Black Lives Matter, displacement, neighborhood safety, Clean Power SF. We created a survey to engage the public, and find out what issues people want to discuss. My idea was there should be at least three debates, one each on the three key issues identified by the public. [She sent the survey to local Democratic clubs, community groups, and media, but fewer than 300 replied, she says. Of those, “over 80% said they would not vote for someone who did not participate in all three debates.”]
Schuffman: By using a lot of social media, we’ve put forth a lot of ideas, just not in the normal way. We have a core group of seven people, and around 150-200 volunteers…I think you’ll be surprised how many people will turn out to vote. The Chronicle and polling only reach a certain demographic, and that demographic is aging. Younger people are plugging in much more through social media.
Why has there been so little media coverage of this campaign?
How can we change media notions of “viability” or “electability”?
Herrera: The circus of politics wants to dumb down the population. Ed Lee wants to kill this election by having no forums, no media coverage.
Weiss: I’m shining a light on hypocrisy within the system, whether it be the DCCC, or the progressive media, which have chosen not to support a really amazing effort that is revolutionizing San Francisco politics, by showing that people can collaborate with each other using ranked choice voting, instead of fighting against each other.
Schuffman: Because they’re all part of the establishment, including the progressive establishment. [We can change that] by shocking them, with a huge percentage of the vote.
To learn more about their platforms and resume, we invite you to examine their websites:
Interviews have been edited for clarity and brevity.
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