San Francisco’s mayoral race has turned into a Toho Studios version of “All Monsters Attack” with a bevy of political heavyweights poised for a no-holds-barred “Battle Royale” that includes the most impressive lineup of Asian Pacific American (APA) candidates in the history of the 7×7 mile city.
The list includes State Senator Leland Yee, Interim Mayor Ed Lee, San Francisco Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, and San Francisco Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting among the top viable APA candidates in the hunt for the City’s top spot.
Equally impressive is the hired guns behind the candidates. Yee, who has been undefeated in every election he has run in, is advised by his long-time strategist Jim Stearns. Mayor Lee is advised by Ace Smith, who helped Jerry Brown and Kamala Harris become the state’s attorney general. Chiu has retained Josh Pulliam, the bare-knuckle street fighting mastermind behind a 10-for-10 sweep of legislative races in 2010. Ting has Eric Jaye, who led Gavin Newsom to the City’s last elected mayorship.
Polling shows that Mayor Lee leads with Senator Yee close behind and Chiu trailing but still in the hunt. Ting’s poll numbers are low but his citywide status makes him a legitimate contender. Adachi just jumped in and is the current wildcard. Adachi, who has a rock star personality and a loyal progressive following, has been a campaign force to be reckoned with since he defeated Kimiko Burton in the race for San Francisco’s public defender. Chiu is a relative political newcomer, but his ability to rise to the Board presidency in such a short period of time makes him out to be a political comer who shouldn‘t be underestimated.
This race may be a defining moment for APA generational politics in the City. Two rival camps of Chinatown power brokers are divided between Lee and Yee. Pius Lee and the Consolidated Chinese Benevolent Association is backing Yee while Rose Pak, the head of the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, is backing Lee. The 18 to 45 year-old second, third and fourth generation APAs would naturally gravitate to the more contemporary progressive profiles of Chiu, Ting and Adachi. Both Yee and Lee have sided with older Chinese in opposing the proposed state ban on shark fin (AB 376), while Chiu and Ting are with younger Chinese voters who consider shark fin soup a threat to the environment and culturally passé.
San Francisco has a ranked choice voting system, where the voters will get three votes for each candidate. Conventional thinking suggests that a positive campaign heavy on voter outreach is the best way to win in a ranked choice system. By staying positive, candidates have the best chance of getting positive consideration even if they are not the first choice.
Candidates that torch opponents tend to polarize their supporters and lose any chance of securing their second or third round votes. In fact, Jean Quan effectively stayed above the mud in Oakland to lose in the first round, but eventually won enough second and third round votes to secure the overall upset victory over seasoned Oakland pol Don Perata.
Splitting the APA Vote
San Francisco is home to 87,147 APA voters. Overall, APA voters represent 20 percent of San Francisco’s voter population. The APA voters consist of 51,733 Chinese, 3,027 Chinese/Korean, 1,725 Chinese/Vietnamese, 2,261 Chinese/Korean/Vietnamese, 12,018 Filipino, 4,642 Japanese, 3,392 Korean, 9,186 Vietnamese and 5,003 Asian/Anglo.
Because there are so many APAs in the race, each candidate will have to scramble for the broadest appeal. Each of the APA candidates have just enough appeal to split but not unify the APA vote. Each one will undoubtedly get a segment of the first round votes and some second round votes, but the numbers make it hard for any one APA candidate to be able to depend on a solid core of APA votes that would be foundation of a citywide victory.
Although the APA vote alone is not enough for victory, failure to turn out APA voters will guarantee defeat. What was simple math before the final filing of candidates has now become a complex campaign calculus of the City’s various voting blocs. The APA candidate that can hold his APA base while appealing to the broader voter population will have the best chance of winning in November and making history in the process.
In the Running
An unofficial qualified list of 16 candidates for November’s San Francisco mayoral race, as of Aug. 16:
Source: SF Department of Elections
Bill Wong is a political and strategic consultant with more than 20 years of legislative and campaign experience. He currently advises candidates, political action committees and major corporations. He can be reached at Bill@billwong.net. The views expressed are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.