Illustration by Mark Todd
San Francisco politicians know a thing or two about the power of incumbency. Ask any one of the charred hulks left in the wake of Nancy Pelosi or Dianne Feinstein over the past quarter century. And in local, municipal elections, no sitting politician, mayor, or supervisor has fallen victim to a challenger in more than a decade.
So why, then, is recently appointed supervisor Christina Olague, a dedicated ally of Mayor Ed Lee, skating on the thinnest of ice this election season?
A former president of the powerful Planning Commission, Olague was an early supporter of an Ed Lee mayorship—she cochaired the controversial “Run Ed Run” campaign—and that put her in a good position to inherit the supe seat vacated by Ross Mirkarimi in ultra-progressive District Five, which stretches from Hayes Valley through the Western Addition and the Haight to the Inner Sunset. And the coziness continues: Lee has blessed Olague’s election effort, as has power broker Rose Pak, who had helped her raise $81,000 by midsummer.
But Olague has serious competition, most notably neighborhood native London Breed, executive director of the African American Art & Culture Complex and a onetime Willie Brown protégé. Breed’s turned District Five into a wide-open race, and she’s leading in dollars, with $85,000 in contributions from such unlikely political bedfellows as Samuel L. Jackson (they met while he was in town filming Coach Carter), VC Ron Conway, and state attorney general Kamala Harris (Breed volunteered on her 2010 campaign).
With a touching personal story—she was raised by her grandmother in public housing in the Western Addition—and a strong independent streak (she says she’s on the outs with Brown now for her refusal to back Jane Kim for supervisor in 2010), Breed is a formidable opponent, even if you’re doing everything right.
And Olague isn't. In a district where political stripes are measured in shades of left, she committed progressive heresy by backing a controversial luxury condo, 8 Washington, that’s slated for the waterfront, and she also found herself connected to perjury allegations aimed at benefactor Lee. A local columnist captured for posterity Olague at her nadir: When asked if she would seek election, the supervisor responded, “Whatever.”
Meanwhile, Breed is sitting pretty. While the incumbent has to constantly fend off attacks from the left (two other District Five contenders, City College trustee John Rizzo and nonprofit director Julian Davis, have lobbed bombs), Breed has had the center-right all to herself.
As great a political triumph as it would be to take a seat away from an incumbent, Breed’s most laudable success would be her rise from next to nothing. The nickname for the public housing building she grew up in was “The O.C.,” for “out of control,” she says. “But you never let circumstances dictate your life. I’m living proof of that.”
Read More: The Other Open Supervisor Races
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