Gay underdogs qualify for San Francisco mayoral race

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday June 19, 2024
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Keith Freedman is one of the 13 San Francisco mayoral candidates. Photo: Courtesy the candidate
Keith Freedman is one of the 13 San Francisco mayoral candidates. Photo: Courtesy the candidate

They lack the name recognition, fiscal resources, and political establishment support that the quintet of top tier San Francisco mayoral candidates have headed into the fall election. Nonetheless, two gay men have qualified for the November 5 ballot and hope to start receiving more attention to their candidacies.

Castro resident Keith Freedman is the owner of Hostwell, a company that manages and cleans short-term housing rentals in the city. Jon Soderstrom, who lives near the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park, is a former registered nurse and French language tour guide focused at the moment on his mayoral bid.

Both are first-time candidates for elective office. They are among the baker's dozen of mayoral contenders who will appear on the city's general election ballot.

"We started with 52 and ended up with 13, which is still a lot," noted Freedman, referring to the number of people who had pulled papers for the mayor's race but didn't meet the qualifications to run by the June 7 deadline to do so.

While he understands he will be viewed as an underdog in the race, Freedman told the Bay Area Reporter he is a serious candidate.

"I intend to win," he said.

Jon Soderstrom is running for San Francisco mayor. Photo: Courtesy the candidate  

Soderstrom also told the B.A.R. that he isn't concerned about being tagged an underdog candidate.

"I am pretty comfortable with that," he said. "Being an underdog is especially common in the tourism business, as your profit margin is incredibly tight."

He said he knows his mayoral bid is an "insane long shot." Nonetheless, even if he doesn't win, Soderstrom wants to bring attention to various issues plaguing the city with his candidacy.

"There isn't just one part of San Francisco that needs fixing," he said. "Law enforcement and homelessness are difficult issues, but we need to make sure everybody is safe no matter where they live."

The leading candidates in the race are Mayor London Breed, former mayor and supervisor Mark Farrell, Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safaí, and heir to the Levi Strauss fortune Daniel Lurie, who founded the Tipping Point Community that works to address poverty in the Bay Area. Peskin, who represents District 3 on the board, and Safaí will be termed out of their supervisorial offices in January.

Breed briefly became acting mayor following the death of former mayor Ed Lee in late 2017 due to her serving as the board president at the time. But a majority of her board colleagues in early 2018 elected Farrell to serve as mayor until that summer's special election.

Farrell opted against running to maintain the mayoralty, and Breed won election that June to serve out the remainder of Lee's mayoral term. She then won a full four-year term in 2019 and was set to stand for reelection in 2023.

But voters adopted a ballot measure in 2022 moving citywide elections to the fall ballot of presidential years instead of holding the contests the November prior. Thus, it bumped the mayor's race to the 2024 fall ballot, giving Breed a fifth year in her current term.

Tough race
She is facing a tough road to victory come November, with various polls giving her male opponents an edge with voters upset at the ongoing crises with open-air drug dealing and overdose deaths on the streets, homelessness, crime, and lack of affordable housing. Other issues animating the race include the business disruptions wrought by the COVID pandemic that have led to a glut of downtown office space, empty stores throughout the Financial District and Union Square shopping zone, and record budget deficits the mayor and supervisors are grappling to address.

Tuesday night Peskin secured the endorsement of the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club, the more progressive of the city's two main LGBTQ political groups. While Peskin and Safaí, to a lesser extent, are running to the left of Breed with more progressive support, moderates Farrell and Lurie have been attacking her from her right on issues like police staffing and the safety of city residents.

It is widely expected one of the five will win the race, likely after one or more rounds of the city's ranked-choice voting system. A candidate needs more than 50% of the vote to be declared the winner, and if no one does on the first round of voting, then the candidate with the least votes is eliminated and their voters' second choices for mayor are tabulated into the total vote count.

The process continues until a candidate reaches the required winning threshold, even if by just one vote. It took nine rounds for Breed to be declared the winner in 2018.

Other candidates
Among the other candidates who made this fall's ballot are perennial mayoral contenders small business owner Paul Robertson and family social worker Ellen Lee Zhou, a Republican who is a party to the lawsuit challenging San Francisco's guaranteed income programs for transgender people and other groups. Also in the race are tech engineers Dylan Hirsch-Shell and Nelson Mei; security specialist Henry Flynn; and transit engineer Shahram Shariati, who also works as a residential property manager.

San Francisco has yet to elect an LGBTQ person as its mayor. Breed is only the second woman and second Black political leader elected mayor in the city's history.

Freedman lives a few doors down from where Breed has her campaign headquarters on the 500 block of Castro Street.

"I won't accuse her of malfeasance and trying to muscle in on my action. At least she is activating a vacant space in the Castro," he joked to the B.A.R.

Now that this year's mayoral field is set, Freedman told the B.A.R. this week that he hopes to be invited to candidate debates going forward. Those held so far have only featured the five candidates seen as the top contenders in the race.

"I expect this sort of thing to happen because I am an outsider politically," said Freedman.

Soderstrom participated in a recent San Francisco People's Debate For Mayor 2024. Any of the mayoral contenders are invited to take part in the weekly events held from 1 to 3 p.m. on Saturdays at the Hidalgo Monument in Mission Dolores Park.

He is aiming to go live June 27 with his campaign website at

"I am working on my platform for the mayor's office," said Soderstrom.

Freedman's campaign website is already live.

UPDATED 6/25/25 to reflect that Shahram Shariati continues to work as a transit engineer.

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