Mayoral candidate Lurie banks on SF ties

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday December 20, 2023
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San Francisco mayoral candidate Daniel Lurie. Photo: Courtesy the campaign
San Francisco mayoral candidate Daniel Lurie. Photo: Courtesy the campaign

For Daniel Lurie, a major talking point for why he is seeking to become San Francisco's next mayor is his deep connections to the city. His campaign website bio is even titled "A San Francisco Story," which it notes is "firmly rooted in" the city where he grew up.

"It is a great question and one I do get asked often," Lurie noted when asked by the Bay Area Reporter why he is running to be mayor. "I really start right at the beginning. I was born and raised in San Francisco. I love this town."

Lurie, 46, was born at the former Children's Hospital of San Francisco on California Street. It was also where his wife, Becca, gave birth to the couple's two children, Sawyer and Taya.

His mother, Miriam, divorced Lurie's father and later married Peter E. Haas, the longtime CEO and chairman of Levi Strauss & Co., the iconic denim jeans company founded in San Francisco. Lurie credits his stepfather for teaching him "progressive business practices," such as Levi's being the first Fortune 500 Company to provide health benefits to unmarried domestic partners in 1992. It was a way to offer similar benefits to its LGBTQ workers barred at the time from marrying their spouses due to homophobic marriage laws.

In 2000, Lurie was working in Iowa on the presidential campaign of former U.S. senator Bill Bradley. The next year, with Bradley having fallen short in his bid to be the Democratic nominee, Lurie moved to New York City to work for the Robin Hood Foundation, which is focused on ending poverty.

He had arrived in Manhattan days prior to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Four years later he was back in San Francisco and had founded the Tipping Point Community to assist Bay Area organizations working to address poverty in the region.

But seemingly intractable issues like homelessness, drug addiction, and a severe shortage of affordable housing have only gotten worse over the last two decades. It has eroded among many San Francisco residents, argued Lurie, the sense of pride they have in their city.

"We have taken a historic beating in terms of our reputation," he told the B.A.R. during a video interview in the fall. "My kids will not be as proud as I have been of being from here if we continue to follow down this path."

San Francisco Mayor London Breed. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland  

The city's poor image in the press, both locally and nationally, is one that Mayor London Breed has tried to turn around this year as she seeks reelection to a final four-year term in 2024. From the endless talk about San Francisco being in a "doom loop" because of its downtown financial district struggling to come out of the COVID pandemic and restaurants across the city closing because of increased costs for doing business while struggling to find employees to the ongoing lack of affordable housing for the middle class and an intractable homelessness crisis, there are any number of concerns voters are fed up with in San Francisco.

San Francisco Supervisor and mayoral candidate Ahsha Safaí. Photo: Courtesy the subject  

Yet neither Lurie nor District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safaí, another straight ally vying to oust Breed from office, have seen their mayoral bids catch on since they entered the race earlier this year. New York Times San Francisco bureau chief Heather Knight, a former city hall reporter and columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, recently referred to both of their candidacies as "meh."

A poll of 628 likely voters done in late October found 42% had never heard of Lurie, while another 26% said they didn't know enough about him to rate him as favorable or unfavorable. He was rated favorable by 18% of the respondents to the poll conducted by FM3 Research.

"We need to get back to basics and it starts with leadership," Lurie told the B.A.R. "At this time I really believe it needs to be leadership from the outside."

Lurie has yet to list any endorsers on his campaign website. Asked about LGBTQ people supporting his mayoral bid, Lurie told the B.A.R. he wasn't ready to disclose any just yet.

"I have many friends in the LGBTQ community supporting me," replied Lurie. "Putting them out on blast in a newspaper article though I haven't asked them if I can do that yet."

Earlier this year progressives tried to recruit Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) to run against Breed, as he is termed out next year, while more recently moderates have been begging former mayor and supervisor Mark Farrell to join the race. Neither has agreed to do so, nor has outgoing District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin, the current board president who is also termed out next year, pulled the trigger on a mayoral campaign despite constant chatter he will enter the race.

Farrell briefly took over as mayor when a majority of his board colleagues elected him to fill the vacancy created by the death of mayor Ed Lee in late 2017. He replaced Breed, who had been acting mayor due to being president of the board at the time of Lee's passing.

She then won the special election in June 2018 to serve out the remainder of Lee's mayoral term and won a full four-year term the next year. Because 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, Breed will be entering a fifth year to her current term in 2024.

Competitive race
According to the polling by FM3 Research, the mayoral race is "competitive and fluid" due to none of the talked-about candidates having a winning advantage heading into next year.

"The mood of the San Francisco electorate is highly negative. Most potential candidates, aside from London Breed and Aaron Peskin, start with little name recognition," the firm noted in a letter about the results. "Breed leads the race initially, but Farrell and Lurie move into a first-place tie with her after a mix of pro and con messaging — though a plurality of voters remains undecided."

Mission district cafe owner Manny Yekutiel. Photo: Courtesy the subject  

It is no wonder then that gay business owner Manny Yekutiel told the San Francisco Chronicle earlier this month he was looking at joining the mayoral race and would decide by January 1. Yekutiel, who did not respond to the B.A.R.'s request for comment for this story, recently resigned his seat on the oversight body for the city's transportation agency.

He co-founded the Civic Joy Fund with Lurie to support the work of local artists, musicians, small businesses, and community leaders. The nonprofit initiative had a hand in this year's Halloween events in the LGBTQ Castro district and financially supported the citywide SF is a Drag event that had drag performers fan out around San Francisco in early December.

Lurie told the B.A.R. he sees serving as mayor as the next step in his working to better San Francisco.

"There is more work I can do on behalf of our city," he said. "We have a real crisis of leadership right now."

He also argued that he wouldn't be coming to the job completely blind being a first-time candidate for political office. His wife worked for Governor Gavin Newsom when he was the city's mayor, and Lurie noted he has "worked with lots of mayors" over the years.

Lee had asked Lurie to chair the host committee for Super Bowl 50 in February 2016. As the B.A.R. reported at the time, it was the first to steer contracts toward LGBTQ businesses but upset many located in the Castro with the closure of the F-Market trolley line that brings many tourists to the neighborhood.

He is on the board of the Bay Area Host Committee, which is working with the NBA and the Golden State Warriors to host the 2025 NBA All Star Game in San Francisco. The group was also involved in bringing back Super Bowl 60 in 2026 and also the FIFA World Cup that year to the San Francisco 49er's Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara.

"I understand what having a global event in San Francisco means to our economy," said Lurie, who points to the $240 million economic impact the football championship game in 2016 had on the Bay Area.

Drug crisis
In terms of dealing with the city's overdose crisis, Lurie told the B.A.R. that his focus as mayor would be on stopping the open-air drug dealing on the streets of the Tenderloin and increasing the number of treatment beds the city has so it can offer treatment on demand to those with drug addictions.

"I do not believe in looking at safe consumption sites right now," said Lurie.

While Breed in the past has spoken in favor of such facilities where medical professionals are on hand to care for people injecting or using drugs so they don't overdose, and can also help them into services if amenable, City Attorney David Chiu has advised against the city funding the sites. In her budget this year Breed instead allocated $18.9 million toward three Wellness Hubs aimed at reducing public drug use.

Lurie said the city needs to reprioritize its budget to fund more police and addiction treatment options if it wants to properly address drug dealing, usage, and overdose deaths.

"We have the money. At $14.6 billion, we have the money to do what is right by those people suffering from this disease of addiction," he said, adding that "there is a lot of money in this city budget and nobody is going to convince me we can't find the money to fully staff our police department."

He is also supportive of auditing the nonprofits that receive contracts from the city to provide services in addition to taking a close look at how city departments are spending their budgets. (Lurie spoke with the B.A.R. when the city was projecting an estimated $500 million budget deficit; this month Breed called for across-the-board 10% cuts to address a projected $800 million deficit.)

"I think we have hardworking people inside city government. I also think every department needs to be held to account," said Lurie. "We need to audit everything. We need to know where our money is going."

Should be become mayor, Lurie told the B.A.R. he would continue to fund the city's drag laureate position — "I love that idea, yes," he said — and would continue with Breed's plan to house all of the city's transgender homelessness population by 2027 — "We should have big goals like that," he said.

With Republicans in Congress targeting federal HIV funding for cuts, part of the fight to fund the government that will consume Capitol Hill when lawmakers return in January, concerns have been ratcheting up among AIDS nonprofit leaders what fiscal impact they could be facing in the years ahead. With San Francisco having seen its share of the funds decreased over the last decade due to its being able to dramatically decrease new HIV infections, as the federal programs funnel money to areas of the country where HIV cases are highest, every mayoral administration has backfilled the federal cuts with local dollars.

Lurie was asked if he would make a similar commitment as mayor. While he agreed with the policy position, he hedged about how much of an additional decrease in federal dollars the city would be able to cover as it deals with its own budget issues in the coming years. If it is a matter of hundreds of thousands of dollars, Lurie said that was doable, "so yes, I make that pledge."

But if Republicans are able to push through cuts to HIV funds in the hundreds of millions of dollars, he was unsure of the city's ability to backfill such an amount when it is faced with its own million-dollar deficits to address.

"Knowing we are facing a $500 million budget deficit, I can't commit to filling a gap of $200 million," Lurie had told the B.A.R., though he added, "We should always be the leader on LGBTQ issues and HIV issues."

As for if he considers himself to be a progressive or more moderate Democrat, Lurie demurred and would only label himself "a lifelong Democrat." He told the B.A.R. he has been called both over his career and would leave it to others to decide where they see him falling along the city's political divide.

The question is part of what ails the city, he said, and something he wants to move beyond.

"I am not a career politician and I am not looking to become one," Lurie told the B.A.R. "I am looking to do this job as mayor to get in to turn the city around and get out. I am not looking at using this as a stepping stone to some higher office."

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