“Cautious optimism” was also the watchword of the Leno campaign, though perhaps with a greater emphasis on caution than optimism. “We are waiting until the remaining votes are counted,” spokeswoman Zoë Kleinfeld said. “With a historically high turnout, we’re going to honor every single voter.”
The last San Francisco mayor’s race to be nearly this competitive was in 1995, when Willie Brown led in the initial election by barely 2,000 votes before winning more easily in a runoff. “It is the tightest I’ve ever seen,” said Johnston, a veteran Democratic strategist.
John Arntz, director of the San Francisco Department of Elections, told me that because of state rules for canvassing ballots, the results of the mayor’s race could take until the end of June to be certified. But Kleinfeld told me the outcome should become clear “in the next few days” and that Leno would make a statement then. Unless there’s another dramatic shift in the tally, that is likely to be a concession.
The winner won’t take office until July at the earliest and will serve until the end of 2019, when Lee’s second term would have concluded.
If she wins, Breed, 43, would become the first African American woman to lead San Francisco and the only woman mayor in any of the nation’s 15 most populous cities. As president of San Francisco’s version of a city council, she became acting mayor after Lee’s death from a heart attack late last year. But in a controversial move, Breed’s colleagues on the Board of Supervisors would not allow her to continue in the post while she ran for mayor, believing that would give her the unfair advantage of incumbency in a race that included another supervisor, Jane Kim. The Board in January installed Mark Farrell as interim mayor, angering Breed supporters who saw a racial motivation in the decision to replace an African American woman with a white man. Breed, Leno, Kim, and Farrell are all Democrats.
Though progressive on social and national economic issues, Breed was seen as more moderate locally than either Leno or Kim, her two closest rivals, in a campaign that was dominated by debates over affordable housing and San Francisco’s homelessness crisis. Her opponents criticized the support she received from Ron Conway, a billionaire tech investor who gave her his public blessing at Lee’s funeral and then funded super PAC ads to boost her candidacy.
In the final weeks, the race turned not on a policy fight but on a tactical choice by Leno and Kim to forge an alliance under San Francisco’s ranked-choice voting system. The two rivals held a joint press event and filmed an ad urging their respective supporters to make the other candidate their second choice on the ballot. Under the ranked-preference system, voters can list up to three candidates. If no one receives a majority on the first ballot, the contender with the fewest votes is eliminated, and the second-choice votes are added to the remaining candidates’ totals. The process continues until someone gets a majority. More than three out of four Kim voters followed her advice and put Leno as their second choice.