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Candidates face off at first San Francisco mayoral debate

San Francisco mayoral candidates debate public safety approaches
San Francisco mayoral candidates debate public safety approaches 03:18

Five candidates at the first San Francisco mayoral debate on Wednesday sparred and shared their plans to address the city's most pressing issues ahead of the November election. 

Supervisors Aaron Peskin and Ahsha Safai shared the stage at Sydney Goldstein Theater with Mayor London Breed, philanthropist Daniel Lurie and former Supervisor and former mayor Mark Farrell. 

Hosts Heather Knight, the New York Times' San Francisco bureau chief and Manny Yekutiel, owner of the Manny's civic gathering space in the city's Mission District, asked questions on the city's top issues such as fixing downtown, open-air drug markets, homelessness, housing, public safety, transportation and public schools. 

The debate also gave the five candidates a chance to show off their personalities and build a rapport with voters. 

Candidates shared their plans to combat the fentanyl and overdose problem plaguing the city's streets. 

"This is a public health crisis, not just a public safety crisis," Peskin said. 

Peskin wants to aggressively prosecute drug dealers instead of drug users. He also plans to dramatically expand treatment by transforming empty buildings to provide increased mental health and addiction treatment facilities, he said. 

In their responses throughout the debate, many candidates indirectly targeted Breed and what they believe are flaws in her administration.

"We need bold leadership when it comes to the overdose crisis in our city and that's what's missing right now," Safai said. "We have to open up an overdose prevention site, multiple ones in the city if we want to see the 810 people that died from overdoses this past year go down."

"This current administration's harm-reduction approach to fentanyl is a failure," Farrell said. "As mayor, I will declare a fentanyl state of emergency. It will allow us to ask the state and federal government for additional funds ... We cannot only focus on getting people off the streets but get them connected to services to give them the help that they need."

Lurie had a similar approach to Farrell. He also would declare a fentanyl state of emergency and criticized Breed's focus on harm-reduction instead of treating people's addiction and mental health struggles. 

Breed fired back.

"The solution is not criticism. The solution is actually being as aggressive as we can to try and get people the treatment and support that they need," Breed said. "I've increased our shelter capacity by over 60%. I've increased our permanent supportive housing by over 50%. We have helped over 15,000 people get off the streets."

Candidates were tasked with defending their track records and proving their abilities to tackle the array of problems the city is facing. 

Safai's primary selling point was his dedication to fighting for everyday San Franciscans. He backed up his goals by discussing the actions he has taken as a supervisor who advocates for working families while representing neighborhoods in the southern end of the city like the Excelsior and Ingleside 

"Representing the part of the city and town that has the highest concentrations of working families, those labor households, no one has been a voice for them at City Hall like I have," Safai said. "In the past eight years, we were able to build 600 units of housing but we expanded the definition of affordable housing. We wanted to be sure that teachers, nurses, janitors, firefighters can live in the city and thrive in the city."

Farrell focused on appealing to voters by reiterating his experience as the city's mayor. He served as mayor for a brief stint from January to July in 2018 after the Board of Supervisors selected him as interim mayor following the death of Mayor Ed Lee in December 2017. However, Breed unseated him during a special election that year.

"I've been mayor before. I've sat in that seat, I know what it takes to run the city of San Francisco," Farrell said. "Experience does matter and I bring that to the table."

Lurie was repeatedly called out for his lack of experience. But he said his inexperience as a politician is what makes him a good candidate to make big changes in City Hall. 

"We can return to the same politicians who have spent their careers building up a broken system, then blaming it for their failures. Bigger budgets, worse outcomes. More excuses. Or we can choose a better future rooted in accountable leadership, new ideas," Lurie said. "I'm not naive, I know that challenging the status quo is never easy. But that's what its going to take to build a clean, affordable and vibrant city that we all deserve." 

Voters will be able to hear from the same five candidates again for a free debate on Monday at UC Law San Francisco. All tickets have been reserved but people can also watch a livestream on the San Francisco Democratic Party's Facebook page or on KRON4's "KRONon" app.  

"This election is going to boil down to one question: Do you believe in the direction we are going in at City Hall or do you believe we need change at City Hall?" Farrell said.

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