Mar 28, 2024
76 min
Episode 14

We Are San Francisco: Meet the Candidates: Ahsha Safai

Ben Kaplan  00:00

Attention BART riders. Hey, San Francisco. I'm Ben Kaplan. And this is the podcast where we define who we are and who we want to be. We are diverse, we are innovative, we are inclusive. We are change makers, problem solvers, activists, leaders, citizens,


we are open minded, optimistic, because hope for a better tomorrow and you and you and you gotta give him hope. 

Ben Kaplan  00:27

This is the podcast. That's more than a podcast for Cisco. They are the world champion. We are San Francisco. Hey, San Francisco. Today, I'm chatting with Ahsha Safai. He's a current member of the Board of Supervisors representing District 11, and also a candidate for mayor of San Francisco. Ahsha. Thanks for joining us. Yeah.

Ahsha Safai  00:51

Thanks for having me.

Ben Kaplan  00:52

So tell me about how you got your start in in city government. I understanding as your political story kind of starts out. You you moved to Boston, when you were five, originally born in Iran, you went to Northeastern University, you did your master's in city planning at MIT. And I think we've chatted before you said that you always had the sense, maybe a dream that you would like to be a mayor of a city someday that that might be in your future. Where does that come from? How did you begin?

Ahsha Safai  01:23

Well, before I before I get into that, I think it's important to say why how I got to where I am right now a little bit, you touched on it a little bit. So you know, I'm one of the only candidates. I am the only candidate but I'm one of the only people on the board. That's an immigrant to this country. I think there's two others. But I was born in Iran, as you said, born to the Iranian dad and American mom. And a lot of what we're seeing in the Middle East right now in that part of the world, is what how my life began. religious extremists came into power, kind of tore the country apart, was no longer safe from my mom being an American, which is how you ended up in the US. Exactly. And so we left went to Cambridge and Boston, as you said, I went to Northeastern had the great opportunity of learning from Governor Michael Dukakis, who was professor of mine. I studied African American Studies and Political Science went on to work for civil rights, a math literacy organization called the Algebra Project.

Ben Kaplan  02:28

And did you have a sense, like, I mean, you're obviously in city planning in graduate school in MIT. So you had an interest. But did you have a sense that you would, you know, 2024 be sitting here right now running from here?

Ahsha Safai  02:38

Well, I mean, I wrote in my essay, my entrance essay, that I wanted to be at MIT that I wanted to be a mayor of a city one day, when I came out here after I've met my my wife, who dira I fell in love with San Francisco. And I knew I wanted to be mayor of this city one day immediately. And so I've been working on it for the last 25 years. I started under Mayor Willie Brown. Work from Mayor Gavin Newsom is a deputy department head. I'm in fact, what you're seeing out on the streets today, because it is crazy weather. I worked for that department, I was out on the streets cleaning and greening San Francisco in these types of crisis with public works. Putting young people to work, formerly incarcerated, formerly homeless, giving them opportunities and then earn a start started my own small business. And this backdrop is perfect, because I help small businesses, I help people through the planning process small builders, developers, but I also work for the janitors union,

Ben Kaplan  03:30

and then things really pick up you're like, elected political career in 2008, you run for the board of supervisors, hard fought race, you don't win that race. But what did you learn from that first experience you get? You got to start somewhere? What would it teach you?

Ahsha Safai  03:45

I mean, it taught me that I did not know how important the history of labor was to the city, I didn't have as strong relationships in Chinatown, I didn't have a complete kind of exposure to all the elements I think are important to be successful in San Francisco politics didn't

Ben Kaplan  04:03

have the context for all

Ahsha Safai  04:06

the relationships. So I had been here I that time, I had been here for about eight years, but I did not have as much exposure. So it was extremely important. It allowed me to start my family had my daughter, my son. So proud father, I think that's super important because it gives you a different perspective of how you're approaching the city. Thinking about it through the lens of working families and families in general and how and

Ben Kaplan  04:32

trying to entertain Hi Martin is to survive. In this live. I have a three year old and an almost two year old. So it's like my weekends are now shifted to like, how do we entertain toddlers to have a short attention span and instead of explore the city to do it, yeah. And

Ahsha Safai  04:45

actually, that's part of how I started to get really involved in the neighborhood because a lot of our neighborhood parks were rundown. And a lot of the families were like, wait, I'm stretching myself. I'm trying to survive in the city. And then I go down the corner and In the corner, you know, playground is falling apart. That's not fair. So we organize and got my former boss, the mayor Gavin Newsom to put in the bond and prioritize our neighborhood, and now became kind of a catalyst for me for running the second time around.

Ben Kaplan  05:17

Well, and really that sort of eight year gap between 2008 2016 that's when, as you alluded to you were working for Service Employees International Union Local 87. You were their political director? And what did that process teach you? Obviously, it helped with the relationships and it but what did you learn from that for 2016?

Ahsha Safai  05:36

I will tell you not even for 2016. A lot of people don't realize, you know, yes, San Francisco has been the gold rush. And it's been the financial center of the West. And we have a lot of, you know, venture capitalists start businesses and creativity and ingenuity. But a lot of what is missed is the importance of bringing labor and business together. And when San Francisco is at its best. And again, it's just phenomenal that you have this backdrop of the city. When San Francisco is at its best, it's when everyone is prospering when everyone is advancing, and when labor and business come together. So when I work with the janitors, we worked on the mid market tax break, we worked on the Twitter tax break, because when those office buildings are full, janitors are working security guards are working, small businesses around there, well, that everyone is benefiting from that now, there's some things that could be adjusted, there was some mistakes that were made. Well, I

Ben Kaplan  06:38

think we'll get to that. Well, I want to talk about the late labor negotiation coming up this summer. But this idea that sometimes it's it's pitted that like, like San Francisco is kind of a zero sum game, like someone wins, someone loses. Or it might not have to be like that, right? Yeah, at its best. It's like everyone wins. Not like there's winners and losers. And the mayor or the board is going to pick who are winners and losers. That didn't work like that. It should

Ahsha Safai  07:03

not work like that. It doesn't have to work like that. And as I said that when San Francisco's at its best, you know, a lot of these large buildings that you see in the background, you have building trades, yep, collective bargaining agreements, negotiating a building trades members, putting the work, good middle class jobs, good salaries, they're building housing, let's make sure there's housing for working families and market rate, that beautiful bridge, the Bay Bridge, you know, the steel workers, so many different people, engineers, others, there's enough ingenuity and wealth colliding in San Francisco, that everyone can prosper. It doesn't need to be a zero sum game. And that's what I think many, many elected officials miss. And people that want to be involved in the political environment in San Francisco miss, they come in, they say, Wait, I have this great idea. We can do x, it can cost less it can do that. But then they don't think about what is cost less mean, what does faster mean? It doesn't mean that I don't want faster and I don't want it to be less expensive, because I do. But I also have to consider who's involved? What are the inputs going into that and how everyone's prospering? Well,

Ben Kaplan  08:17

and I think and Well, without getting too far into later, we'll we'll talk about I want to get through the rest of your story as if it's a very good question. I think that, you know, one of the aspects of this is that it's not that, you know, labor is like, oh, we need to sacrifice what we're doing for the city because we need to take care of labor. I mean, no, there are people here who do fantastic work, and really work and if we can get the best work done, and support our community and our workers.

Ahsha Safai  08:48

Absolutely. I agree with that. 1,000%. And I do think it's one of the shortcomings of this administration. You know, I started under Willie Brown, I learned about management, leadership and accountability from Mayor Brown, I learned about big ideas from Gavin Newsom. I learned about endurance and building coalitions from Mayor Ed Lee. This mayor has no one on her team that understands how labor and business come together. And so many of the shortcomings of this administration are because of that. Now, you can propose ideas that are going to be business friendly, but they also can have an element to them that are going to marry labor and business together. There can be ideas about facilitating and streamlining. But let's get everyone to the table. Let's ensure that everyone's involved in the conversation. And so many of the times London breed has not been interested in that. And if you're going to assume the mayor, ship, whoever the new mayor be, and I believe it will be me. You have to come in with that level of experience. You have to know how all the elements come together. there. And that I think is going to be the defining characteristic of who becomes next mayor. And that's why I think I'm the most qualified person for the job. It

Ben Kaplan  10:07

seems like you know, some have called it a knife fight in a phone booth. And you've heard that beforehand. And it's just like, if you want to do something to maybe make change or run for office, you're kind of setting yourself up to be attacked. And I sometimes wonder about what is the cost on family? So what is what is her perspective on this? Did she know she was signing up for this? What about your kids? Are they old enough to come and get what's I mean, I'll

Ahsha Safai  10:28

tell you, you talk about being attacked. I mean, just this past week, whether it was a joke or not, you know, prominent tech executive Gary tan puts out a tweet that says, calling for the debt, you know, basically, I'm not gonna sit and it's on the air Buddha. Die slow, right?

Ben Kaplan  10:45

I can hear this I just basically, the dispute was he kind of mentioned you and a number of other supervisors. He was rapping lyrics, he was quoting that he's a little bit have a violent basically basically calling

Ahsha Safai  10:56

for our death. And then and this is what I knew immediately. I knew with as many followers as he has, I knew immediately, someone would take onto that. So that happened. And then someone takes his tweet makes a flyer for themselves to say Gary Tanner's, right? You and your I wish a slow death to you and your loved ones. So I have to have then at that point, because of the position I'm in because of the history of this city, because of the murder of hardly No, George Moscone, right, yeah, right. Yeah. So the police don't have to give extra attention to the house. My kids see why, Hey, Daddy, why? Why are the police passing by and stopping in our house? Why are you running out to the mailbox every five seconds, because I don't want to, I don't want them to see the flyer that I know, six of my other colleagues have gotten at their house. So you know, and then he backs at all it was a joke. I was quoting to pug, whatever. But the thing is, you can't joke like that in this city. It's not it's not funny. And it can inspire or ignite or incite people to do harm. And, you know, those were the things that you don't think about when you you know, when you run to be an elected official, I'm sure it's

Ben Kaplan  12:09

like, you're not gonna one day, think about your family safety at your house? Absolutely.

Ahsha Safai  12:13

I mean, it it is a serious thing. And so it does take its toll on family. I mean, I think that there's a lot of positive benefits. I think the kids are proud. I think they like the idea. There are a lot more politically, you know,

Ben Kaplan  12:28

you got some doors. Yeah. A little established. They're

Ahsha Safai  12:32

aware, you know, of what's going on. But I think we try to try to just let them go about their life and have their normal as life as possible.

Ben Kaplan  12:43

Well, in 2017, there was kind of a, I guess, you'd saw like a, whether the word would be like a backlash or a brouhaha over. You were developing the family, I got some land to I guess, build a new house or a couple of houses for you and your extended family in your district. And people kind of got up in arms about that. And, and, I guess, sort of, hey, there's a conflict of interest here. Because you're the supervisor for this. What was your perspective on the day, where you kind of annoyed by that just like, hey, we're just trying to, like, live our family life, and you're making this a political thing? Well, I

Ahsha Safai  13:17

mean, I think that it's one of the it shows, it shows. Listen, I went in eyes wide open, I've built in the city before I built always on empty land, right. So the idea was my mother's moving here from the East Coast, we want to have space, the house that we're in was not designed well enough for us. So we're saying, Oh, we're gonna build something for our family. And the way it is, in a lot of neighborhoods in San Francisco, you have a lot of, you know, NIMBYs come out and say, well know what this is not right.

Ben Kaplan  13:46

So we caught up with discretionary review. And you can sort of hold up a process right that and they didn't we didn't like that. Did you know that was coming when you knows

Ahsha Safai  13:52

why I really truly didn't think anyone would, you know, make it that big, particularly because it's like, Hey, I'm not trying to hide anything. I live down the street. This was literally a block from my house. We want to build. So we said, You know what, we're just going to pause, and we found another, another house and we renovated that and we added an adu. And that's where we live now. And so we moved out of the we just moved from one side of the neighborhood to the another, but it was unfortunate. I think people understand what they can do to kind of whip up fear and concern and make people upset. But these are two empty lots that are going to be built into housing at some point one day. So anyway, okay. And

Ben Kaplan  14:35

then And then finally, sales since becoming supervisor 2016. I know you've mentioned to me before that that was like the door knocking Jack campaign, right? Yeah. How many how many doors doors? Did you knock on that?

Ahsha Safai  14:48

I mean, it was at least 7000. At least at least. I mean, at least I went through like two or three pairs of shoes. Okay. There's 48 precincts in the district. There were there wasn't The time and we knocked all of them and then went back to target another 12 to 15 that we needed to do more that I didn't get as much out of. And I'll tell you, I still bump into people that remember when I knocked on their door from 2008 that have my sign from 2008. Look all you know, you came to our house, and I'm like, Oh my God. Wow. So it really makes an impression. I think it makes a big, big, big difference. And

Ben Kaplan  15:28

how's running for me are different, more doors to knock on? Maybe hardly went to? Is it a different what what have you learned from this campaign? So

Ahsha Safai  15:34

far? The knock on doors from Mayor, people don't do that. Because it's so vast, it's so widespread. It's so but but we might, we might do that. I mean, it's one of the things I enjoy, and I think is an important part of connecting with the average voter. And so we probably will have a piece of that, that we're going to roll out soon. Because I think I think it's important to be present in all different neighborhoods, I think it's important for people to see you. And as I said, People remember that back from 2008. Well,

Ben Kaplan  16:04

and also there's a sense of door,

Ahsha Safai  16:06

knock your way to City Hall, you can door knock your way to a board of supervisors see, because it's small enough, but imagine, like 50 times 11, you're talking about 500 precincts, it would take you a few years to door knock your way to City Hall.

Ben Kaplan  16:21

Well, and did you consider given that you know, you have this back at MIT? You said I'm going to be mayor of a major US city one day, did you? Did you think about it in 2018, after the death of Ed Lee 2019. After the special election, you were still new. But you were you were on the board? Did you consider it back then?

Ahsha Safai  16:40

No. You know what I mean, for me, I always felt like, when the opportunity is right, it will present itself to me. And that's kind of how politics is politics is really about the opportunity that you've kind of built toward I think some people try to force it. When, if you have

Ben Kaplan  16:59

see if you're a bit a little bit green a little bit, forcing it back then. But now,

Ahsha Safai  17:02

I definitely feel like it would have been very difficult to try to run for mayor after being on the board for two years, it's really hard to make the case that you've put in the time, at least for me, from my perspective, I've been the president of the retirement fund now $33 billion fund, I've been on the Budget Committee, three of the last four years, I pass major pieces of legislation, I have a better understanding how all the elements and pieces of local government work together. And I think that's really what differentiates me from the other candidates in the race, you know, learning from Mayor Brown, working under Mayor Newsom, working from Ed Lee, running my own small business being in the labor movement for a decade, and then now being on the board for seven years. This is a type of city and in this moment, because of the crisis we're in and coming out of, you need someone that's ready for the job day one, there's no learning on the job, like there's no opportunity with 30 to 40 million square feet of empty office space. With an economy that's very, very, you know, uneven, and then you have to have the ability to bring all the different groups together. You have to have someone that can build consensus.

Ben Kaplan  18:20

And I know you've said this, this the moment is sort of seems all of those experiences have come to get together for you. There is sort of when you see the the moment San Francisco or or Hackett's. It's probably talking points from other campaigns saying that, hey, we need an outsider who's not and all of that that's a liability, not a benefit, just because of the fact that, hey, the folks who broke it can't be counted on to fix it. And obviously, you've been part of the Board of Supervisors mayor's very unpopular, but the board is also generally unpopular as well right now. So what is your response to that sort of argument that, yes, Experience matters, but right now, we actually need a fresh perspective.

Ahsha Safai  18:58

Well, I would say that when you're talking about a city that's come out of coke COVID, right. When you come out of a when you're coming out a very, very, we've never, ever had a situation that we have in our downtown right now. We've never had a situation where we have 30 to 40 million square feet. That is a major piece of why the main driver why we have an $800 million deficit and growing, it will probably surpass a billion dollars. You have 28 labor contracts up for negotiation this summer, as we did Yes, this summer, which will probably be a placeholder because there's not enough money for them to really negotiate a final package. So I'm I'm assuming that there's going to be, again, a lot of kind of strife with the labor negotiations. Then you have the crisis on the streets of homelessness and crime And so the idea of having a fresh perspective would be one thing. If you're bringing someone to the table that has significant experience dealing with all these elements, I don't think we have that candidate in the race. The other thing is, we are a strong mayor city. So yes, I take. I've been on the board, I've been working on things that deal with homelessness and crime by

Ben Kaplan  20:20

hedges, just to anyone who doesn't understand what you just said. I mean, I think there's two types of ways cities are organized. And we have a lot of people who are kind of a kind of new to understanding sciatica politics, you're saying that there's some where a lot of power resides in the mayor. They're basically the, the CEO of the city as well. And there's other cities where there's actually a city administrator or someone who does that function. And the mayor doesn't do that. We're the we're the former model,

Ahsha Safai  20:43

I'll give you two, I'll give you two real concrete examples. So San Jose has an elected mayor. But a lot of the final decision making on implementing policy and moving departmental money and departmental decisions rests with the city administrator. So you don't have a strong mayor in San Jose. We had that model here up until 96. But we had charter reform. So we shifted 90% of the power to the mayor. Okay, despite what this mayor says about, oh, my hands are tied. And I wish I had this wish that the mayor has the power. This mayor in our charter is the strongest Mayor city in the United States, has the power to hire and fire department heads has the power to appoint every single majority commission in the city, which is our oversight body and policy bodies, governing bodies, and finally has the power to decide how money is spent. So we can try to allocate money through legislation, or supplemental budget requests. The mayor has absolute authority deciding whether the money gets spent or not. Those three things set this mayor apart. So when I say give me it's kind of like Put me in coach.

Ben Kaplan  21:59

Yeah, you're on the

Ahsha Safai  22:03

man. Right. I'm brought party. Right. Um, okay. I wasn't you

Ben Kaplan  22:09

weren't a YUI. I were not the top drought. I know you're proven yourself. Right? Yeah, I, myself,

Ahsha Safai  22:16

I'm ready. I'm ready. I'm ready to take the reins and give me the opportunity. And, and that's how it's always been people have always underestimated me and I fought for everything I had, you know, being immigrant raised by a single mom, like you, you fight for what you have. And and I'll tell you right now, San Francisco needs someone that's ready to come in and fight. And also some of that can build consensus. And I have a proven track record of doing that. When we wanted to bring oversight and accountability, the Department of Homeless and supportive housing. I got every single one of my colleagues on board, I got stakeholders on board. We went out raise money, we put it on the ballot, first time to bring departmental oversight and mandatory audits. The only one that was against it was the mayor because she said, Oh, it's taking away some of my power and authority. 68% of the voters agreed. And guess what we did our first audit last spring, they had to call in the FBI. Because the group that was they audited was selling vouchers to friends and family, we now can tell you with certainty because of the metrics that we forced onto the department, that there's over 510 candidates around the city, we now are forcing them, the department with accountability to ensure that these over 1000, empty supportive housing units, same day referrals, all of that had to do with the work that we started. But again, I don't have the final decision making I can't direct departments to do that work. It's actually forbidden in the charter, as that's why I say that's kind of the distinction. San Francisco has never elected an outsider. They've never put someone in office that it to the mayor's office that doesn't have experience. And I think if you were thinking about from a company's perspective, you want to bring someone to the table you want if you're hiring a CEO, you want to bring someone that has that understands the organization or or has experienced in another organization, when you're dealing with something this large $14.6 billion budget, multiple decision makers, stakeholders that now need to be kind of corralled and kind of pull

Ben Kaplan  24:19

up and track and I think one thing that sometimes some people miss and I think because we become so polarized such on the board supervisors that everyone says like oh, we're trying to get to that like sick the vote right? A lot of members of the board that six five, Let's jam it in, but sometimes when you say it's like it's better to get even if you could get six, five, get it through, it would be better to get consensus better to get everyone on board, because then you know, the vote is not the end of it. The vote is just the beginning of now. We got to implement it and you're everyone's pulling in the same direction. We're better off.

Ahsha Safai  24:51

You know what, Ben, I'm glad you said that. When I was first elected in 2017. It had been 15 years since they upped. Did the inclusionary housing rules inclusionary housing is when a private developer builds housing, there is a percentage that they have to set aside. below market low income housing. Yes. So that number in 2018 was 12%. Hadn't been updated in 15 years, maybe on some projects that were larger was 15. But the economy was gangbusters in 2017. Right. I, at the time, many people's perspective, swung the board six, five, right. I made a declaration of statement to sue Roger Peskin at the time supervisor Kim, and all the other people let them breed was on the board. I said, we're not going to do a six five vote. We're going to do an 11 Oh vote on this, because it's too important. We need to build consensus. So Jane Kim and an Erin Peskin had a piece of legislation that they were moving, they were trying to get it done prior to the election, it didn't happen. Then I got on the board and work with Katie Tang, and London breed at the time. But Aaron Peskin and I led the negotiations, we brought labor, we brought builders, we brought the technical advisory committee from the comptroller's office, we got everyone to the table, and we negotiated a final deal. And to your point, if we had gone six to five, there was a group out there that said, we're gonna go straight to the ballot, we're gonna bring it to the voters, and we're gonna put a really high because everyone was like, oh, yeah, 25%. That makes sense. They don't care about the economics. They love the way it sounds. But we stopped that from happening. We kept that gentleman away from going forward with that, and we got an 11 Oh, vote. And we all shared in the, in the, I don't wanna say the glory, but the success of passing that measure. It's how things have to be done. And what's happened under London in this mayor is they've chosen issues that have divided and continued to divide. She's never put in the work to bring and build consensus, and I can't emphasize enough. That is the missing element with what's wrong with the city right now. Well,

Ben Kaplan  27:15

I also feel like as I've learned more about the inner workings and having people on this, this show your colleagues on the board. I've, you know, been surprised that if, like, certain staffs don't talk to each other. And there's not like an even people that that are very political people and say said, you know, 20 years ago, you gave like a vigorous debate and then go have like dinner and drinks. And well, you know, we all are coming from the same place. We want the best we disagree on this. But that doesn't mean you're a bad person. I feel like just This isn't me as an outsider looking in, it sort of feels more like No, no, the other side. They're all bad people. Yeah. And I'm not going to talk or associate with them, which gets it hard to build consensus like why why has it become that?

Ahsha Safai  27:58

I think you have some outside. I'm sorry to say this, but I think you have some outside stakeholders, people trying to influence the conversation that have really fomented this division. And, and the mayor being the executive of the city and being the leader of the city. And by the way, there was 11 other leaders to write we're leaders in our own way. But being the main voice of the city has bought into that. And if you listen to her messaging over the last four or five years, it's the District Attorney's of fault. Why we have crime and not prosecute. It's the police Commission's fault. It's the Board of Supervisors fault, only if I had that. It's the bureaucracies fault. Only if we could remove the layers of the rock up. If I had more power directly, I could get the job every single step of the way. And then you have stakeholders that have globbed on to that and promoted that message. The mayor appoints the majority of all Commission's and oversight bodies. The mayor appoints the dude is the main decision maker for hiring and firing department heads. The mayor appointed the district attorney, the mayor appointed the city attorney, the mayor appointed members of the Board of Supervisors, the mayor appointed the school board, like there really isn't anyone else that she can point fingers at, right. But instead they've clubbed on to this. They've really dug their claws into this narrative and they promoted this narrative. And I hate to say it, yes, there are people that want to get in the way of progress. There's no question about that. But Mayor Brown, that's when the his might political history in the city began. He had a far more antagonistic Board of Supervisors in 2008, when they literally were all elected every single one of them for two or three to oppose him to oppose him, right every one because he was seen as so powerful because he had appointed and he called the Board of Supervisors, his mistresses like you Like dismiss them as being irrelevant. And there was this massive backlash,

Ben Kaplan  30:04

so and how and how did he manage to get things done? He was known as a Wheeler Dealer. He was known as very powerful, influential. What did you What did you learn?

Ahsha Safai  30:11

Mayor Brown, regardless of what like you said, you could have this public fight. He'd be having dinner with you that night saying, Let's sit down. Let's talk, what is it that we can do? How can we get to yes, I can't give you this. But maybe I can give you that, as supervisor Peskin. I mean, he's, he's negotiated with Mayor Brown for 24 years. And it's the difference is the difference between being a real hands on mayor, when I started with Mayor Brown, this is one of the things that I will bring back and I promised him this when I told him I was running.

Ben Kaplan  30:47

Is this the office hours? Yes. Saturday is once a month. Yeah, he was famous for doing

Ahsha Safai  30:54

open door day, he would open up the international room. He'd have his phone, like the top 10 People sign numbers of waters 10 to 20 people, they would get 10 minutes with Mayor bribe. He'd have his phone on the table. He'd have staff in their cheapest app. Every department had in the city knew that day. Because he didn't know the issue was going to be ultimately

Ben Kaplan  31:14

they're gonna get a phone call from him. You

Ahsha Safai  31:16

better answer your phone. And if you don't, you better be ready to bring in a resignation letter on Monday. And that's how he ran the city. Issues big and small. That Ferry Building was revitalized because of Mayor Brown. So much of the waterfront was redone because of Mayor Brown, so many of the projects. So even though he had an antagonistic board, he still was able to get things done. And I think that's because of the power of the mayor's office.

Ben Kaplan  31:44

Well, and of course, you know, then Mayor Gavin Newsom, now governor Governor Newsom came next. When I start to talk to people who was like, I don't know, the last mayor that people got excited about the kind of point to Newsom, he was different than he was a protege of Mayor Brown. But what what did he do differently that sort of made people get excited? And whether just as an energy, or was it something else it

Ahsha Safai  32:09

was he was he was about big ideas, his literally his first month in office? What is the fifth a week, so that gets sworn in in January, a week from now? He did the whole gay marriage pronouncement, opened up City Hall on Valentine's Day, lines around the corner challenge the status quo. And

Ben Kaplan  32:33

I think that's when that was important for that issue, but also symbolic of what was calling to calm.

Ahsha Safai  32:38

That was set the tone for his administration. This is how we are going to be we are going to challenge he did the Stem Cell Research Center. He did what was called and I wrote him this memo, when I was on his campaign, it was called how we can reform or revitalize public housing, which ended up being named Hope, SF. And they've come in and we're seeing that that's 20 years in the making, it's still undergoing where they took all of the major public housing, government subsidized housing, building mixed income communities, rebuilding places that hadn't been revitalized. And so he was a big ideas person, and wasn't scared to challenge the status quo. And I think he did a good job again, of having the right people in place that understood labor understood how to manage departments brought philanthropy. But the other thing that he didn't remind me of it, he really was about public private partnerships. People weren't really talking about that. Like today. It's kind of like, oh, yeah, we know that, oh, do that. Well, and there's somebody who really started that conversation. So when you think of like, India basin, which is going to get hundreds of millions dollars in philanthropy, or the tunnel top right over there in the Presidio minutes, a lot of philanthropy and private money coming with government money, that wasn't really happening 20 years ago. So I think that's part of the reason why he was really about looking for big ideas. I got hired by the janitors union, to work on mandatory recycling. Like at the time, it was only one stream of trash, and we're like, no, now we're gonna go to three streams. And the reason they hired me was because they had kind of forgotten like, oh, wait in the private sector, there's actually people that do that work and your acts, asking them now to do a lot more work. Let's think about that in a thoughtful way. Man, his administration embraced us on that. So he was really about big ideas. And I think that's why people got excited. And you

Ben Kaplan  34:31

weren't in at least administration. He was sort of the person who wasn't supposed to become mayor between mayor and then he wasn't supposed to run. And then he ran and what was his What do you take from, say, I worked

Ahsha Safai  34:44

at public works when he was the head of Public Works and then the city administrator, which at the time was under that his purview. At least I always like to think of Ed Lee is like he was like the mechanic. He was the plumber.

Ben Kaplan  34:58

That like the technician because he was city administrator, he understood how all the valves work in the government, you couldn't

Ahsha Safai  35:04

talk about any aspect of government that he hadn't had exposure to and been involved in. So he understood how things work. But the thing that he had, that the other two and I mean, the other two did, but in a different way. Ed Lee would come in the room, like we do sometimes when we're trying to build consensus around a policy and he'd have all the stakeholders a lot of times a mayor's will come in and give a five minute thank you guys for being here and ahead to my Chief of Staff, and

Ben Kaplan  35:31

I'm God, man made it makes a cameo appearance he was

Ahsha Safai  35:34

Lee would stay there from the beginning until every single person was gone. And people Wow, man at least ready to work. He's he's ready to put in the work when they were doing the CPMC negotiations, when they were negotiating with the warriors to come and come into Mission Bay when he was caught, like Ed Lee was personally engaged made the phone calls at the table and showed the stamina and the desire to get to yes, even the mid market tax break, same thing, you know,

Ben Kaplan  36:05

so and what would you say we know your feelings on Mayor breed or you wouldn't be wouldn't be running. But what what has she done? Well, can you point to anything that you think she did a good job on that you would give her kudos on?

Ahsha Safai  36:18

You know, I liked I like, I like the fact that she braced this conversation about internships for kids, and that don't have those opportunities. Because many times doors are open, whether it's for education, or employment, or general opportunities in life. It's about your relationships. And so being able to say, I'm going to expand this opportunity for underrepresented groups, a lot of them African American, Latino, Pacific Islander, I'm going to make sure that they have internships, and they have opportunities in places that they might not. Otherwise. It's something that I've tried to do in every opportunity that I have when we work with the janitors. We tried to get janitors to get up opportunities working in some of the companies and the tech companies or whatever businesses had really trying to open up doors. And so I think she's I think she's done that. Well. I think it's a really important legacy of her administration. But

Ben Kaplan  37:22

what what what what is your relationship with Mayor breed? Now, since running? What what is the status of it?

Ahsha Safai  37:28

I mean, listen, I've known her for 24 years. I think she's I think she's a she's put a lot of hard work into being a strong voice for her community. I think that's really important. And I always try to be professional and cordial.

Ben Kaplan  37:49

Do I think he said before you're getting the silent treatment for why you still get I still get the solid?

Ahsha Safai  37:53

Oh, yeah, yes, she she won't speak to me. She won't, she won't. She won't even acknowledge me publicly. Like there'll be supervisors there. There'll be elected officials there. She won't say my name publicly.

Ben Kaplan  38:05

Okay. Well, and and isn't there things you have to like, work on with her because I mean, your yesterday I ended up at your office on the board, you have to like the highest

Ahsha Safai  38:12

tried one in particular that was that's super important to me, is we had a commitment from the library librarian, Library Commission, and the mayor to build a library, we have the smallest neighborhood library in ocean view. 9000 square feet, it was a temporary library built by Mayor Willie Brown. I mean, kids can't multiple classes can go in there at the same time. It's so small, and seniors can't go in for the reading clubs, because it's so small. So we're the intent was to go from the smallest now to the biggest and we found a location. We had the support. We have the moment we have the money. We have like more than two thirds of the money. 35 million plus sitting there. When the mayor found out that I was running for mayor she decided to kind of redirect say, oh, let's go find another site, which is convenient to say we're not going to you attributed that to like, oh no. 100% 100% And so we we had to actually pass legislation just last week to say you must prioritize 100 or xaba that is the choice of the community. That's where money from departments has been spared. So yeah, it's unfortunate and I even sat down and said I would love to work with the mayor. Let's let's get this built. This is too important. I mean, never thought I would be fighting going back to your night knife in the phone booth analogy. Never thought I would be fighting about a library for a community I mean, that is just just crazy. Well

Ben Kaplan  39:43

and and what is your opinion on just you know, I think there's a lot of it seems like every few weeks now some kind of corruption scandal coming out. It's and we see it again and again. And it's some of it is like a lot of it deals with building inspections because there's a lot of power there but some of it deals with I think most recent one was like selling goods bought by the government for neighborhoods on eBay, you know, by by an HR manager it's coming in and all of this kind of stems from really the like, Mohammed new route Head of Public Works, you know, for decades powerful guy well known, do you? You know, do you and San Francisco is kind of a relatively small city. So lots of people know each other. Do you think like I know Muhammad Nura was a close friend of Mayor breezy said like, way back in the day they dated she accepted some car repairs for him. Is she at fault for that? Or is that just like it's a, it's a small group of people. And you know what? Everyone knows everyone, and you're gonna have some kind of association cuz there's so much corruption being exposed? No, listen,

Ahsha Safai  40:44

listen, if you've worked in this city for 25 years, and you've been ingrained, you're going to know people that have been caught up in this. But there was a direct if someone on my staff spent $5,000 or more to repair one of my vehicles. That's, that's a bribe. That's not a that's like, I'm doing this. I'm untouchable. Now, I can't be fired, like I'm not gonna be like, that's that that is the definition of corruption. I'm sorry. But it wasn't just in that department. I mean, it was pervasive. There's 15 department heads and 15 departments that have been impacted by this. And then you get another layer below. As we saw the police department, one of their biggest and most important nonprofit providers, SF safe, was just caught up in. I mean, the district attorney's looking into the case now with the money has disappeared. People haven't been paid, money was misspent. And so this culture has kind of pervaded this entire administration. And it's very, very unfortunate. When I read the thing about because the most recent one you talked about was the Community Challenge Grant. These are small neighborhood leaders that come together and say, we have a staircase, we want to add tile to it. Can we get a $5,000 grant? We are seniors, retired folks, we want to form a neighborhood emergency resistance team NERT team, can you get us some money so that we can buy radios and different things. This money was taken, it was on paper, it looked like it was going to a group. And then this employee went out and was buying equipment and trying to I mean was selling it on EBIT, that is like, I just blows my mind. It literally blows my mind and then kickbacks going to department heads and you got this contract, but you're gonna give me 60,000 of it. I mean,

Ben Kaplan  42:54

what do you think we're allies? It

Ahsha Safai  42:56

sounds like Chicago in the 1920. I mean, it's just unbelievable. And does

Ben Kaplan  43:00

it feel like the tip of the iceberg to you or no? Do you still think there's more that's going to reveal? Or is it all sort of it's like, low level folks that don't have a lot of power, but obviously we'll have a newer was not low level, he was probably as high levels you can get within the city government, like, do you expect more to come out or more

Ahsha Safai  43:16

me Listen, the director of fix a team. The Community Challenge Grant person, public works, PC, building Department, Department of Environment, I could just keep going. I mean, it's it's pretty, pretty bad as well. The reason why I was asked the other night and again, this comes back to the power of the mayor. You know which department heads would you fire I didn't name anyone in particular. But what I said was if you've been in that department if you've been in that position, for I said five and I'm really more like eight or more years very similar to a supervisory controller gets a 10 year contract city administrator

Ben Kaplan  44:02

entrenched power,

Ahsha Safai  44:03

you have entrenched. Exactly at some point you many times it ends up being one of the elements and the reason for you believe you're untouchable, this is now your fiefdom, you're no longer I mean, the biggest example was and again, going back to my city planning at they wrote this wonderful book about Bob Moses, have you heard about Moses? He was he had this tiny little department head. He was the head of the toll collection in New York City. Right. But he literally started in the 20s and went all the way to the 1960s. He is the one that they account for him being responsible for shaping New York City. He was the ultimate powerbroker. Every mayor would come in and they thought they were going to get rid of him and he would just slap the paper on the table like sign my reappointed it right now. And all that toll collection had its own revenue, he had his own cooks, his own chef, he literally had his own fiefdom. And when you look at some of the things that happened in some of these situations, these folks were creating their little, their own little, I'm gonna get you to donate to this nonprofit, so they can pay for a holiday party, so they can pay for my expenses, so they can make sure. And then in its worst case, I'm going to collect a bribe, you're going to give it to my girlfriend, she's going to try to clean it and deposit it in her account. And we're going to go to Chile and wherever else and drink fine wine and stay in, I'm like, it just blows it well, and then and to me, that is the most in life. And the reason I'm so upset is it is the it is it is, to me, the biggest breach of trust to the public, they put a lot of like, I am an elected official accountable to the people that elected me. I'm not there to enrich myself or to take advantage of, or to ensure that I'm getting more. And that's just, it's just

Ben Kaplan  46:06

hard to me. And but to me also, it would, you know, as bad as that is for the financial cost to the ethical cost. It's worse now, to me, because we have this crisis of confidence in our city that where does that come from? That comes from the state of property crime that comes from the sort of civic disorder in the city. But it also becomes like, it's one thing to be like, we have these problems, but like we're on the case, we're going to fix it. If you don't have confidence in the people on the case, that is a tax on any solution we might have for property, crime, homelessness, violent crime, drug crisis, and all of it. We can't solve it because of that lack of confidence.

Ahsha Safai  46:43

And then and then in its worst form, a paintbrush of everybody, oh, you're an elected official, you're corrupt. You work in Department of Buildings inspection, you're corrupt. You work in this department, you're corrupt. And there's a lot of good hard working people that have dedicated themselves to be public servants. That now, I mean, morale drops, public works for so many. I mean, I tweeted on the way over, you're thanking all the crews that have been out there for the last 24 hours cleaning the streets and sidewalks to make sure our city safe. They literally worked around the clock. Those are the people that department is the hardest working department in the entire city. And yet their department head was the kind of the figure of all the corruption that happened in the city was like the pinnacle of it. Right?

Ben Kaplan  47:33

Well, and and how that there was a San Francisco Chronicle article impacts

Ahsha Safai  47:37

how people feel. And that's that's not that's horrible. What to

Ben Kaplan  47:40

do as a San Francisco Chronicle article that talked about and I'm probably going to get the name wrong. But see of OSH tub tub, Azov, who is a, a developer on the city, did one of the maybe maybe the largest recent developments in your district, and it was a good friend of yours? I think that the 116 unit development? And he was sort of, I guess, I don't know, it's I think the allegation is bribes to the builders inspection expert. And he was sort of I mean, I think at least this is the story. So you can you can correct it as wrong, but it's like a good friend of yours. And also, on a personal level, you develop six different buildings with him. And to be clear, you're not right. Okay. That part you clarify that to be to be clearly implicated native? No, but you're associated with him? Does that? Is it like, do you feel like some people have sort of said guilty by association because of lack of competence? Is that a fact? Yeah,

Ahsha Safai  48:37

absolutely. I mean, listen, this person. And so to clarify the last thing, I hired his former business partner to be the engineer to do my plans. And so that was where they were like, oh, multiple. I've never did any projects with SIA, never, never one. Okay, his blood. But I hired his former partner to be the engineer to do my design my plans and stuff. And so, you know, here's a guy that did 50% affordable in my district is not the largest actually, it was at the time, but now we've had one that does 200 units, one that third on 30. That came online, another 130. But at the time, it was the largest apartment building. He gave away 50% of the units as affordable and that's an additional needs to former transitional age youth. So we celebrated that at the time. And I've known your

Ben Kaplan  49:25

thing he's doing good work is the committee at heart right. So so this was a shocking to you? The person that

Ahsha Safai  49:31

I know, and I've known is I've known him as a philanthropist. I know the family is philanthropist engineers, small builders. Those are the people that I knew. And so to hear about this, it was shocking because I was like, why does he even need that why would even need to be involved? Because he's doing all these other things. And when you get to a certain point, you're able to you know, really understand the system better. You have the right designers and those are the things that really facility Take the communications back and forth. So it was shocking to me. And then yeah, you're right. I mean, there's there's going to be people that will say, Well, he knew them. He's guilty, too. And that's kind of what I was saying. It's like, there's all these good people that work in these departments that work for these that have dedicated themselves to it. My reason for being a public servant is to help people not to help myself, by any means. I've always operated myself with the highest level of integrity and honesty. And as you said, there's no implication, there's no and there won't be because I'm 100%. not involved in any of that. But it's unfortunate, because it just shows how widespread it is, you know, how many white people will be touched? And I think there are still going to be more people that will be implicated and more people that will be involved. I don't think the district attorney and the US attorney has done as you asked me the question earlier, I think there's, there's more to come. I was shocked. The other day, when I saw the guy that was selling the computer, I was like, what the hell this guy works in HR? What's he doing flat alien money from people that need a murderous MCU? Do

Ben Kaplan  51:17

you think do you think San Francisco is systemically corrupt? The Senate school Citigroup, is it systemically corrupt? Like not just some isolate bad apples, but the system itself? Do you agree or not?

Ahsha Safai  51:29

I don't I don't know what the system itself, I think that there definitely have been some people that have gotten into these positions. And then at some point, saw other people doing things are like, Oh, this is the way we operate business. This is one of the first time this is going deep. And it's finding people in every aspect of wherever they were involved. And you know, people send text messages, they put things online, and they create a paper trail of the crimes that they're involved in. And so well, I don't know, I wonder I don't think it's a systemic level of corruption. I don't think the nature but I will say going back to building and going back to some of these other areas, because of the level of delays, or the level of review and bureaucracy just it's a slow, it gives a place for Russia to fester, right. And they have and then you have accelerators who are literally have these frontline people that have these one on like, literally one on one interactions, and they're like, Hey, I'm here, I'm looking at your UI. I don't know that looks a little wobbly. Oh, and then that core that should be two inches this way, sorry. And you can it can be death by 1000 cuts. And then they're like, oh, or, I don't know, I really wish I had a new watch or whatever it is, and they start to insinuate, and then it creates this environment, because things are so slow things bureaucracy is so laden with, with all these additional hurdles, that it gives the system itself is it creates an environment where people can take advantage of that. And that's unfortunate, it's really, really unfortunate. Well, and

Ben Kaplan  53:17

the issue is that if you create 15 hurdles to getting something done, let's say to get your permit or your license, each of those little hurdles is might be a low level person or relatively low level frontline worker who doesn't normally have that much influence or power in the process, but you have to do jump over 15 hurdles to get there, each one of those hurdles is actually a potential for, you're gonna get slowed down, I can speed right. And so there's so many opportunities,

Ahsha Safai  53:41

but in those situations, it's incumbent upon and I've had many, many contractors come to me and say, you know, what, even if someone insinuated, I've never, I just, that's just not how I do business. And if it takes a little bit more time, I'll ask, try to get a new inspector, you know, they're just, they just won't be involved in it. It's not unique to San Francisco, in terms of, of corruption within building departments. I think that's something that's been documented very extensively all over the

Ben Kaplan  54:09

world, and not even building departments too. But it's like many draw down bureaucracy. It's like New York, you know, members of the police force, because it took a long time to get a gun license, without, you know, taking money to accelerate gun licenses. And in LA, you know, it takes a long time to get a liquor license. So those who have control over that process can sell to your karaoke bar, you can speed up so that's why I just wonder, you know, we've got to fix I think most people feel like the bureaucracy needs to be fixed, but there's many reasons to do it. One is just serve the people. Let's serve our city, let's change our community to the other is like let's not give a place for corruption to hide if we can improve this. Absolutely.

Ahsha Safai  54:47

I think that in and of itself is an important statement. I think we need to facilitate that to ensure that it doesn't breed that level of corruption.

Ben Kaplan  54:56

A couple things about your campaign and I'd love to hear you comment on other campaigns too. You, one when people talk about your campaign going some of the, the discussion or maybe a critique will be that they feel like they don't know. And these are just talking points are sent to me. So make sure it's from other candidates. So you don't know where you stand on things because they feel like, Oh, you're like, moderate, in some instances, but then you know, there's kind of an open lane on the progressive side, because no one's really declared as a candidate. So you might be more progressive to a different audience where they just don't know where you're coming from. Is that fair? Or is that unfair by other campaigns? So I

Ahsha Safai  55:31

think it's pretty easy to look at my track record. If you look at from my initial quote, when people like where your progressive Ramana said, I don't, I don't identify. I'm like I am, I am progressive on the issues. I am someone that's going to fight for positive change in the city. But I'm also going to be very pragmatic. And I think there are some people that it just for them, it's easy to kind of put someone in one group or the other. But, you know, I think I've been very clear, if you look at my track record on how I've voted, I think it builds a body of evidence. I think it's easier. When you're not when you haven't been elected, and you haven't had to take the tough steps and you haven't had to take a position. It's easier to talk about Daniel Lurie or feeling like okay, I'm gonna like Daniel Lurie, or an outsider, it's easy to say, this is what I believe these are the solution, this is what I'm going to do. But how do you know, where's the track record of evidence, I can point to homelessness oversight and accountability, because I ran that ballot measure, and those audits and accountability have begun. I can point to passing foot patrols and mandatory foot for all supervisorial district stations, I can talk about the organized retail theft working group, I can talk about my positions on different ballot measure, you know, I can

Ben Kaplan  56:50

see you have a body of work, regardless of who I am. Yeah,

Ahsha Safai  56:53

we're not even what I say. I mean, I think I'm very clear on where I stand on things. I don't avoid, have never avoid any questions. I don't void any direct issues. But, you know, there's instances that have come over the last few years where if I feel something is important to go one way, I will go that way. And I think that's probably more of my pragmatism, to be honest with

Ben Kaplan  57:17

you are sort of saying like a nuance on an issue, you might might want to talk about Proposition B, you're you're the sponsor behind it now, but it has sort of an interesting history and that it was originally sort of put set put forth by supervisor Matt Dorsey. And it was to increase staffing levels of the police. He's been on the podcast before and he kind of considers a you came in had an amendment and sort of made it predicated on a future tax revenue events that would fund it future funding for a future funding event. He considered that he called it I think, in his words, a poison pill that you were sort of sabotaging his legislation, and that it was kind of all politics. And it was, and it has the opposite effect of staffing police as it reduces police because because it's going to delay us to get this future funding. What is your is that fair? Not fair. No, no. So I called it a cop tax. No, no, thanks. No.

Ahsha Safai  58:10

So I guess the best analogy I can say is, you see a governor Newsom is doing Popeye, Popeye is going to an existing tax and saying let's reallocate some of that. Let's open it up for more uses, so we can repurpose it in the right way. So it says any California that makes over a million dollars a year in income, will pay a tax that tax will be used for mental health services. Well, Governor Newsom now is saying, going back to the voters will prop by to say, some of the categories and some of the ways that money is being used is too restrictive. I want to open it up so we can build more mental health facilities. I want to use it so we can get more housing for those with mental health and addiction. We're doing the exact same thing. And the problem with what Matt was proposing, and I told him this in advance I wanted to his committee, I talked to him on the record because we can't talk outside because we're on the same committee. We are facing an $800 million deficit and growing. If you come in and say without an identified source, we're gonna set aside in warst, economy 18 17 million in normal economy. 30 million for the next you literally are robbing Peter to pay Paul. And so just this past month, the mayor came in and said all the funds that you've negotiated this past year for multiple projects, we're taking that back again, power of the mayor $75 million worth of programs were immediately cut, guess what got cut in my district, after school programs, Food Pantry programs for seniors, childcare, all of those things are so super, super important for families to survive and thrive in the city. Why would you want to put a recruitment bonus, a hiring bonus for police and recruitment funds from police and pit them against these services? That's the worst idea in the world. And it would literally engender more animosity and anger toward police and the police department. So what I said was exactly what Governor Newsom said, let's go back to an existing tax. And let's ensure that we're funding this in the right way. So we're not shorting our upcoming budget and services that we need. I was it. And so we are going to there's no tax in this, this whole idea of a cop tax stupid, it's great marketing, right? It's great. But there's no tax in the measuring property says we're going to reestablish the minimum staffing. We're gonna do that over five years. But we're going to ensure like Governor Newsom is now we're going to ensure we have the right funding source, this idea delays hiring, there's 300 funded unfilled positions in the police department's budget right now, what they need to do is, we need to get the mayor who's ignored recruitment in the in the police department's budget, it's only been a quarter million for the last five years. We need to increase that in this upcoming budget and a thoughtful way. And then when we go back and identify the funding source, so we can ensure that we can do this aggressiveness. We need to make sure it's done in the right way. So there's an actual funding source. I mean, that that's all we did. And we even offered again, going back to this divisive conversation, we said let's all sit down, let's negotiate. Let's work with labor. Let's work with the stakeholders, let's come together. But there, again, forces that are out there that want to divide and create this wedge in the city on such an important issue. So they chose to go a different direction. It's unfortunate.

Ben Kaplan  1:01:58

Well, and it seems like to be so divisive on that issue. I mean, I think there's general feeling like we need to staff up. This is important. There's an agree and like no question we should be uniting on. It's something like that. So the fact is bitter battle as it was 19 150

Ahsha Safai  1:02:14

officers when London breed came into office, there's 15 160. Today, an independent analysis not it says there should be 2150. So we're about five to 600 officers short. Okay, I don't think anyone's debating that 300 funded unfilled positions, which gives us enough money to go ahead and get that going. I just couldn't in good conscience say I'm going to cut food pantry, senior programs, after school programs, all of these things that are part of our social safety net, which was exactly what would have happened. And so

Ben Kaplan  1:02:53

well. And final thing before we get to our lightning round and wrap up, I just want to ask you is yeah, the you know, this whole I think the most divisive issue we've had recently, is actually one that probably doesn't impact the city directly at all. But it's very symbolic, which is basically the resolution on the Israel Hamas war, the extended ceasefire, it was an eight to three vote in terms of supporting that you voted for it. And I just wonder about that. Because this is I mean, it's an important topic. But what impact does San Francisco have on this? No, probably not a lot. Yet. It was so divisive, that it sort of seemed like like, is our ladder up against the right wall? Did you feel that way? Or do you feel no, this is such an important issue that we have to take a stand?

Ahsha Safai  1:03:42

No, because I'll tell you why. When I when I first heard about it, my initial reaction was, wow. Are we really going to dive into this debate? Right? What you said, his severance is going to have an influence. But again, my job as an elected is to listen to people. And that's what I did. Over the course of the month I happen to be during the holiday season. And so I mean, I've never gotten more outreach in contact over any issue my entire time, being an elected official. And these were people calling up and saying on both sides. I had people from the Jewish community calling up and saying, any conversation that elevates this is going to create more fear and hatred toward our community. And let me give you some examples of what happened and then as I said, you know, we had killed the Jews spray painted near our childcare center in our synagogue. We had members being spit. We had members being you know, when I say members, members of their church or their temple, and we've had businesses on the other side. I had people that are San Franciscan saying. I lost 40 members of my family this month. In the bombing, I've had my grandparents grave bond grieves, bombed. I've had family members arrested that I can't even get in contact with. So this is not some fun. I mean, it is a far off conflict. But it has direct impact to the daily lives of so many of the individuals that were involved. And so it was hard. At that point then to say, well, we can't be involved. And it was it was going down the path of what are we then going to say, in this moment in time when this is happening. And so we were working up until the last minute, to amend it to just basically pare it down to say, Let's respect life, humanity, let's stop. There's some impediments on both sides in terms of what would happen after a ceasefire happens. And so I have to tell you, it was, and again, I said this when I got up and spoke, you know, as someone that was born into, you know, the world and my earliest memories are gunshots in the streets and religious extremists coming in, and people threatening and killing my own family, my family members that were killed. And we had to flee for our own safety and life. Because it was no longer a place to be that that now has spread. It's really the religious extremists on both sides that are winning. Right. And so that's why I think in the end, we decided to ultimately say we have a ceasefire. And I think I think this is not something that's unique to San Francisco, now Chicago, past one other places around the country. And I do believe it's, it's forced the President of the United States to have to listen a little differently than then then then he

Ben Kaplan  1:06:55

is it's just I think, obviously, the there's tragedy in that entire situation. But it's also like, Hey, we got tragedy, you know, down here in the tenderloin, we've got people dying every day from saying, no, no, no, we can if we can prove that we can we can do something about that today. And if this gets in the way of that, are we doing a disservice to our community,

Ahsha Safai  1:07:15

I will tell you, I think if it didn't pass, and it was removed, I think that might have happened, I think we would have had a consistent flow of people coming up again, and again. And again, as this has continued saying, you all need to take a stand, you all need to take a stand. And so I think we we tried to pick something that i I'm sure people were angry on both sides, they would have liked to have seen either nothing, or they would like to see stronger language, or they were you know, and so we tried to do our best, but I don't ever buy the argument that Why are you involved in this? And you can't be involved in that. Like, I just

Ben Kaplan  1:07:51

you felt like you can we can we'll walk and chew gum at the same time repay? Right. I

Ahsha Safai  1:07:56

mean, I think it's our responsibility. But I but I do agree with the premise, should we be spending a lot of our time involved in things that are not persistent to the, you know, they're not germane to the city. But again, I would say, when you have people that that live in the city that have immediate impact to their lives. Just it's it's hard to ignore. And so I think that's, we had to stand up for humanity in the end. All

Ben Kaplan  1:08:23

right, lightning round, you've been a good sport. Let's do some quick questions. If it wasn't some fun ones. One, just because it's an area I know of special interest to you labor negotiation this summer. What would be the first thing you do? If you were obviously you're not Mayor this year, but if it had been you, what would you do is like day one for that negotiate, I

Ahsha Safai  1:08:42

would have already had the labor leaders in the room with me and my team. And we would be setting weekly meetings to get a negotiation and the deal done. The mayor is not directly involved. This is a historic moment in the city. With the type of deficit we have the amount of contracts that are up and and the shortfall that we're facing. It requires the mayor's direct involvement. I would be directly involved at the table with my team, and

Ben Kaplan  1:09:12

even now not waiting for not window meeting right now. Yeah,

Ahsha Safai  1:09:16

I would a month ago. I started couple weeks, I would have been at that. I would have called them before the break. They'd known this is coming. They've known this iceberg is coming toward the city. So

Ben Kaplan  1:09:28

Daniel Lurie, competitor of yours for mayor made news recently because of these big billboards. I don't know if you've seen him in the city. I haven't seen you haven't seen one yet where it's it's, you know, it's a political action committee PAC supporting him where it's, you know, a million dollars. It actually has a disclosure on a million dollars from his mom that that you knew what is are you concerned about? The just, you know, a lot of resources, a lot of money coming in affecting this race. How do you view Daniel Larry,

Ahsha Safai  1:09:57

so when his mom gave him million dollars. I tweeted awesome. My mom gave $150 I said, Love you, Mom. We're going to people power are going to drive this camp

Ben Kaplan  1:10:09

that was that was that match six to where she matched six to one. Yeah, you got to match that. Okay. It's

Ahsha Safai  1:10:15

like $1,000 donation, right? Yeah. When when when we actually get the public financing, but the point being that money is not going to determine the outcome of this race. It will not San Franciscans are smarter than that. They're not going to be they're not going to let someone come in and by the mayor's office, they do

Ben Kaplan  1:10:35

you think Daniel Lurie would have a chance of being a good mayor.

Ahsha Safai  1:10:39

I like Daniel, I think he's a smart guy. I think he's dedicated. I think he he's, he's bright, think he is personable? I think he will have challenges because of his lack of understanding the stakeholders and knowing how to kind of put those coalition's together. But I think he's a really smart guy. And I think he's a good guy. And I think his heart is in the right place. For the most part.

Ben Kaplan  1:11:07

Mark Farrell, a lot of the session about him because he was mayor and acting mayor for six months, I was on the board of supervisors, a venture capitalist. What is your perspective on Mark Farrell?

Ahsha Safai  1:11:18

I think at the end of the day, listen, there's going to be other people that will get in, it's a democracy. You know what, it is not an easy road to become mayor. Right? This is not an appointment, and not becoming the interim mayor. You got to go out and fight for it. You got to go out and convince the voters of San Francisco that you're the one. And I will say the city has been in crisis for the last five years. You have to be in the crisis to understand how to get us out of the crisis. And it's easy to watch from the sidelines. It's easy to be doing your own thing, and then come back and say, oh, I want to run for mayor now. So God bless democracy. We'll see what happens. Aaron

Ben Kaplan  1:11:58

Peskin, President of the Board of Supervisors, a lot of speculation on him jumping into the race has or hasn't been sort of, on the more left side of the political spectrum, entered the race. Would Aaron Peskin be a good mayor? We think yeah,

Ahsha Safai  1:12:11

that would be up for the voters of San Francisco to decide if he got in I Aaron is somebody he's understands how government works. He understands the legislative process. He's actually someone that's willing to negotiate and work with folks. And I've had a tremendous time working with him on the board of supervisors.

Ben Kaplan  1:12:30

And final parts I just want to ask you about is, is if we lived in an alternate universe, where Mark Leto, who was the runner up to Mayor breed back in 2018. And it actually was a lot close because of rank choice voting. A lot of us Jean came in votes that were number three, and really put him very close. If he had won that election. How would things be different now? Do you think it would be different it would be the same if if we hadn't have had London breed as mayor?

Ahsha Safai  1:12:55

I definitely believe mark is a consensus builder. When I went back to this one, going back to the story I told you about going for an 11 Oh vote on inclusionary housing. Supervisor Leno was the person at the time that led the legislation on inclusionary housing when I saw him when I first got elected, he said Ahsha, my best advice for you is go for an 11 novo. So Mark is about trying to build consensus trying to bring people together and so I think in that regard, it would have been absolutely different.

Ben Kaplan  1:13:29

All right, hobbies What do you do to blow off steam or is this all consuming Do you Do you not blow off steam? What do you aside from I know you spend time with your family?


What else do you do though? My

Ahsha Safai  1:13:37

biggest hobbies are playing sports with my kids. I love it. I love my son's playing flag football he does you know baseball almost year round my daughter's in soccer and cross country in tennis. And

Ben Kaplan  1:13:50

so as you're on the sidelines cheering has a lot of your time if you're not they are I

Ahsha Safai  1:13:53

am but also no but also just with with them one on one when I can, you know, I'm out there playing tennis with my daughter or playing, you know, baseball with my son or football with both of them. They both love to play football. So that's a lot of what we do as much as I can. But right now, there's not a lot of free time to do hobby type things for sure.

Ben Kaplan  1:14:16

What is something surprising about you that that people would just not expect to know about you, your background, your interests? How you think about things? What's surprising about you?

Ahsha Safai  1:14:28

I think, I think probably that's a that's a good question. I don't know. I mean, I always kind of self reflecting. I probably would think I mean, one time we were at Stern Grove and we were a Diggable planets concert. And I was in I knew all the words and like Hillary Rowan looks over and she's like, wow, like, I didn't know you liked hip hop. So I grew up listening to hip hop. That's That's my thing.

Ben Kaplan  1:14:54

Would there be a performance if you're elected mayor at your party, will there be a hip hop performance? Are you going to commit to that now? You're elected maybe

Ahsha Safai  1:15:00

maybe gospel Hip Hop blend

Ben Kaplan  1:15:05

Ahsha stuff i You said he's gonna do a gospel not


me not me I have a group I mean, you know not gonna

Ahsha Safai  1:15:12

be a performance no no performance for

Ben Kaplan  1:15:17

what is the you know IE best meal in San Francisco under 20 bucks you know do you have a go to spa anything you want to recommend? You

Ahsha Safai  1:15:27

know I love I love I love El farolito I love Lukka Yeah, like for me, although I don't know, I mean that burritos and prices have climbed or maybe over $20 But my favorite my favorite spot in the mission is left academia. Not sure

Ben Kaplan  1:15:47

which is good. I'm a fan. I've been recommending this to people I think a couple of times now on the podcast, but I like it so much. Tommy's Mexican on Geary I know he's just talking Tommy's Yeah, a bit of a margarita house. So you know, I recommend the chicken enchiladas. There you go. What's the hidden gem in San Francisco that you think is under the radar? Just something to check out? You got relatives come into town and are here much or I don't know you got a new constituents as I'm new to town, where do you tell them to go to I

Ahsha Safai  1:16:12

don't I don't know if it's a hidden gem. I don't know if anyone is I don't know if everyone has fully appreciated and seen I talked a little bit about the tunnel top. We were there this past weekend with the family. I have to say I tried to think of an urban area that's done something similar to that. But taking a freeway that was open and connecting the Presidio to Crissy Field in the way that they did it, and building in food and building in you know, plate structure for the kids and families. And then going into the I mean, to me is one of the most beautiful gems. But the other one that I've been fighting for recently that I think is a lot of time overlooked and kind of taken for granted. But they're like, Wow, it's amazing is the Marina green and Marina harbor. I mean, you have swimmers, rowers, people that are learning to sail, and then you have all the area just just a beautiful scenery in the environment there to me is super, super amazing. But I

Ben Kaplan  1:17:09

agree with you on that one and my my, my my wife, who is here in the background as an open water swimmer, a member of the dolphin club. And that's why even just the recent news about the attack on the person who was there at 6am Just trying to get a workout in and it was sort of a tackle in the hospital just just shows you how Hey, we take this hidden gem. And by the way,

Ahsha Safai  1:17:30

I was meant to be there if it hadn't been for the rain because I've been working so hard with those folks to protect and save the Marina harbor for swimmers rowers and, and sailors and others that that just enjoy the marine green I think reckon Park, its proposal would have just destroyed that area for all all all of the above. And so we're working to kind of shape that project. We pass legislation to that. We're going to vote on it tomorrow, essentially. So all the Marina harbour folks, but my I had been invited down there the same day that the person was attacked, but we postponed it because of I wasn't 100% in the rain. And so we just said we'll we'll, we'll reschedule it for this week. As I say, yeah, if I saw it was hard.

Ben Kaplan  1:18:14

It is shocking for someone. It's like enjoying the beauty of the city. It's a great use of our city. And I think the good news is that at least last post I saw was that seems like he's doing okay. In the hospital. There's a GoFundMe, which is funded. So if you want to support that, check that out. And final question for you here. Even awesome. Sport, Ahsha is, let's say you are before this campaign is over, you are mayor for a day. So you can't you can't fix every problem. It's just a day. You have no oversight. You have you have no idea

Ahsha Safai  1:18:45

what happened. Did I win the election? I only get it for one day?


No, no, if I get a trial, you gotta get a

Ben Kaplan  1:18:51

client, you get a trial run. There's, there's somehow there's a charter amendment that says you get every candidate he hasn't been to me and you can do you know, you can't build like, you know, 3000 units of housing in one day. So you can't do that. But you have unlimited ability to do what you want on this day. What do you what do you do for that day, your day as as mayor, and you can do one thing? You can get it done?

Ahsha Safai  1:19:15

I probably I'm going to dive in really hard on the overdose crisis. You know, we've been we've been fighting this conversation about creating overdose prevention centers. It's been politicized. There was a commitment from the mayor to do it. She's backed away and said Our hands are tied the federal government. If I can wave a magic wand for one day, I'm opening up a really well thought out overdose prevention centers similar to what they had in Harlem, where we can start turning back the clock on 806 People fatally overdosing in San Francisco.

Ben Kaplan  1:19:52

All right, well, there you have it. Ahsha Safai candidate for mayor, member of the Board of Supervisors for district 11 And thank you so much your insights and best wishes on the on the campaign and it's going to be an exciting one and a challenging one, but hopefully San Francisco will be will be better for it.

Ahsha Safai  1:20:08

Thank you, man. Okay, cheers. All right. Okay.

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