Daniel Lurie (Photo/Courtesy)
Daniel Lurie (Photo/Courtesy)

Could San Francisco elect (another) Jewish mayor?

It’s now an open secret in San Francisco that Daniel Lurie, the 46-year-old Jewish nonprofit founder and philanthropist, is running for mayor next year.

Lurie wrote in an email to J. on Monday that he was “not able to comment at this time.” But last week, the San Francisco Standard published a convincing story — citing a “half-dozen sources with knowledge of Lurie’s plans” — reporting that he had already begun recruiting staff, hosting gatherings to gin up support and soliciting help from political consultant Tyler Law.

It wouldn’t be the first time that Lurie, a wealthy philanthropist and an heir to the Levi Strauss fortune, contemplated a run for the city’s top political job. A 2017 article in the San Francisco Chronicle suggested he was mulling a 2018 run.

Should he win, though, Lurie would be the extremely rare political neophyte elected mayor in a city where the vast majority of mayors, dating back decades — including London Breed, Ed Lee, Gavin Newsom, Willie Brown and Dianne Feinstein, the city’s last Jewish mayor — had prior political experience, either on the city’s Board of Supervisors or in state government.

So, does he have a shot?

First, it bears mentioning that Ahsha Safaí, the city supervisor considered a political moderate on issues of housing and crime, has already filed paperwork to challenge Breed, the incumbent. Also rumored is Aaron Peskin, a progressive Jewish veteran of the Board of Supervisors, though he did pour cold water on the idea speaking to the Standard in April.

Working in Lurie’s favor is the fact that Breed appears vulnerable. A poll this spring showed an overwhelming majority of respondents believe the city is “on the wrong track.” Sixty percent said they disapproved of the job Breed was doing, and just 36% approved.

San Francisco’s woes during the pandemic were distinct among American cities. The city’s downtown virtually emptied, while residents, particularly young adults, fled as their jobs went remote. In the first year of the pandemic, San Francisco experienced a 6.3% drop in population, the highest percentage of any U.S. city, the Chronicle recently reported, and office vacancy rates soared.

What Daniel’s going to have to do is say, ‘The city has a lot of challenges, and Mayor Breed hasn’t stepped up.’

“It is no wonder that they think Mayor Breed is doing a poor job and that she is largely unpopular,” Adam Probolsky, the pollster who conducted the survey, said in a press release.

The city seems to be on the rebound but still faces dramatic challenges: particularly on issues of property crime, housing affordability, homelessness and drug use.

Sam Lauter, a longtime political consultant in the city, a former Joe Biden staffer and a board member at the Democratic Majority for Israel, told J. that he believes Lurie would struggle as a candidate in large part because he lacks name recognition. His best strategy would be to channel voters’ dissatisfaction.

“You can tell when people are angry,” Lauter said. “What Daniel’s going to have to do is say, ‘The city has a lot of challenges, and Mayor Breed hasn’t stepped up.’”

Conversely, “what Breed is going to have to do is say, ‘We’ve gone through unprecedented challenges and, given the circumstances, I’ve done really well. And I want to finish the job,’” Lauter said. “We’ll see which argument resonates.”

Though Lurie’s name may not be widely familiar outside the Jewish community in San Francisco, he comes from a prominent, powerful and wealthy Jewish family. It’s a family tree with many branches. (Lurie himself is a Reform Jew who attends holiday services at Emanu-El with his wife, Becca Prowda, and their two children.)

His parents, Rabbi Brian Lurie and Miriam “Mimi” Lurie Haas, divorced when he was a young child; both remarried not long after. He has said it was like having four parents. His stepmother, Caroline Fromm Lurie, is a psychotherapist and oil painter. His stepfather, Peter Haas, a great-grandnephew of Levi Strauss, passed away in 2005.

Some might say Rabbi Lurie was the mayor of Jewish San Francisco. He directed the Jewish Community Federation from 1974 to 1991. A unique figure in the American Jewish establishment, he’s been described as a “maverick” by J.J. Goldberg, former editor of the Forward. He served as board president of the progressive New Israel Fund and said in a 2012 interview with Israeli newspaper Haaretz that the occupation of Palestinian territories “is like a cancer. It’s eating us.” In the ’90s he traveled to Israel sometimes three times a month, often just for a day, and would meet with then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Daniel Lurie (right) with his father, Rabbi Brian Lurie. (Photo/Courtesy Tipping Point Community)
Daniel Lurie (right) with his father, Rabbi Brian Lurie. (Photo/Courtesy Tipping Point Community)

Daniel Lurie’s mother, Mimi Haas, was elected to the board of directors of Levi Strauss & Co. in 2004, succeeding her husband. She owns roughly 16% of the company, making her a billionaire, according to Forbes. She is also president of the Mimi and Peter Haas Fund, a grant-making organization focused on early childhood education. The Haas family has donated massive sums to institutions across the Bay Area, much of it anonymously.

All this leaves Daniel Lurie in an interesting predicament. Clearly name recognition, Lauter and others have said, is essential to win a citywide election. And 2024 is a presidential election year, meaning turnout will be high, with voters coming from a wide swath of the San Francisco public and not just from those deeply immersed in city politics.

And yet Lurie, throughout his career, has made every effort to establish himself as an independent philanthropist and nonprofit leader in his own right — not just an heir to the Levi Strauss fortune.

For example, Lurie quarterbacked events and fundraising for Super Bowl 50 in 2016 and served as chair of the host committee. The committee raised millions for charity while the Super Bowl and surrounding festivities supercharged the tourism industry that winter — it was dubbed a “perfect celebration” of the milestone year by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

A decade earlier, Lurie earned a master’s degree in public policy from UC Berkeley. In that same year, 2005, he founded the nonprofit Tipping Point Community, describing on its website his vision of a “poverty-free Bay Area.” Since its founding, the organization has doled out more than $350 million, according to its most recent tax filings, mostly to fund early childhood education, housing services and employment initiatives.

In fiscal year 2021, the most recent year for which tax filings are available, Tipping Point gave $1.7 million to UCSF for its child trauma research program and $1 million to HomeFirst Services of Santa Clara County, two of its largest grants. Tipping Point also gave $596,000 to Jewish Vocational Service, a job training nonprofit.

In 2019, Lurie stepped down as CEO and today serves as board chair.

Lurie has some big hurdles to overcome to become mayor, according to Lauter. “Everybody’s going to say, ‘He’s the heir of Levi Strauss,” he said. “He also doesn’t fit the typical mold of what San Franciscans vote for. He doesn’t have any experience in San Francisco government, and City Hall is a unique animal that is very difficult to run.”

“But he’s extremely bright,” Lauter added. “This guy has made a reputation for himself in his own right.”

Gabe Stutman
Gabe Stutman

Gabe Stutman is the news editor of J. Follow him on Twitter @jnewsgabe.