San Francisco votes on a new mayor, and tech bigwigs are taking sides

Key Points
  • San Franciscans will vote for a new mayor to replace Ed Lee, who died last year.
  • The leading candidate is London Breed, who is backed by many big tech influencers.
  • Under Lee, the city's tech sector boomed, but some criticized government for giving tech companies special treatment while ignoring major problems like homelesness.

In San Francisco, there's all-out battle for the mayor's office, and tech leaders are pouring money into the race.

Eight candidates are vying in Tuesday's special election, which resulted from the sudden death in December of 65-year-old Mayor Ed Lee, who had deep ties with the tech community.

Most of the heavy-hitters in tech are supporting candidate London Breed, with some supporting Jane Kim. Donors include Medium CEO and Twitter co-founder Evan Williams, who has donated $100,500 to committees supporting Breed.

Venture capitalist Ron Conway and his wife, Gayle, have also contributed toward a Breed victory; Gayle Conway spent $200,000 on a committee against Kim. Ripple co-founder Chris Larsen donated $49,000 to a committee backing Breed. Facebook gave $35,000 to a committee supporting Breed. Former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and Laurene Powell Jobs, the wife of the late CEO Steve Jobs and founder of the Emerson Collective, have donated $500 each to Breed's campaign.

Kim has tech backers as well. The CEO of Automattic, Matt Mullenweg, and Zendesk CEO Mikkel Svane have donated $100,000 and $50,000, respectively, to a committee supporting Kim.

The winner of the special election will serve through 2020.

During his tenure, Lee oversaw a temporary tax break — often dubbed the "Twitter tax break" — that provided incentives for companies to move into buildings in San Francisco's mid-Market neighborhood. The break was especially beneficial for pre-IPO tech companies, as it exempted them from paying potentially expensive payroll taxes on the value of employees' vested stock options.

Since then, many tech companies established or expanded their presence in the neighborhood, including Twitter, Spotify, Uber and Zendesk. Other big tech companies expanded their presence in San Francisco during Lee's mayorship, including Pinterest, Dropbox, Airbnb, Yelp and Square. Salesforce also expanded its presence in San Francisco, building the soaring Salesforce Tower, which is now the tallest building in the city.

Lee's mayorship also coincided with a backlash against the tech industry in San Francisco. Critics argue the infusion of highly paid tech engineers has led to the city's housing crisis, congestion and the rise of homelessness — all of which are top issues in the mayoral race.