What once looked like a cakewalk for San Francisco Assembly member Leland
Yee in the race for the 8th Senate District has turned into a bloody,
three-way fight to replace termed-out Sen. Jackie Speier, who is running for
Yee is squaring off against former Assemblyman Lou Papan and former San
Mateo County Supervisor Mike Nevin, a contest that one political consultant
described as a “race between three cranky men.” The district includes
portions of western and southern San Francisco and most of the more moderate
San Mateo County. It has been represented by Sen. Speier for the past eight
But the race largely has been overshadowed by what best may be described as
a grudge match between Papan and Nevin that dates from 2002. That’s when
Papan, who was termed out that year, intended to retire from politics and
Nevin planned to replace him.
What happened next depends on who you ask.
According to the Nevin campaign and an assortment of politicians in the Bay
Area and Sacramento, Papan helped redraw district lines after the 2000
census to exclude Nevin’s home from the district and clear the way for his
daughter, Gina Papan, to run for the seat.
Rather than move, Nevin dropped out of the race. He and Speier endorsed Gene
Mullin, Gina Papan’s opponent, who went on to win the primary and the
general election. Many say that’s when the war began.
Now, Nevin’s campaign has characterized Papan as a spoiler, who entered the
race as revenge.
“He’s in this as a spoiler and he’s hoping to take enough votes away from
Mike,” Nevin spokesman Seamus Murphy said of Papan. “That’s his sole
motivation, even though he tells you different. He’s so far not been
successful. Frankly, Lou Papan isn’t getting nearly enough traction to be a
Papan’s campaign manager, Frank Gallagher, disagrees.
“That’s silly,” he said. “Some people think they’re more important than they
really are. [Lou Papan] is in this race to win and that’s abundantly clear.
We don’t need to derail Mr. Nevin’s campaign. He seems to be doing a good
job of that himself.”
Speier has endorsed Nevin as her successor, perhaps a continuation of their
In an e-mail message, Speier said Nevin was “the best candidate to represent
the diverse district I’ve had the privilege to serve for 18 years. He is a
strong advocate for consumer rights and has the independence to speak his
mind regardless of the political fallout. He will be no pushover in
Nevin has not been shy about criticizing his opponents, who both have more
experience on the state level.
“[Nevin] thinks they’ve had their chance to serve and that we’re not better
off after they’ve served,” Murphy said. “They’ve had their chance and don’t
have a lot to show for it. When it comes to Yee and Papan, it leaves much to
Nevin’s campaign has been especially critical of Yee, who Murphy says has
been accepting campaign donations from oil companies, the health-care
industry, and alcohol and tobacco interests.
“Leland Yee has a well-documented history of accepting money from special
interests like the oil companies, tobacco industry and banks and insurance
companies, and then doing their dirty work in Sacramento,” Murphy said.
“Mike could easily have followed Yee and accepted money from pharmaceutical
companies, oil companies and HMOs, but Mike would rather spend his own money
than accept contributions from these special interests.”
Yee’s spokesman Adam Keigwin said responding to attacks from Nevin’s
campaign have been a major part of this race.
“The biggest challenge is correcting the record,” he said. “We feel
everything we’ve put out there is accurate. Unfortunately, our opponents
haven’t necessarily stuck to that.”
Keigwin and Gallagher both pointed out what they consider a sign of
financial trouble at Nevin headquarters. Records at the secretary of state’s
Web site show that Nevin gave himself a $25,000 donation earlier this month.
“Our opponent, Mr. Nevin, is out of money,” Gallagher said. “He had to lend
himself $25,000. You only have to do that if your team mismanaged the race
or if your supporters start to desert you.”
“We are not having financial trouble,” he said in an e-mail message. “Mike
refused to accept money from these special interests and only loaned himself
$25,000 so that he could match his opponent’s special interest war chest
dollar for dollar in the final month of the campaign.”
With over $200,000 in late contributions, Yee is certainly well-funded.
Nevin’s late contributions add up to almost $340,000, and Papan trails both
his opponents with $117,000 in late contributions.
Even though this has turned into a tougher battle than expected for Yee, he
has a few advantages. First, he is the only candidate from San Francisco,
and is well recognized by city voters. Both Papan and Nevin are from San
Mateo, and many familiar with the district say they will be splitting the
San Mateo vote.
Without Papan in the race, Nevin would have likely gotten most of San
Mateo’s votes, making it a difficult win for Yee.
“Some see [Leland Yee] as exploiting that history between Nevin and Papan,”
said David Lee, executive director of the Chinese American Voters Education
Committee. “Nevin and Papan are both from San Mateo. Yee is the only one
from San Francisco. It could end up splitting the San Mateo vote. Some view
that as benefiting Yee.”
Lee said Yee would likely also get most of the Chinese-American vote in the
“He’s run so many times, people in the Chinese community know him and likely
favor him. And Nevin–for many [in the Chinese community], this is the first
time they’ve heard of him.”
If elected, Yee would be only the second Asian state senator in California,
and the first Chinese-American senator.
But what may hurt Yee in his home turf of San Francisco is that Nevin won
the endorsement of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.
“That was quite a coup,” Lee said. “It was something [Nevin] needed to
strengthen his bid up here in San Francisco.”
Aside from the Speier and Newsom endorsements, Nevin has enjoyed the backing
of many other leaders in the Democratic party. He’s been endorsed by Dianne
Feinstein, Barbara Boxer, Steve Westly and Tom Torlakson, just to name a
Yee was endorsed by Nancy Pelosi, as well as San Francisco District Attorney
Kamala Harris, the Sierra Club, the California Teachers Association,
California Nurses Association, Assembly Speaker Fabian N