Politics

What no one will say out loud about Nancy Pelosi

Nancy Pelosi’s future has been the subject of whispers in her hometown since the Democrats lost the House and she stepped down from leadership.

What everyone has wanted to know — but no one was eager to say out loud, for fear of offending the speaker emerita or merely out of respect and admiration for her — is whether she intends to keep her seat. And, if not, would she favor a chosen candidate — or throw it open to what could be a wide open primary in one of the most Democratic cities in the U.S.

At stake is not just the once-in-a-generation chance to be San Francisco’s sole representative in Congress — a post Pelosi has held since 1987. Her retirement, and the jockeying it would set off in state and local politics, would likely create open races for state Senate, Assembly and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

Pelosi has been mum about her plans, and the evidence that has emerged so far is contradictory. The congresswoman has raised $3.5 million in the first six months of the year between her campaign and political action committees, a haul that suggests she could run for reelection in November 2024 if she wanted. At a minimum, it shows she still has clout, which could be one reason she has decided to leave people guessing.

At least three scenarios could play out in the coming months.

One more term

Pelosi sticks around to help Democrats raise money to fend off former President Donald Trump — assuming he’s the Republican nominee in 2024. She has helped lead the party through rocky times before, including to defend the Affordable Care Act and to impeach Trump twice. Pelosi must file her declaration of candidacy to seek reelection by Dec. 8, though she would likely announce much sooner given the party has a fall nomination deadline. Some analysts have said she could run to help the party through the 2024 election, only to resign later and trigger a special election.

Steps aside soon

Pelosi announces her decision to step out before the party’s nominating process closes to applicants this fall. This timeline would have the least disruption on the traditional election calendar. But the window for Pelosi to clear the way is getting narrower and narrower (The party’s nominating process formally opens in mid-August.)

Last-minute decision

Call it the total chaos scenario. Pelosi waits until the final minute to decide she won’t run. If she, as the incumbent, doesn’t file to seek reelection by Dec. 8, the filing deadline would be extended by five days. Waiting that late could limit the number of potential successor candidates and trigger a special party nominating conference.

All of this is why ambitious would-be candidates and consultants in San Francisco are anxiously awaiting her decision.

“The rules of engagement for the average politician just do not apply to Nancy Pelosi,” said Todd David, a close friend and adviser of state Sen. Scott Wiener, a candidate to succeed Pelosi. “She has earned the right and the privilege to do things on her own timeline.”

Wiener formed an exploratory committee to run for the seat in March, though he stresses that he will only run if Pelosi retires and has showered the speaker emerita with praise. His exploratory committee said he’s raised $820,000, a formidable haul for a campaign that hasn’t officially started.

Two other major candidates could also be in the mix: Christine Pelosi, a longtime party organizer and the former speaker’s daughter, and Jane Kim, a former supervisor and California director of the ultra-progressive Working Families Party.

The younger Pelosi hasn’t said anything publicly about her intentions, and Kim will say only that she hasn’t ruled out a run.

From there, cue the musical chairs.

In Wiener’s state Senate District 11, Assemblymember Matt Haney is widely expected to run (though some insiders speculate his decision could be complicated because he’s a close ally to new Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas).

Several prominent Democrats are likely to run for Haney’s Assembly District 17 seat to represent San Francisco’s east side. Supervisor Rafael Mandelman said he would run, though he said he’s also not pressuring Pelosi: “She gets to do what she wants.” Another potential contender is San Francisco Democratic Chair Honey Mahogany, Haney’s current district director.

Mandelman’s seat on the Board of Supervisors (District 8, The Castro and Glen Park neighborhoods), has several rumored contenders: Tom Temprano, a leader at Equality California, and Manny Yekutiel, owner of an eponymous cafe and watering hole for political types.

Melanie Mason contributed reporting.

This reporting first appeared in California Playbook. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every weekday.

At least three scenarios could play out in the coming months.  

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