Scott Wiener is hopping on I-80 and setting up shop in Sacramento.
The six-year veteran of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors is to be sworn in as a state senator on Monday, taking over the seat previously held by the termed-out Mark Leno, representing the city and northern San Mateo County. He narrowly defeated his board colleague Jane Kim to win the seat.
On Friday, Wiener sat behind a barren desk in his mostly empty City Hall office, reminiscing about his term and a half on the board. He ticked off legislation he authored on public transportation funding, rent control and paid parental leave as some of his proudest accomplishments.
“Those are all significant progressive policy advances, and I was proud to be a part of them and move them forward,” Wiener said.
Due to San Francisco’s liberally skewed political landscape, Wiener was viewed as a moderate running against the more progressive Kim. Big-name Democrats such as Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Sen.-elect Kamala Harris endorsed Wiener, but Kim outpolled her fellow supervisor by 669 votes out of 260,000 cast in June’s Democratic primary. That was thanks in part to an endorsement from progressive hero Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
The race, which brought in millions in campaign cash from donors and interest groups on both sides, often focused on affordable housing and San Francisco’s homeless problem.
Wiener, who opponents have called “mean-spirited” for his opposition to tent encampments, says he regrets not getting more done on housing issues while on the board and will make housing policy a top priority when he joins the Legislature.
“We no longer have the luxury of treating housing as purely a city-by-city issue,” Wiener said. “The state has to have a bigger role with housing, and that is a very high priority with me.”
Other priorities for Wiener include public transportation, health care, fighting climate change and responding to the state’s water challenges.
“Wiener is a workhorse,” said Alex Clemens, a veteran Bay Area political consultant. “He’s smart, hard-working and generally unworried about the political consequences of the actions he’s choosing to take.”
Clemens said he doesn’t expect Wiener to have much of a learning curve as he transitions to Sacramento, thanks to his experience in San Francisco politics.
“However, while he will remain a prolific legislator,” Clemens said, “it’s a bit harder to cut through the noise with 119 fellow legislators rather than 10.”
Wiener says he knows he has a lot to learn about being a state senator.
“I’ll always be an aggressive policymaker,” he said, “but you also need to have a dose of humility and not go up there pretending like you know everything.”
While Wiener was considered a moderate in San Francisco, he said he will be “firmly in the progressive camp in Sacramento,” where he will face a much more ideologically diverse Democratic caucus.
“Yes, we have two-thirds majority now in both the Senate and the Assembly, but that doesn’t mean we have two-thirds progressive votes on everything,” he said.
Kim wished Wiener well on his move to Sacramento in a blog post after the results were finalized.
Supervisor John Avalos, a progressive who served with Wiener on the Land Use and Transportation Committee, said the city is “in a better place” because of Wiener’s work on the board.
Wiener’s current term on the board runs through 2019, which means Mayor Ed Lee will be able to appoint his immediate successor. Wiener said he has provided the mayor with his thoughts on who should succeed him and is looking for someone who will be both immersed in the district and a citywide leader on important issues.
He also said it’s important to him that he be succeeded by another member of the LGBT community. With Wiener’s election and Supervisor David Campos being termed out, the board will be without an openly gay member for the first time in decades.
“My successor will have a solemn responsibility to look after the interests of the LGBT community,” Wiener said.
In an email, a spokeswoman for Mayor Lee wrote, “The mayor is doing his due diligence to find the best candidate to represent District 8 and the city. The mayor will make his decision when he feels he has identified the appropriate candidate.”