Shared from the 2/27/2023 San Francisco Chronicle eEdition

Bay Area mayors endorse Lee for Senate



East Bay Rep. Barbara Lee officially launched her Senate campaign with an Oakland rally Saturday, bolstered by endorsements from two Bay Area mayors and two statewide officeholders.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed and Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao are backing Lee, as are state superintendent of public instruction Tony Thurmond and state controller Malia Cohen. All emphasized Saturday that Lee’s lived experience and progressive values set her apart.

“She has a unique perspective that no other member of the U.S. Senate” has, Breed told a couple hundred supporters Saturday at Laney College.

Lee announced her campaign Tuesday, joining fellow Democratic Reps. Katie Porter, D-Irvine and Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, vying for the seat now held by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who announced this month that she will not seek re-election. No top Republican has launched a campaign yet.

In a 27-minute speech Saturday, Lee emphasized that her legislative experience and life story would give her an advantage over her opponents. Lee has represented the East Bay in the California Legislature and in the U.S. House of Representatives for more than three decades. She was first elected to the House in 1998.

Lee described herself as a “coalition builder” — someone who worked with former President George W. Bush to increase global AIDS funding — and a “progressive voice that always fights for change.”

“The struggle for justice is not a job, it’s a calling,” Lee said. “I’m here today to answer another call.”

Lee on Saturday recounted her life as a Black woman who was born in the segregated South, in Texas, and moved to Los Angeles when she was a girl. She traveled to Mexico to have an abortion when she was 15 years old in the era before the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalized the procedure across the United States. In high school, she worked with the local NAACP to break barriers and became the first Black cheerleader at her San Fernando Valley high school.

She raised two children as a single mother on public assistance. She is a survivor of domestic violence.

When she served in the California Legislature, she wrote the state’s Violence Against Women Act and other legislation focusing on domestic violence. She achieved national recognition for being the only member of Congress to vote against authorizing the United States to go to war in the days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Assemblymember Lori Wilson, D-Suisun City, chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, told the audience Saturday that it was “unacceptable,” that only two Black women have ever been elected to the Senate.

“We need someone with lived experience to have a seat at the table representing us, redefining what success looks like, and creating opportunity for all of us,” Wilson said. “We know that when Black women lead, all of us win.”

While Lee is well known among progressives, she faces an uphill challenge in introducing herself to California voters. A Berkeley IGS Poll of Democratic and no party preference voters released this week showed Schiff (23%) and Porter (20%) with a sizable lead over Lee (8%) in an early snapshot of the race.

But many voters (39%) are undecided. Nearly two in three (62%) said they didn’t know enough about Lee to form an opinion, far more than felt that way about Schiff (39%) or Porter (47%).

Another of Lee’s biggest challenges will be keeping up in fundraising for what promises to be an expensive campaign. Schiff starts the race with about $21 million cash on hand. Porter has $7.4 million left after a tough House race last November. She was the top Democratic House fundraiser in 2022, hauling in $25 million — $1 million more than Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi. Lee had $52,353 cash on hand, according to federal campaign finance reports.

“Folks are already trying to write her off. You know what’s gonna happen? We’re gonna fight for her every day,” Breed told the audience, urging them to get involved in the campaign.

Lee scoffed at the naysayers.

“When someone tries to tell me,” Lee said, “that a Black woman of my age (76), with all the experience I bring to the table can’t win a fight, I just smile to myself and I say, ‘Watch me.’ ”

Reach Joe Garofoli:;

Twitter: @joegarofoli

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