A decades-long incumbent who sat on San Francisco’s retirement board has been unseated by a police union-backed former cop, giving public safety members unrivaled influence on the body that directs retirement investments worth billions of dollars.
The preliminary results from The City’s Department of Elections gives Al Casciato 65 percent of the votes, with 9,855 ballots cast for him. His opponent, and long-time retirement board member, Herb Meiberger received 38 percent of the votes with 6,119 ballots cast. The election ended Friday.
“I feel great,” said Casciato in a phone interview with the San Francisco Examiner on Tuesday. “What I really realized during the campaign is that a lot of people don’t understand the retirement system. If it does well, everybody benefits. The City and county benefits, the active employees benefit and the retirees benefit.”
The seven-member body, the San Francisco Employee Retirement System, has three mayoral appointees, three elected seats and one Board of Supervisors appointee, and collectively votes on how to invest more than $20 billion in pension funds.
The performance of those funds impacts everything from how much pensioners receive every month to how much city employees must put into the system. But it also impacts voters and residents because any shortfalls in the portfolio must be filled by The City.
The election for a body few have heard of was unusually contentious and expensive, but since open government laws don’t apply to such elections few are aware of the true cost.
Meiberger, whose terms ends Feb. 20 and who worked for The City advising it on investing, has served on the SFERS board for 24 years. In the campaign Meiberger cast his opponent as a big-spending police and fire union-backed candidate who will make riskier bets with the billions in investment dollars.
Additionally, Meiberger said a Casciato win would make all three elected board members public safety-linked members, which he said has not worked out well in other cities.
Meiberger did not return a request for comment.
Casciato, meanwhile, called his opponent divisive and overcautious, and said during the campaign that his actions already impacted the fund.
The City is expected to have a deficit of $119 million in the next fiscal year, which will grow to $283 million in the subsequent fiscal year. These deficits are driven largely by pensions and payroll.
For instance, pension costs are projected to rise in coming years. By fiscal year 2021-22 The City expects to spend $431 million in pensions, $171 million more than previously expected.
As for the fund, it was valued at $21 billion as of fiscal year 2016-15, nearly $5 billion more than 2011-12. Still, several recent years of less-than-robust gains have meant increased contributions.