The District 8 dilemma

Pub date September 21, 2010
WriterTim Redmond

Gabriel Haaland, a longtime queer labor activist, was talking to a friend from District 8 the other day, chatting about the race for a supervisor to fill the shoes of Harvey Milk, Harry Britt, Mark Leno, and Bevan Dufty. “She told me that she didn’t know who to vote for,” Haaland said, “because she didn’t know who the progressive was in the race.”

For supporters of Rafael Mandelman, that’s a serious challenge. “The polls are very consistent,” Haaland said. “Most of the voters in D-8 would prefer a progressive over a moderate, and when they know who the progressive is, they support that candidate.”

But oddly enough, although District 8 — the Castro, Noe Valley, and parts of the Mission — is one of the most politically active parts of the city, where voter turnout is consistently high, the supervisorial race is getting only limited media attention. The neighborhood and queer papers are doing a good job of covering the race, but for the rest of the media, it’s as if nothing’s happening. And that’s left voters confused about what ought to be a very clear choice.

The San Francisco Chronicle featured the District 6 race on the front page Sept. 19, with a long story about how demographic changes in the South of Market area would affect the successor to Sup. Chris Daly. District 10, with the mad political scrum of 22 candidates, no clear front runner and endorsements all over the map, has received considerable media attention.

Yet D–8 — which offers by far the most striking distinctions between candidates and the sharpest divisions over issues — has been flying under the radar.

Three major candidates are in the race, two gay men and a lesbian. All of them, for what it’s worth, are lawyers. Rafael Mandelman, who works for a firm that advises cities and counties, has the support of the vast majority of progressive leaders and organizations. Rebecca Prozan, a deputy district attorney, and Scott Wiener, a deputy city attorney, are very much on the moderate-centrist (some would say, by San Francisco standards, conservative) side of the political spectrum.

“As Barbara Boxer has said in her ads, the choice is clear,” Aaron Peskin, chair of the local Democratic Party and a Mandelman backer, told us. “Not to exaggerate, but this is like Boxer v. Carly Fiornia, and Rafael is our Boxer.”

Yet by almost all accounts, Wiener is ahead in the race.



The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has been roughly divided in the past decade between the progressive camp and moderate camp. And while those labels are hard to define (the Chronicle won’t even use the term “progressive,” preferring “ultraliberal”), most observers have a basic grip on the differences.

The moderates, who tend to support Mayor Gavin Newsom, are social liberals but fiscal conservatives. They talk about the city surviving budget red ink without major tax increases. They talk about controlling government spending and increasing public safety. The progressives generally see local government as underfunded after four years of brutal cuts and support the idea of raising new revenue to fill the gap. They support tenants over landlords, seek stronger protections for affordable housing, support Sanctuary City, and oppose sit-lie.

Certainly with Wiener and Mandelman, it’s abundantly clear where the candidates fall. The two agree on some things (they both oppose Prop. B, the pension-reform measure that would reduce health care payments for the children of city employees) and they both support nightlife. But overall, they take very different political stands.

Wiener told us, for example, that the city’s structural budget problems won’t be solved without cuts. “We’re not going to able to tax our way out of this,” he said in an endorsement interview. “We have to lower our expectations for government.”

Other than Muni, public safety, and core public health services, cuts “will have to be across the board,” he said. “What are the things we really can’t do without?”

Wiener supports the sit-lie proposal, saying that he doesn’t think the local police have the tools they need to get poorly behaving people off the streets. He doesn’t support Sup. Ross Mirkarimi’s measure mandating foot patrols because, he told us, he doesn’t think the supervisors should micromanage the Police Department.

Sup. Bevan Dufty, who currently holds the D–8 seat, has voted with the progressives occasionally — but almost never on tenant issues. And Wiener, who has the support of the rabidly anti-tenant Small Property Owners of San Francisco, is likely to follow that approach. Although he told us he supports rent control (which just about everyone in local politics agrees on at this point), he’s not a fan of additional protections against evictions and condo conversions. “I’m not prepared to go beyond what we have now” on eviction protections, he said. He supported Newsom’s plan to allow people to buy their way out of the waiting list and lottery for condo conversions.

And when it comes to public power, he’s to the right of the incumbent: Dufty has said repeatedly that he supports the city taking over Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s infrastructure and putting the city in control of a full-scale public power system. Wiener says he supports community choice aggregation (CCA), but not full-scale public power.

Mandelman is a big supporter of local government and says, without hesitation, that the city needs more revenue. “The public sector is dramatically underfunded,” he told us in a recent interview. “There’s great wealth in the city and it needs to be tapped to preserve public services.” Mandelman said he’s not “tax happy,” but told us that the structure of how the city raises revenue is a mess. He supports a top-to-bottom review of the city’s revenue base with the goal of making taxation more progressive — and bringing in enough money to fund crucial services.

Mandelman is a foe of sit-lie, which he sees as punitive and ineffective. He opposes gang injunctions and supports Sanctuary City. And he’s a strong advocate for tenants, supporting stronger eviction protections and limits on condo conversions that take away affordable rental stock.

“You have to look at the candidates and ask what their priorities are,” he said. “Are the displacement of long-time residents critically important or something that’s not on the top of the list? Do you believe we need to rebuild the safety net? Or is queer politics all about property values?”

Prozan told us that she’s the one who can “bring the two sides together” and said that, like Dufty, she is “right up the middle.” She supports the hotel tax and the vehicle license fee and opposes sit-lie, but also thinks gang injunctions are a useful tool for law enforcement. She doesn’t see any reason to split appointments between the mayor and the supervisors for the board that oversees Muni or the Redevelopment Agency. She doesn’t think the city can or should do anything more about the conversion of rental property to tenancies in common, but supports the idea of taking over foreclosed properties to create housing for teachers, cops, and firefighters. So it’s safe to say the Prozan would probably be similar to the incumbent — with the progressives on a few things, against them on others.



Wiener and Mandelman agree on two basic points: there are stark differences between the candidates — and the city’s major media outlets aren’t paying enough attention. That’s probably because the relatively tame politics doesn’t compare to the sort of wild excitement you see in Districts 6 and 10.

“There’s less chaos than some of the other districts,” Wiener said. “The three major candidates are all hard-working, respected people who have all lived in the district a while.”

He also agreed that he and Mandelman have “very different visions” for the district and the city, and that there are sharp contrasts and divisions between the two candidates.

Prozan also argued that the political differences on issues aren’t going to be the only — or even the deciding — factor for many voters. “I think they’re looking for who’s got the courage and independence to do what’s right,” she told us.

But Mandelman told us there’s a crucial story here that needs to be told: “It’s a definitional fight about what the queer community is about in 2010. As goes D–8, so goes San Francisco.”