An open letter to Ed Lee

Pub date January 3, 2012

OPINION Dear Mr. Mayor,

During the next week you will be appointing the a supervisor for District 5, an area of the city that has been historically considered the most progressive part of one of the most progressive cities in the country. It will be a signature decision for you in the next year, and will reveal the tone of your administration. Will you be a consensus mayor — or will you carry on your predecessor’s fight with progressives?

You have many qualified choices, but there is probably only one on your list that a majority of progressives would consider a clear progressive choice: Christina Olague, president of the Planning Commission. There are some who have hesitations about her, but ironically those hesitations are based on her relationship to you and her support for your candidacy for mayor. I have to admit, as a supporter of progressive Supervisor John Avalos for mayor, I shared some disappointment that she didn’t support John.

I’m sure there’s intense pressure on you to choose a more moderate choice, and I’m sure there are from your perspective some valid points to that argument. That said, District 5 deserves progressive representation.

I am a Haight resident, and I ran for Supervisor in District 5 in 2004. Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi came in first, I came in second, and Lisa Feldstein came in third. Both Lisa and I have spoken repeatedly about whether we would run next year, and we have even discussed running as a slate. Most political analysts think one of us would have a decent shot at winning — but I think both of us would support Christina, assuming that her votes continue to reflect her commitment to the progressive values of the district.

Christina not only supported you, she also supported Mirkarimi in 2004, and Matt Gonzalez when he ran for supervisor in 2000. She was appointed to the Planning Commission by Gonzalez and has been reappointed repeatedly by progressive supervisors to that commission. While her votes have not been perfect, by and large, her record is excellent; she has never succumbed to pressure, has listened well to all sides, and has ultimately done what she thought was right.

For example, she stood up for tenants’ rights when the landlord from Park Merced came to the Planning Commission to ask that 1,500 apartments be demolished, all of which were subject to the city’s rent control ordinance. She recognized the flaws in the landlord’s argument that a side agreement (negotiated without the local tenant groups involved) would prevent rent hikes and evictions. Olague was on the right side of history on the Park Merced deal, and has a long record of building tenant and senior tenant power. That’s the kind of leadership we need for District 5, an area comprised of primarily renters. I believe Olague will be a supervisor tenants can trust.

I can’t guarantee that all progressives will stand down if Olague gets the seat. The ego game is what it is. You have learned that from politics, I’m sure. But I think most progressive institutions and progressive activists will see her appointment as a victory and will support her candidacy for Supervisor next fall, as they should if she shows that her votes reflect the trends and values of District 5.

With Christina Olague, you have a win-win. You appoint a supervisor who reflects the progressive values of the district and who is also electable in November. 

Gabriel Haaland is an elected member of the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee and an LGBT labor and tenant activist.