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In District 8 debate, will the real Scott Wiener please stand up?

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Rafael Mandelman, left, and Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, center, partook in their first major debate in the race for District 8 supervisor Monday night at the LGBT Center. (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez/S.F.Examiner)
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Everybody wants to be Scott Wiener.

That’s my takeaway, at least, of the first major District 8 supervisor debate, as progressive candidate Rafael Mandelman went toe-to-toe with incumbent Jeff Sheehy at the LGBT Center Monday night. (And moderated by the ever-talented Marisa Lagos of KQED.)

The problem with aspiring to be like District 8’s last (and very popular in the district) supervisor, is that Wiener is truly a unique political beast — legislatively prolific, socially liberal (by national standards) but with sometimes-retrograde policies toward poor people. The now-state senator defies labels.

Throughout the night, Mandelman, Wiener’s one-time supervisorial opponent, repeatedly likened his record to the lanky senator. Hell, he name-dropped Wiener so many times I thought the nearly 7-foot-tall politician would magically appear like Beetlejuice and shout, “Surprise! I’ve secured more funds for Muni!”

Mandelman has a fair record on his own: At the Democratic County Central Committee, he was frequently a swing vote between progressives and moderates, more swayed by ideas than by ideology.

The crowd of nearly 200 in the meeting room hissed at these comparisons.

“Calm down,” Mandelman said, to laughter.

Speaking of prolific lawmaking, that definitely isn’t one of Sheehy’s strengths. Like so many mayoral appointees before him, the victories Sheehy touted in the debate, including housing subsidies, tend to come from Mayor Ed Lee’s purse. (Sorry, Jeff, it’s not a political win if Lee hands you some cash.)

Wiener practically wrote three new laws each day before breakfast; Sheehy couldn’t even pass (easy, dunk-ready) bike “chop shop” legislation without being publicly eviscerated by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.

The race isn’t until June, but already the candidates have laid out some key differences:

ON HOMELESSNESS

Mandelman questioned a homeless navigation center in District 8. “I’m not entirely sure there’s a spot in District 8 where that exactly makes sense,” he said, “but I do think every district needs to do its part.”

Sheehy said he is exploring funding for youth housing in the district with Tipping Point, but “talks are preliminary.” Mandelman also supports youth housing.

ON DENSITY

It’s no secret that Wiener (who backs Sheehy) is a big fan of the “build, build, build” philosophy to address San Francisco’s housing crisis. Sheehy played lip service to the idea citywide during the debate, but I asked him outside where in District 8 would make sense to build “up.” He said there are specific areas where the density bonus would make sense to use, but said he’d have to “think about that one” when asked where he would upzone.

YIMBY’s take note: He was evasive.

During the debate, Mandelman said he wouldn’t fight residents for extra floors to densify the neighborhood. When asked to further explain outside, he said opportunities to build big — like at the Safeway at Market and Church streets — were the way to go: “I think we’re not going to dramatically change density in D8.”

ON BUDGET PRIORITIES

Sheehy wants cops. Mandelman wants transit.

Mandelman said he wants “property crime units” in every station, but Sheehy rebuffed efforts to “dictate” strategy to the police. Sheehy wants to expand the number of police to a city-mandated number of about 1,900, but Mandelman said the Police Department needs to make sure there aren’t “cops behind desks” — performing work civilians could do, a long-time problem — before he approves a budget to hire more officers.

Gee-whiz, I wonder who’s going to get funding from the Police Officers Association?

ON TRANSIT

Sheehy is bike-centric and told me funding for Muni is as beloved and expected as “apple pie.” He touted his protected bike lane on Valencia Street (though we should all remember his hesitancy to back bike lanes on Upper Market). Mandelman wants The City to fulfill its pledge to build subways “at all times,” which was enshrined in law by Wiener when he was a supervisor.

Above, video of the debate from co-host Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club.

ON CANNABIS

The two candidates agreed pot shops should proliferate in San Francisco and rebuffed the reefer referendum that’s now overtaking City Hall. You could call it a — ahem — joint-agreement. (Don’t send hate mail!)

Ultimately, these candidates will need to pull themselves out from Wiener’s shadow and show who really has the chops to represent Harvey Milk’s historic district.

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at @sfexaminer.com, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at facebook.com/FitztheReporter.

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