Both the appointed incumbent and the challenger seeking to represent the Castro District and Noe Valley on the Board of Supervisors have gone out of their way to demonstrate their independence from the two warring political camps at City Hall.
Unusually, though, it is the challenger claiming more experience and expertise as an elected official.
When the late Mayor Ed Lee filled the vacancy in District 8 left by Scott Wiener when he became state senator, Lee made history by appointing Jeff Sheehy, an AIDS activist and the first board member to openly live with HIV. Months after Sheehy’s appointment, Rafael Mandelman, an attorney who sits on the City College of San Francisco Board of Trustees, filed to challenge him. Mandelman had previously run for the seat in 2010 as the progressive firebrand but lost to Wiener.
Sheehy, who says he’s an activist rather than a politician, was widely viewed as a member of the moderate camp and more aligned with the mayor’s politics when he was appointed.
“I am doing the job right now. What have I done wrong?” Sheehy asked in an editorial board meeting with the San Francisco Examiner. “There should be, in my view, an affirmative case to pushing somebody out.”
Sheehy, a former advisor to then-Mayor Gavin Newsom on HIV issues, acknowledged there’s one vote some might feel he got wrong: when he voted in January with the progressives to appoint Mark Farrell as mayor until the June election, ousting London Breed. He said the decision, based on his desire to avoid having someone running for mayor while in the interim position, cost him some endorsements.
“I don’t have any regrets about the vote,” Sheehy said. “I am independent. I feel like, in San Francisco politics, like a unicorn.”
Sheehy said that “the original argument against me was that I’ve been appointed by the mayor, so I was the mayor’s puppet, lackey.” He also pointed out that his opponent has shifted his ideology to be more moderate. “Apparently my opponent’s moved in my [political] direction,” Sheehy said.
Mandelman, meanwhile, acknowledged during an Examiner editorial board meeting he has shifted away from his far ideological left days when he campaigned against Wiener.
“I am eight years older and have had the experience of being an elected official,” said Mandelman, who was elected to the city college board in November 2012. “I think there is a lot more room for agreement, and I think that’s what people want.”
While the two candidates seem to be moving toward a common ideological point on the political spectrum, there are differences.
Mandelman is critical of Sheehy’s vote to make Farrell mayor. “I like to believe that, if I had been the sixth vote, we would not have replaced the first African-American woman with a white man,” Mandelman said.
Sheehy supports arming police officers with Tasers, while Mandelman said it is not the right time and that the department should focus on reforms instead.
Sheehy is opposed to Supervisor Aaron Peskin’s June ballot measure to prohibit running for office while serving on a commission, while Mandelman supports it.
Sheehy, who is endorsed by Wiener, was supportive of Wiener’s Senate Bill 827, which changes zoning of cities to allow for denser, taller buildings near transit, while Mandelman was said it took away too much local control.
Sheehy supported the police department hiring more officers. Mandelman said he was open to it, provided The City first works to free up officers by getting other departments to respond to many calls about the homeless and mental health issues.
Both agreed that homelessness and mental health are top priorities for their constituents, followed by public safety and housing.
On the housing front, Mandelman argued he has more experience due to his career in nonprofits and as an attorney in affordable housing development.
“I do have more of a track record and have worked on more of the issues that matter to San Franciscans and the district and I really want to do the job,” Mandelman said.
But Sheehy said he’s working to address these issues and pointed to the June “Housing For All” ballot measure, which taxes commercial rents to fund housing and homeless services. He was one of five supervisors who placed it on the ballot, and is actively backing it.
Mandelman supports the housing measure, but also a competing childcare measure from the more progressive board members that also taxes commercial rents. He said the dueling measures are a sign of the “dysfunction at City Hall” and that the two camps should have struck a compromise. “With stuff like this, this is stupid,” Mandelman said.
Sheehy disagreed. “It’s about prioritization. Really, it’s what the voters should be making decisions on,” he said.
Mandelman also took a jab at Sheehy for his track record on addressing homelessness. “I think it’s something that my opponent is getting himself to the point of working on. It’s something that I want to be working on from Day 1,” Mandelman said.
But Sheehy said he secured more resources to create services for youth who were homeless. He also introduced legislation last week to give homeless residents priority for housing after they leave a drug treatment program.
Other accomplishments Sheehy pointed to as supervisor include improvements to public safety at Dolores Park and passage of a law to crackdown on bicycle chop shops.
“I think I’ve done some good stuff. I think there is more to be done,” Sheehy said.
“I don’t know that there are huge ideological differences between us,” said Mandelman. “I think that I would be a stronger representative for the district.”
Voting in the June 5 contest begins next month when the Department of Elections will begin to send out the vote by mail ballots.