John Angel knocks on doors in The Mission Hotel to canvass for presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez/S.F. Examiner)

Sanders surging in California and San Franciscans are leading the way

California is Bern’n, and no, it isn’t just our uncharacteristically warm weather this week.

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is soaring in the most recent California electoral poll released Friday, courtesy of the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies and conducted for the Los Angeles Times.

And that may have just a bit to do with our fine City by the Bay, as San Francisco politicos and their former campaign staff are playing a heavy role in the Vermont senator’s campaign locally.

It’s also good news for Bernie supporters leading right into Tuesday’s California primaries, as Sanders carries a commanding lead with 34 percent support here, double that of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, his closest rival.

The rest ain’t doin’ nearly so hot: Former vice president Joe Biden and Sen. Amy Klobuchar tail behind at 8 and 6 percent, Da (other) Mayor Pete Buttigieg stands at 11 percent support, and Mayor London Breed’s endorsed candidate, former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, lingers at 12 percent.

Much of Sanders support is in Latino voters, according to the LA Times, which explains why the Sanders campaign just hired Jon Jacobo to be its California Latino press secretary. A stalwart of the Mission District, where he’s vice president of the Calle 24 group that has staunchly defended 24th Street, he also serves on the Building Inspection Commission.

While he’s so new to the campaign he’s still shiny, Jacobo’s not the only local yokel jumping onto the Bernie train.

Former San Francisco supervisor and mayoral candidate Jane Kim is Sanders’ California political director — and his blowout performance locally is certainly a feather in her cap. Shanti Singh, who has worked on campaigns for supervisors Sandra Fewer, Kim’s mayoral campaign, and various local ballot initiatives (Proposition F for tenant attorney representation, for instance) is Sanders’ California deputy data director.

It isn’t all roses for any of the campaigns, however, as San Francisco turnout is so far lower than in our last presidential primary, in 2016, public data shows. (This may have more than a little to do with the date being moved back from June to March, in an effort to make California’s primary have more national impact).

Among Democrats only 12 percent of issued ballots have been returned as of Feb. 24, according to the Department of Elections. Local campaign consultant Jim Stearns, a progressive stalwart, wrote on Twitter that by the same time in 2016, 24 percent of ballots had been returned — double the rate of this election. That could spell trouble.

And not every San Francisco politico (or behind-the-scenes mover and shaker) is in for the Vermont senator.

Board of Supervisors members Hillary Ronen, Shamann Walton, Norman Yee, Rafael Mandelman and Ahsha Safai have all endorsed Warren for president. (Although Ronen also dual-endorsed Sanders). That motley crew of Warren supporters also includes state Sen. Scott Wiener and Assemblymember David Chiu.

Perhaps this is a bit too inside baseball, but I was tickled pink when I saw a photo of them all standing together to speak for Warren at a recent campaign event — they naturally stood with each other along progressive/moderate lines, for godssakes!

But that Bernie train, it keeps on rollin’.

Claire Lau was a long-time chair of the San Francisco Berniecrats, and now runs the campaign’s Bay Area field efforts from its office in San Francisco. While in 2018 she led Tony Kelly’s District 10 Board of Supervisors campaign against Supervisor Walton, now she coordinates Sanders’ Bay Area door knockers, phone bankers, and ground troops.

So that same knowhow that drove out SF supervisor groundtroops is now directed towards the presidential primary.

Wednesday afternoon I bounced on down to their Mission Street office, a former Persian rug store. There was a positive vibe all over, and even posters for standout volunteers, replete with stars and stickers — like an enthusiastic kindergarten class, but with far higher stakes.

I sat in a circle of volunteer door-knockers, all getting the rundown on how to not scare off voters (hint: don’t argue, do tell them your personal Bernie story).

Those personal stories were sometimes poignant: One man said he was on the brink of homelessness while attending school, a situation Bernie’s policies would have directly prevented, whereas a relatively new Castro resident said he was heartened by Sanders support for the LGBTQ community. Janelle Jolley, a Sanders volunteer since last November, told the group she supported the Vermont senator for his healthcare policies — her grandmother is a cancer survivor, and can only live thanks to a drug that costs $20,000 monthly, but the price recently skyrocketed to $50,000 monthly.

Her grandmother can pay for the shot thanks to a variety of circumstances, but Jolley told the group, “God forbid if someone who is younger, without Medicare, got sick in that way.”

I tagged along with Sanders volunteer John Angel to see the struggle to garner votes up close. Angel, a tall, blonde-haired 30-year-old who first came to San Francisco for grad school at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, was no stranger to this door knocking game.

As we trekked down South Van Ness in the Mission, he showed me the tools of his trade: Sanders-branded door hangers, sheets with voting processes and election law, and a cell phone app the campaign uses to track likely voters, which he diligently filled in as we encountered addresses that weren’t actual residences (one was an auto shop!) or people who said yes, they had already voted Sanders, thanks.

Angel netted some early luck in one labyrinthine apartment complex. We trekked up and down its hallways, across pedestrian bridges hanging over a far-too-expensive looking fountain surrounded by ferns. Out of the half dozen doors he knocked, his sole success laid with William Tsang, 35, a San Francisco native and Balboa High School alum.

But even that small success — an open door — was met with the answer that Tsang had already voted.

“I even convinced my mom to vote as well,” Tsang told us. But he said he would be interested in volunteering. A tiny victory.

It wasn’t until we hit The Mission Hotel, San Francisco’s largest single room occupancy building at 245 units, that Angel hit what campaigns consider real paydirt — a vote.

We wound through its narrow hallways, stepping over cats that freely roamed and darted between rooms. Some doorways lacked their namesakes, doors, with blankets serving to instill privacy for some. One older gentleman who stood with a stoop told Angel, “You look like the District Attorney! (Chesa Boudin). But you’re too tall to be him.”

Folks were friendly. They pointed out when someone wasn’t home, or had moved on from an apartment Angel knocked. But it was slow going. Angel had hit a similarly large apartment building just recently while canvassing, he said.

“I spent an hour and a half in that complex,” he told me.

Finally, on the third floor, a door at the end of the last hallway we hit opened to Angel. A fluffy brown and white spotted cat darted out from an adjacent room, startled by the noise.

Angel greeted the resident politely, then asked if he was going to vote in the primary.

“Voting is going on now? I didn’t even know that!” he said.

And, he said, he’d vote for Bernie.

That’s one down, with 40 more addresses to go. Angel kept on trucking.

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

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