Well, there it is.
After four years of fighting for the Richmond District and San Francisco, Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer will soon hang up her hat, she told reporters Wednesday.
“It has been a demanding job,” she told this columnist. “It has been all-encompassing.”
Now it’s time for her to focus on her family, and her own pursuits, she said, after 12 years in various city offices, four years as an education organizer at Coleman Advocates, and an additional 12 terms as a local Parent Teacher Association president.
Her retirement will come as no surprise to regular readers of this column, as at the end of December she dropped a none-too-subtle hint that she would not run for her second term this year. She even gave a strong shout of support in my column to another progressive woman preparing for a possible District 1 supervisor race, Connie Chan.
But today’s news is Fewer — her time in office, her victories, and the work yet to come.
Fewer’s election to office in 2016 wasn’t ever guaranteed. The former school board member fought tooth and nail against a formidable opponent, Marjan Philhour, who aligned with San Francisco’s moderate Democrats. But ultimately Fewer, a San Francisco native and progressive, pulled it out by more than 1,400 votes.
Fewer has tackled issues both large and small.
Last year she put San Francisco on a path to public banking, while also securing more funding for vital San Francisco Police Department traffic cops, whose efforts bolster the Vision Zero effort to prevent traffic deaths. She also authored legislation protecting renters from being bilked by landlords looking to pass on their debt and property taxes.
Sometimes it helps to just give Fewer a bullhorn or a microphone.
At a hearing last year she blasted corporate landlord Veritas when they were accused of pushing rent-controlled tenants out of their homes, making her a key ally. Few can bring the fire like Fewer.
To be frank, however, that knack for polemics has gotten her into trouble too.
Her chant of “Fuck the POA!” was heard around San Francisco last November, angering not only the Police Officers Association but the sworn officers it represents.
Tony Montoya, president of that police association, skewered Fewer for denigrating cops. But Fewer later said she was in a private, quiet war with the POA’s former president, Gary Delagnes, who threatened to reveal the discipline record of her husband — a former cop.
So did the POA chase her out of the job? Hell no, she said.
“Absolutely not. I’ve been thinking about it for awhile now,”she said, of retirement. I can confirm that. She has told folks for many months she would not run again. That rumor mill has been churning for awhile.
In fact, Fewer said, the POA’s opposition “was the one thing that almost prompted me to run again.”
And the recall effort against Fewer also didn’t seem to scare her. It shouldn’t — not only does it not have any funding, it’s roughly $2,000 in debt.
Fewer has always been a fighter. But a supervisor’s mettle isn’t just in the legislation she passes, or how loudly she tackles bullies, but the negotiations that happen behind the scenes. It’s there that Fewer has wielded the proverbial iron fist in a velvet glove.
As budget chair, Fewer held her own in talks with The Mayor’s Office, negotiating wins for San Franciscans in The City’s $12 billion budget and in talks over ERAF spending. Her subsequent introduction of a budget transparency measure, calling on The Mayor’s Office to hold public meetings for everyday citizens to weigh-in on how San Francisco spends its money, was a crucial cudgel in that effort.
When Supervisors Norman Yee and Hillary Ronen vied for the board presidency, it was Fewer’s tenacious negotiating that helped secure Yee’s presidency. In this way, too, Fewer is a vital voice for Chinese San Franciscans, and Asian Pacific Islander San Franciscans write large — a constituency with fewer seats at City Hall’s table every day.
She still leaves behind some unfinished work. Fewer pointed to an effort with the Planning Department to require landlords to report vacancies in an effort to ensure all of San Francisco’s housing stock is used as one effort that may continue past her time in office.
Connie Chan, who may run for Fewer’s seat this year, had nothing but praise for Fewer’s time in City Hall.
“Sandy Lee Fewer has been an inspiring leader and strong voice for the Richmond District. I’m honored to be able to call her my friend but even more proud she is my Supervisor,” Chan told me. “I know she’ll continue to fight for District 1 this year and many years into the future.”
That does, of course, bring up a question: What’s next for Fewer?
She told me she’ll still do a “One Richmond” act every day, referring to her program to stir the Richmond District to shop and dine locally, and to build community among one another. But ultimately, the job of supervisor was an especially draining one that required sacrifice not only from herself, but friends and family, she said.
Recalling some of the stresses of the job, she came to tears.
“At times it can be soul-damaging,” she said. And though she declined to speak on the record about particular incidents, she hinted at those trying times strongly, and said “It’s the everyday sort of negative comments you encounter that are sometimes personal, and often mis-informed” that can tear at you.
And that’s no joke. Mayor Ed Lee died two years ago of a heart attack, and Public Defender Jeff Adachi also died from heart-related complications. The Asian community has felt those losses keenly, making self-care especially important.
Fewer said that elders in the Chinese community advised against her leaving politics.
“I was told this is not the Chinese way. You put your personal happiness second, and the public first,” she said. “I make this announcement with a lot of guilt.”
But for Fewer, the job may also not be completely over.
Noting the lack of Chinese representation in city commissions, an issue often raised in Chinese-language press, Fewer said she would serve on important city commissions should a need arise, including the Police Commission.
For now, however, it’s time for Fewer to take time to slow down, to reflect, and spend time in The City she calls home.
On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at email@example.com, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at facebook.com/FitztheReporter.