The election to choose the next representative for the Fillmore and Haight on the Board of Supervisors is nearly a year away, but candidates are already raising money and pitching voters in 2019’s only supervisorial race.
For tenant rights attorney and progressive candidate Dean Preston, it’s nothing new. He ran in 2016 against then District 5 supervisor and board president London Breed, who is now mayor, and picked up 47.6 percent of the vote, losing by only 1,784 votes. His volunteer team has remained active since then with efforts around neighborhood projects and political measures.
“Things have certainly started and will heat up in the new year,” Preston said of his 2019 supervisorial campaign. “We’ve been reaching out to our previous supporters in 2016.”
Some suggest Preston’s strong showing in 2016 gives him the edge over current Supervisor Vallie Brown, who Breed appointed in July 2018 to the seat she vacated after her election as mayor.
But Jim Ross, a long-time political consultant, said while Preston “has a real shot,” he gives the edge to Brown because incumbents win in San Francisco. While the trend was bucked during the era of the late Mayor Ed Lee, when three of his appointees lost in elections, even then legislative aides who were appointed were winners.
Lee appointed legislative aide Katy Tang to the District 4 seat and she was subsequently elected. Supervisor Catherine Stefani was appointed by then-Mayor Mark Farrell and she trounced her opposition.
Brown was a legislative aide to Breed and prior to that, an aide to former District 5 Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi.
Like other mayors, Breed will likely use her position to help boost her appointee, such as by showing up in the district for media events. On Dec. 19, Breed and Brown presided over a ribbon-cutting for the grand reopening of affordable housing at 1750 McAllister St.
Preston, however, noted that Breed’s support “cuts both ways,” and that Breed-endorsed supervisorial candidates lost last November.
During the District 5 contest, Brown’s independence from the moderate Breed could be an issue in the left-leaning district. But there’s plenty of time for Brown to become “embedded in the community” as the supervisor and distance herself from Breed by having her “own record, if she does it right,” according to Ross.
After six months on the job, Brown is seemingly hitting the right notes.
“I’m voting what I think is right,” Brown said. “I had the progressives tell me I’ve been voting more of a progressive agenda.”
Shanell Williams, a City College of San Francisco trustee who was born and raised in the district, is also running and recently held a fundraiser that drew around 40 residents.
Williams, who had initially hoped Breed would tap her for the District 5 seat, not Brown, wants to put community health at the center of her platform, which means a focus on services around mental health and substance use and affordable health care. Employed as the director of community engagement for the UCSF Preterm Birth Initiative, she entered the race after Preston and Brown and is currently “developing a policy platform.”
Preston said he was able to “tap into the energy of the district” in 2016 and expects to do the same this time around. “A lot of the issues are really similar now,” Preston said. “I don’t think anything’s changed — homelessness, fear of displacement, lack of affordable housing.”
He and Brown are likely to face off over their advocacy for tenants and affordable housing, areas in which Preston said he has an “unmatched record.”
However, Brown said she also has plenty of tenant rights experience from her decade working at City Hall, when she resolved many constituent issues and referred people to tenant rights attorneys like Preston.
She also pointed to her hearing to investigate why “Muni is so slow,” and said she’s working with colleagues, including Supervisor Hillary Ronen, on a proposal for how to address people sleeping in recreational vehicles.
She toted her ability to pass once stalled legislation to permit greater housing density along the Divisadero corridor in exchange for making 20 percent of the units below market rate. She said that was the “highest affordability without developers walking away.” Her secret? “I went out and talked to everyone,” Brown said. “I also talked with developers.”
In the end, she believes she was able to gain 90 percent of residents’ support for the proposal.
Notably, Brown also supported last November’s Proposition C, a tax on tech and other big businesses to fund homeless services, despite opposition from Breed and business groups.
But Preston said he provided seed money and helped mobilize around Prop. C from the beginning, while it took Brown “well over a month” to come out for it.
“There’s supporting it and then there’s supporting it,” he said.
“I played more of an unambiguous support role and a leader role in helping support that measure,” Preston said, adding that when someone comes to him with a proposal like that one it “takes me a day or two to make the decision and then I go all in on it.”
Brown acknowledged she did take time to consider the measure, but attributed it to her desire to talk to opponents. “What I did was I talked to everybody. I listen to everybody,” Brown said, suggesting Preston will make “those rash decisions.”
Preston said that a lot of “lip service” is given to opening a Navigation Center, or some type of homeless shelter, in District 5, but he would “figure that out.”
“You have to have a place where people who are homeless can go,” Preston said.
Brown said she, too, wants one. “I want a Navigation Center in District 5,” Brown said. The difficulty lies in finding a location and funding.
Williams said she also supported Prop. C and supports a Navigation Center in the district.