A heated exchange over race erupted Thursday between a white candidate and a black candidate vying for the District 10 seat on the Board of Supervisors to represent Bayview-Hunters Point.
Shamann Walton, a school board member who is black and grew up in the district’s public housing, said he is more active in the black community than challenger Tony Kelly, who is white and a Potrero Hill neighborhood activist. Walton also critisized Kelly for campaign materials with photos of him posing with black residents.
“I am insulted by every flier he has, having him with black people only, acting like he is the savior for our community,” Walton said. “That is insulting as a black man. When I see that, that is insulting to me.”
The exchange occurred during a Thursday San Francisco Examiner editorial meeting attended by Walton and Kelly, among the frontrunners in a field of six candidates.
Walton first brought up the issue of race half an hour into the meeting, when the issue of community policing came up.
“And understand, I am in my community every single day with my people, not just posting myself with black pictures everywhere I go. I am actually with black people every day.”
Kelly responded: “Hey now, Hey now. I’ve been volunteering in the neighborhood about 15 years now.” He said he was involved in tenant advocacy work at public housing sites and “every single environmental advance we’ve had in the past 15 years I’ve been a part of.”
Kelly added, “We start playing the race card at 11:30, just let the record show.”
Walton responded: “It’s not a race card. It’s a reality.”
The issue of race was revisited about a half hour later by Kelly, calling what happened a half hour earlier a “flash point.”
“I was recruited to run for this race … by African-American environmentalists in the Bayview,” Kelly said. He said he to wants to bring bold changes to City Hall for “the African-American community that has been ignored and abused by The City so much over the years and is sick and tired of sell outs.”
He alleged that Walton was making race a significant factor in the contest, something Kelly said he did not experience in the previous two times he unsuccessfully ran for the District 10 supervisor seat. Current Supervisor Malia Cohen is black, as was her predecessor, Sophie Maxwell.
“There is an intentional effort this year to make race an issue and all of sudden make me an interloper,” Kelly said.
Making the contest about race could prove a winning strategy for Walton.
Jim Ross, a political consultant, said since the district has a historic African-American community, candidates must demonstrate a “sensitivity toward that history.” When voters consider who will best represent them they will look to a candidate “who looks most like the district, either ideology or identity.” If there is not a significant difference in ideology, voting decisions can come down to identity alone.
Kelly alleged Walton’s campaign workers are going door-to-door telling voters that Kelly and Walton share similar policy ideas, but since Walton is black they should vote for Walton.
The two candidates do have several policy positions in common. Both said they don’t support the police having Tasers, both support Proposition 10, a state measure that would allow San Francisco to expand rent control, and both support Proposition C, a tax on large companies to fund homeless needs like housing and mental health services.
But Kelly said there are differences. “We are all not Democratic Socialists at this table,” he said. Kelly is supported by the San Francisco chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America.
Walton accused Kelly’s campaign of first injecting race into the campaign, pointing to a racist anonymous post earlier this month on Medium, since deleted, that raised issues of Walton’s connections to developer Lennar.
“That was not from our campaign. That is bullshit,” Kelly said. Kelly had previously denounced the post and denied having anything to do with it.
“I don’t think Tony is a racist,” Walton said. “I would never say that. I actually consider Tony a friend and will get past this when the election is over.”
Kelly said the heated back and forth with Walton was “by far the sparkiest exchange we have had in any debate all year.”