Shamann Walton becomes next Board of Supervisors president

District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton became the next president of the Board of Supervisors Friday, securing the second most powerful...

District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton became the next president of the Board of Supervisors Friday, securing the second most powerful City Hall post at a critical time to determine San Francisco’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Walton was elected to the board in November 2018 to represent Bayview-Hunters Point and Potrero Hill after serving for eight years as the executive director of the Young Community Developers, a nonprofit providing youth job training and affordable housing.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to make Walton, who is aligned with the board’s progressive members, its president for the next two years. He was considered a favorite for the post for weeks.

Walton said it was an “honor” to serve as board president “during one of the major moments of crisis in our history.”

“This Board of Supervisors will be remembered for years to come on how we come together through this adversity,” Walton said. “Along with our mayor we must roll up our sleeves and lead San Francisco through a recovery from this pandemic.”

Walton is the first Black man to serve as the board president. Three Black women have previously served in the position including late Supervisor Doris Ward, Mayor London Breed and former Supervisor Malia Cohen.

The vote came after two of the body’s newest members, who prevailed in November’s district elections, were sworn in. Connie Chan will serve as the District 1 supervisor, replacing Sandra Lee Fewer, and Myrna Melgar as the District 7 supervisor. Melgar replaces Norman Yee, who was termed out of office and had served as the board’s previous president.

Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who herself was among the contenders to be board president two years ago, praised Walton prior to the vote as the right person “to lead us through the end of this pandemic and into recovery.”

“He is clear about why he wants a leadership role — to assist those that are suffering the most,” Ronen told the San Francisco Examiner. “He is brave and visionary and always operates with a profound respect for everyone he works with.”

Supervisor Matt Haney, who represents the Tenderloin and SoMa, said Walton will “stand up for our vulnerable residents, and help steer the board in a productive solutions-oriented manner.”

“He doesn’t do drama,” Haney said. “He’s very steady-handed and consistent. I think during a very challenging time for our city it is important to have somebody who both brings people together and also is capable of getting things done.”

Haney plans to work with Walton to address challenges facing both of their districts including homelesssness, mental health and public safety.

The board president plays an instrumental role in establishing the tone and tenor of the working relationship with the mayor.

“I don’t think he’ll be at war with the mayor,” Haney said. “That is not his style. But he will be prepared to hold [the executive branch] accountable and stand up to them when they are not doing the right thing or not doing enough.”

Supervisor Aaron Peskin had also been a possible contender for the post. Walton, however, was able to secure the broadest support.

Walton has generally been aligned with the progressive members of the board including Ronen, Haney, Dean Preston and Gordon Mar. However Walton also endorsed moderate Supervisor Ahsha Safai in his recent contest against former progressive Supervisor John Avalos, as well as Melgar who nominated him for the position.

Peskin said that he was “torn” about seeking the post, noting that he was first sworn into office to the District 3 seat 20 years ago on Jan. 8, 2001, and went on to become the board’s president from 2005 to 2009. But he told the Examiner before the vote he would be backing Walton.

“On the one hand experience matters. On the other hand, opening up spaces for the next talented generation matters as much,” Peskin said, adding that he thought “at a time like this having an uncontested election is the right thing for San Francisco.”

Supervisor Dean Preston said that Walton has earned the respect of all of his colleagues, describing him as a “listener” and someone who “really values the input of his colleagues.”

“The board has a big role to play in what this recovery looks like. One of the important things for a board president is bringing the board together wherever possible. I think he is the right person to do that,” Preston said.

Supervisor Gordon Mar also spoke to Walton’s relationships among board members prior to the vote. “In two years, Shamann has forged respectful and effective working relationships with the entire board and distinguished himself as a voice for justice, compassion and equity,” Mar said.

Mayor London Breed, who has clashed with progressive board members, called for political unity to tackle the challenges ahead.

“We need to lead an economic recovery unlike any we’ve seen in a long time,” Breed said. “We have to address the behavioral health challenges on our streets, continue to help people out of homelessness.”

Breed vowed “to make great things happen for the residents.”

“If something isn’t working, let’s fix it,” she said.

Since coming into office, Walton has championed the closure of the juvenile hall center, called for increased resources to combat violence in the Bayview, which saw the most homicides of any neighborhood last year, and collaborated with Breed to redirect $120 million from the Police Department to fund needs in the Black community.

In the 2020 November election, voters passed the ballot measure he introduced to increase oversight of the Sheriff’s Department and its treatment of those in jail.

He also established the African American Reparations Advisory Committee and gained national attention for successfully passing at the board last year the CAREN Act, legislation which criminalizes racially-biased 911 calls.

Among Walton’s first duties as board president is to issue committee assignments for his colleagues, which can have a significant impact on how much influence they will have at City Hall. Some of the most important posts are chairs of the budget and land use committees.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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