Political Notebook: Gay man seeks westside SF supervisor seat
by Matthew S. Bajko
A former journalist who spent 2010 earning a master's in public administration from Harvard's Kennedy School is now running to succeed District 7 Supervisor Sean Elsbernd on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
Joel Engardio , 39, a gay man who used to write for the SF Weekly and Los Angeles Times, recently won the endorsement of the national Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund.
Engardio said he decided to run for public office because of a lack of common sense at City Hall in terms of decision-making.
"The reason I am running for supervisor is I really believe that San Francisco needs better direction as far as how it innovates and how it uses common sense, which unfortunately has been lacking," he said. "My goal is to bring more common sense and innovation to City Hall."
He would be the first out LGBT person elected to the board from the city's more conservative neighborhoods west of Twin Peaks since the return of district elections in 2000. But Engardio is the first to admit he faces long odds in winning the seat.
"I am the underdog," Engardio told the Bay Area Reporter during a recent interview.
He is one of five candidates who have already filed papers to succeed Elsbernd, who is barred from seeking a third four-year term due to term limits. Among the contenders is Norman Yee, president of the city's school board.
Others in the race include Board of Appeals President Michael Garcia and Port Commissioner Francis "FX" Crowley . Businessman Andrew Bley has also filed papers to seek the seat.
While he has yet to endorse a successor, Elsbernd told the B.A.R. this week that he expects to do so.
"Whoever wins this race will be my supervisor, so I will not sit on my hands and not play a role," he said.
The district stretches from Forest Hills and West Portal southwest toward Ocean Beach and includes the campuses of both City College and San Francisco State University. And while certain pockets four years ago voted overwhelmingly for Proposition 8, the ban against same-sex marriage, other neighborhoods strongly opposed the anti-gay measure.
Elsbernd told the B.A.R. that he doesn't think sexual orientation will hinder a candidate's chances in District 7. He strongly refuted some people's contentions that an LGBT person can't win in that part of town.
"I think if there are people out there saying an LGBT candidate can't win in District 7 it is based on pure ignorance and is a stereotype that is not true at all," he said. "I don't think sexual orientation is going to impact the race at all."
Engardio and his partner of nearly five years, Lionel Hsu , live in Golden Gate Heights near the Inner Sunset. He, too, had heard that District 7 "wasn't the most gay friendly," but Engardio said the district's demographics have been changing.
"There are a lot more gay people and gay couples who live in District 7 than ever before," he said.
"If there is a prejudice out there, it is the whole native San Franciscan thing," said Elsbernd, adding that his constituents also favor fiscal conservatives.
The preference for homegrown candidates is something that Engardio, who grew up in Michigan, is cognizant of and one of the reasons why he started his campaign and fundraising efforts last fall. He had banked $22,000 by the end of 2011, money he is trying to stockpile for the fall campaign.
"I knew that as the underdog I needed to start early and prove to others I am a viable candidate. I feel like I have done that," said Engardio.
According to his biography on his campaign website, http://www.engardio.com, Engardio grew up in Saginaw, Michigan and was raised by a single mother and his grandmother. He graduated from Michigan State University and pursued a career in journalism.
He moved to San Francisco in 1998 and his coverage of Tom Ammiano's insurgent but ultimately unsuccessful mayoral campaign in 1999 won him a local press club award. He later went to work for the ACLU and produced videos on plaintiffs involved in the group's litigation.
Since returning from Cambridge Engardio has done some consulting work but is now focused fully on his campaign. Last November he went to Houston for a candidate training that the Victory Fund hosted and last month earned the national group's backing.
"It adds a lot of legitimacy to my campaign," said Engardio.
He has created an extensive campaign site online and has started posting videos on various issues. The first two focused on tree maintenance and dogs.
He acknowledges he doesn't have strong ties to many community groups. Being a journalist also meant that he did not belong to local civic organizations.
"I wasn't allowed to join these clubs but I have been observing San Francisco from a journalist's perspective so I am not a stranger to it at all," he said.
He did join the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club and said he considers himself a moderate politically.
"I am socially quite progressive," said Engardio. "Where I am moderate is on fiscal responsibility and attention to the budget. I am wanting government to be more efficient and more innovative."
Right now he is trying to knock on 10,000 doors in the district as he tries to raise his name recognition with voters.
"Voters getting to know me face to face will make all the difference," he said.
Engardio isn't the only out supervisor candidate who will be campaigning in the city's western neighborhoods this year. District 5 Supervisor Christina Olague , a bisexual Latina, represents the Inner Sunset and parts of the UCSF Medical Center campus around Mount Sutro.
They are both watching to see what the final boundaries for supervisor districts will be as a redistricting task force works to meet an early April deadline to produce final maps.<
The panel will host a special meeting focused on District 8 at 6 p.m. tonight (Thursday, March 1) at Everett Middle School, 450 Church Street.
Castro merchants set to elect new president
A Castro merchant group is set to elect Terry Asten Bennett, whose family has long owned Cliff's Variety, as its new president. Her nomination for the post will be put forward this morning (Thursday, March 1) and is expected to be approved in April.
Asten Bennett is the great-great-granddaughter of Hilario DeBaca, who opened the general merchandise and hardware store in 1936. She currently works as its general manager.
The Merchants of Upper Market and Castro is expected to vote on a slate of new officers and board members at is April 5 meeting. Asten Bennett has been a MUMC board member and will succeed Steve Adams, who has been president for several years.
Adams, who works for Sterling Bank and Trust, announced last fall he would step down once his one-year term expired. He will remain on the MUMC board.
Petyr Kane , the owner of clothing stores Citizen and Body who helped bring the recent AIDS quilt display to the LGBT neighborhood, is running to become MUMC's new vice president. He will succeed Urban Bread owner Tina Roberts.
As president, Asten Bennett said she has no plans to re-address how MUMC handles the rainbow flag flying over the Castro. When the gigantic symbol of LGBT rights is lowered to honor the deceased or temporarily replaced with other LGBT flags has been a flashpoint over the last year.
"The MUMC board as a whole has worked diligently on the flagpole policy over the last year. I have no intention of changing what the board as a whole has agreed to," she told the B.A.R.
Her top priority will be seeing that the Castro is a vibrant business corridor.
"I plan to continue the focus of making the Castro and Upper Market area a vital shopping district that can drive foot-steps to all of our doors. I will assist in anyway possible in ensuring that we can fill vacancies, because I truly believe that empty store fronts are bad for everyone's business," she said.
Asten Bennett is married to Richard Bennett Jr. and the couple's daughter Camille attends the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy in the Castro.
Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check http://www.ebar.com Monday mornings around 11 a.m. for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column reported on the entrance of a gay Republican from West Hollywood into a heated state Assembly race.
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Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 861-5019 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.