square off at debate
by Chris Carson
The first of what is likely to be many forums among the candidates for District 5 supervisor was held Wednesday, August 8, at the public library's Park Branch. If nothing else came from the evening, which was more about candidates introducing themselves to voters and jockeying for the District 5 Democratic Club endorsement than heated discussion on the issues, a few of them inadvertently came up with some great campaign slogans.
They could go something like this, and be posted on fliers and posters from the far corner of Lincoln Way to the end of Geary and in the Haight: John Rizzo, he's been caught on Muni in the tunnel for half an hour. Julian Davis keeps it real. And finally, Christina Olague is thrilled and excited to be serving the community as District 5 supervisor.
Though running to maintain her seat in City Hall, Olague is just like the other candidates in that she has never been elected to the Board of Supervisors.
Instead, Mayor Ed Lee appointed her to the position after her predecessor, Ross Mirkarimi, was sworn in as sheriff in January. (He was subsequently suspended after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor and is now fighting for his job.) According to campaign fundraising reports published earlier this month, Olague has raised more than $80,000 between January and June 2012, more than all but one other candidate.
But recent news stories report that Olague's standing with other San Francisco progressives may be less than ideal and she is running in the city's most liberal district. In July, Matt Gonzalez, former District 5 supervisor, and the one responsible for appointing Olague to the Planning Commission several years ago, withdrew his endorsement of her.
She's also taken criticism from some voters for supporting the 8 Washington project, which would allow the building of high-rise condos near the Embarcadero. Some opponents of the project were at the debate handing out posters, hoping Olague would reconsider her decision and follow "her inclination," instead of being influenced by the mayor, they said.
Olague had some supporters there as well, like Michael Dane, a gay man working with the San Francisco medical cannabis movement to ensure safe access for people living with HIV and AIDS. Dane said that many of his friends being treated for HIV and AIDS "are going underground to get" the marijuana they need to combat side effects from medications.
Dane said he was concerned by the loss of dispensaries in District 5, like the Vapor Room which closed at the end of July, and he wanted to know if the other candidates will make the effort to protect safe access. Olague, he said, "I know will do it."
In opening comments Olague said that as president of the Planning Commission, and now as District 5 supervisor, she's worked to improve conditions in communities of color, protect small business, and protect safe access.
Olague said it is sad to see "good" dispensaries shut their doors, because they provide so many positive things to communities, not least of which is medicine.
"I think in this debate one of the things that a lot of people forget is medical cannabis is exactly that, it is medicine, and there are patients that need it," she said.
For that reason, Olague said she "full-heartedly supports safe access to medical cannabis and the San Francisco medical cannabis program."
Candidate John Rizzo echoed Olague's support for medical cannabis, calling the crackdowns on local dispensaries by the federal government "unfortunate." But Rizzo saved some of his most passionate responses for the issue of pedestrian deaths on San Francisco streets.
Rizzo told the Bay Area Reporter before the debate started that, while he currently serves as president of the Board of Trustees at City College of San Francisco and is a member of the Sierra Club working to restore millions to the city's Go Solar SF program, he does have the time and energy to run a campaign for supervisor.
When asked if the criminal justice system has adequately responded to cases involving pedestrian deaths, Rizzo responded, "No. I don't think the city or the police department take pedestrian injuries seriously."
He added that the number of pedestrian deaths and injuries will only go up in the coming years and San Francisco "has no plan to reduce it."
"There needs to be some attention focused here, some study, and some metrics developed and some data collected to find out what is going on here," Rizzo said. "I don't think anyone has the answer to it. But we won't have the answer to it until we start looking for the answer."
London Breed is considered a strong candidate in the race, and was mentioned as a possible pick for the District 5 seat that ultimately went to Olague. She grew up in the Western Addition and received a master's degree from the University of San Francisco. Some high profile endorsements – from state Attorney General Kamala Harris and state Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) – have helped Breed raise more campaign funds then any other candidate so far.
When asked what could be done about vacant properties in District 5, Breed, a former member of the Redevelopment Commission and currently executive director of the African American Arts and Culture Complex, said she had the experience needed to eliminate what she called "sad sources of blight" like the empty Harding Theater on Divisadero, or the old Muni substation at Turk and Fillmore.
"It takes someone who will bring members of the community together with property owners to come up with real solutions that make sense for the people most impacted by areas of blight," Breed said.
A big part of Breed's campaign is working to ensure the different communities in San Francisco can represent themselves. On her website, she writes, "As supervisor, I would nominate members of the LGBT community to sit on commissions, ensuring LGBT folks have a voice and are given fair opportunity to represent their community."
Candidate Julian Davis got his start in local politics from now-state Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) working for him when he served in the Assembly. Davis served six years on the San Francisco Housing Development Corporation. His platform of keeping San Francisco "real" by supporting local businesses, keeping housing affordable, and adding more bikes than cars to the streets, resonated with at least one city resident at the debate.
Danielle Erville, a visual artist, said that Davis appealed to her because he "represents people over profits."
"You want to preserve the businesses that give a district its flavor," she said.
Davis is all about preserving the flavor of San Francisco.
"This should always be a city where every day people have a chance to survive and thrive here," he said.
But because of what he called, "rogue development interests that are controlling the agenda in City Hall," a vision for the future is being created for San Francisco that includes "the ultra-rich," not the people who were at the debate.
How does City Hall get away with it? Davis asked.
"By choosing your leaders for you. Over the past two years we have seen an appointed mayor, an appointed district attorney, an appointed sheriff, and an appointed District 5 supervisor," he said.
That's not participatory government, Davis said.
Davis's mild dig at Olague there was the closest it came to what Erville called a "good old fashioned debate" that night.
In the end, the D5 Democratic Club did a ranked choice endorsement of Breed, Davis, and Olague.
Other candidates at the debate included Thea Selby, Andrew Resignato, Daniel Everett, and Hope Johnson.