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Trans SFMTA nominee rejected by Board of Supervisors

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Jane Natoli. Photo: Courtesy Jane Natoli
Jane Natoli. Photo: Courtesy Jane Natoli  

Jane Natoli, a trans woman who was nominated by Mayor London Breed for a seat on the powerful San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency's board of directors, was rejected by the Board of Supervisors Tuesday.

The August 18 vote was 4-6, after some discussion by supervisors who were concerned over opposition that materialized since Natoli was recommended 3-0 by the board's rules committee August 10.

District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar, who voted for Natoli in the rules committee hearing, changed his vote Tuesday, saying he could not ignore community concerns.

Several organizations sent letters of opposition to the board, including the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club, United To Save The Mission, the Housing Rights Committee, and the Rose Pak Democratic Club.

While stating that he had "great respect" for Natoli, a former board member of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, Mar said he needed to take into account equity issues surrounding the city's public transportation system.

District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who also voted for Natoli at rules but did not commit to supporting her at Tuesday's full board meeting, said she was "going out quite on a limb" in supporting Natoli.

But Ronen's affirmative vote was not enough, as most of the board's progressive members: Supervisors Aaron Peskin, Norman Yee, Sandra Lee Fewer, Dean Preston, and Shamann Walton voted against Natoli, in addition to Mar.

Supervisors Matt Haney, Rafael Mandelman, and Catherine Stefani voted for Natoli, in addition to Ronen.

Supervisor Ahsha Safai was absent.

Natoli said she was "disappointed in the outcome."

"I was looking forward to contributing as a board member but the work continues regardless, irrelevant of one vote," she wrote in an email to the Bay Area Reporter.

Breed blasted the supervisors' vote.

"The Board of Supervisors' decision to reject the nomination of Jane Natoli for the SFMTA Board is a deeply cynical move that represents what is wrong with San Francisco politics," Breed said in a statement. "And let's be clear, this is simply about politics."

Breed criticized the fact that Natoli waited over 100 days for her hearing.

"During this time, the SFMTA board could barely make a quorum while the SFMTA is having to make countless difficult decisions as a result of COVID-19," the mayor stated. "When Jane finally received a hearing, the board did not question her qualifications, in fact she received a unanimously positive recommendation in her committee hearing.

"Jane is a transit rider, a bicycle rider, and a transportation advocate who is well-respected for her advocacy. She would have been the first trans director in the history of the SFMTA board, bringing a unique perspective that the SFMTA board has never had before. But the supervisors decided that their political differences with her are more important than having qualified directors on the SFMTA board."

The Alice B. Toklas LGBTQ Democratic Club, which had supported Natoli's nomination, wrote in a Facebook post Wednesday that it was "disappointed" in the supervisors' vote.

This failure comes at a time when the national Democratic Party is working to unite moderates and progressives against one of the greatest threats to ever face our democracy," the club wrote. "It is frustrating that the Board of Supervisors was unable to similarly come together to support the nomination of a qualified trans woman to the MTA Board — especially at a time when that agency is in dire straits and its governing board is not able to make a quorum. In the candidacy of Jane Natoli the Board of Supervisors had an opportunity to champion both greater trans representation and vital oversight for an integral city department facing monumental challenges, instead it did neither — a big mistake."

During the board's discussion, Stefani said that she supported Natoli.

"I appreciate all of the things she brings to the table," she said, mentioning gender harassment on Muni and community outreach work.

"I am certain that Ms. Natoli will be a forceful voice for women and the LGBT community," Stefani said before the vote.

Peskin said that while he worked on past legislation to give SFMTA more power, "accountability is key."

"It gives us a heightened responsibility to the communities we serve," he said.

Ronen pointed out that with one exception, none of the groups expressing opposition to Natoli's appointment phoned in to comment during the recent rules committee hearing. At that hearing she did mention a letter she received from the Milk club.

She added that Natoli was "quite knowledgeable" at the rules committee hearing, in contrast to when Ronen first met with her months ago. Natoli was nominated by Breed in April but her hearing at rules was delayed for months while the committee heard matters on the fall ballot measures.

Breed said the rejection of Natoli sends the wrong message.

"We should be thankful that people are willing to provide their expertise and serve our city," the mayor stated. "The message that the Board of Supervisors continues to send is that it does not matter if you are qualified, in order to serve San Francisco you must be aligned with them politically."

Updated, 8/18/20: This story has been updated with comments from Ms. Natoli and Mayor Breed.

Updated, 8/19/20: This article has been updated with a statement from the Alice B. Toklas LGBTQ Democratic Club.

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