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SF Could See No Out Supervisor Come 2017

by Matthew S. Bajko

Gay District 7 candidate Joel Engardio.
Gay District 7 candidate Joel Engardio.  (Source:Rick Gerharter)

For the first time in nearly four decades, there is a remote possibility of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors having no LGBT members come January 2017.

Since Harvey Milk's election in 1977 as the first out person to serve on the board, there has been at least one LGBT supervisor. Following Milk's death in 1978, Harry Britt was named as his successor and was re-elected to his seat throughout the 1980s.

The first out lesbians elected to the board came in 1990, with the victories of Roberta Achtenberg and Carole Migden. At certain times since, there have been at most three out supervisors serving on the 11-member board (though no transgender person has ever served and just one bisexual person has).

Now, due to term limits, the outcome of a state Senate race and several supervisor contests, the fall general election could result in zero LGBT supervisors on the board. Under such a scenario, Mayor Ed Lee would face enormous pressure to name an LGBT person to fill a board vacancy.

(District 11 Supervisor John Avalos has floated placing a ballot measure before voters in November that would strip the mayor of his power to fill board vacancies. Instead, he could only name a placeholder who would be barred from running for the seat when the election is held to serve out the remainder of the term.)

"We live in interesting times. While it is true that our LGBT allies in elected office have done amazing things on our behalf, and I don't advocate for an endorsement based solely on identity, it is very true that it is still difficult for LGBT persons to get elected in San Francisco to office, and that we need to give an extra push of support to overcome hurdles," noted Gabriel Haaland, a transgender man and longtime political director of Service Employees International Union Local 1021. "In particular, LGBT people of color face even more challenges."

What is without doubt this election cycle is gay District 9 Supervisor David Campos will be termed off the board in early January. And for the first time since the switch back to district elections in 2000, no LGBT person is expected to run for Campos' seat representing the Mission district.

As for the state Senate contest, gay District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener is running against District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim. The District 11 Senate seat, which covers all of San Francisco and a portion of northern San Mateo County, is currently held by gay state Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco).

Should Wiener win, he would be sworn into the legislative office in early December. It would then be up to the mayor to name his replacement to the District 8 seat, which covers the gay Castro district and is considered to be the board's LGBT seat.

Gay college board member Alex Randolph and lesbian library commissioner Zoe Dunning are both considered to be possible picks, though many expect Randolph has an edge.

Neither of the mayor's two female board appointees, including bisexual former District 5 Supervisor Christina Olague , was able to win election to their seats. And no lesbian candidate has ever won election to the District 8 seat.

"It is almost unthinkable for the mayor to have to appoint to this historically LGBT seat and to choose a non-LGBT person. I would find it hard to believe, but you never know," said Tom Temprano , a gay man and Mission bar owner who plans to run again this year for a city college board seat after falling short in his bid last year against Randolph.

In the case of Kim winning the Senate race, then Lee will likely face calls to name the city's first transgender supervisor as her replacement. District 6 includes the Tenderloin and South of Market, two neighborhoods long the home for many of the city's transgender residents.

Under that election result, Wiener would still have two more years on the board. And depending on the outcome of this year's supervisor races, one or more out candidates could join him.

With Avalos also unable to run again due to term limits, lesbian union organizer Kimberly Alvarenga is running for his seat covering the city's southern neighborhoods of the Excelsior, Ingleside, Oceanview, Outer Mission, and Crocker-Amazon. She faces a strong challenge, however, from Ahsha Safai , who is also a union official and lost to Avalos in 2008.

Her potentially being the first lesbian elected to the board since 2000 is already drawing Alvarenga interest within the city's LGBT community. The Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club invited her to take part on a recent panel it hosted about the lack of women in elected office, allowing its members a chance to learn more about her campaign.

The more progressive Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club is set to early endorse her in the race at its meeting this month. Temprano, a former Milk club president, said among the myriad reasons he supports her campaign is that since he has lived in the city there has not been a lesbian supervisor.

It is "unthinkable," he added, "you would be looking at a Board of Supervisors having as little as one LGBT person, let alone zero, in a city known globally for having led on LGBT representation."
District 7 Supervisor Norman Yee. Photo: Rick Gerharter

The only other odd-numbered supervisor race this year that has drawn an out candidate, to date, is in District 7 west of Twin Peaks. As incumbent Supervisor Norman Yee seeks a second four-year term, gay local Democratic Party official Joel Engardio is again running against him. In their 2012 race, Engardio landed in fourth place.

"While some may say it isn't possible, I believe that District 7 is ready to elect an openly gay supervisor for the first time," Engardio told the B.A.R. "My husband and I live in a neighborhood where half the voters supported the Prop 8 ban of same-sex marriage in 2008. This was the old District 7. But look at every home in District 7 that has changed hands after decades of ownership and you see a new, increasingly diverse District 7 that is looking more toward the future than the past."

Engardio added that it "won't be the end of the world" if there was a gap in having LGBT representation on the supervisors "for a time," especially if one or more of the straight mothers running for supervisor this year are elected.

"But if we're going to have at least one LGBT supervisor, it would say a lot if they were elected in the western or southwestern neighborhoods, given the history of those areas not being the most LGBT-friendly," he added.


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