Queer candidates spar at SF District 9 supervisor debate

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Thursday January 18, 2024
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Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club President Jeffrey Kwong, left, welcomed District 9 supervisor candidates Trevor Chandler, Roberto Hernandez, Jaime Gutierrez, Julian Bermudez, Jackie Fielder, and Stephen Torres to the January 17 debate at El Rio. Photo: John Ferrannini
Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club President Jeffrey Kwong, left, welcomed District 9 supervisor candidates Trevor Chandler, Roberto Hernandez, Jaime Gutierrez, Julian Bermudez, Jackie Fielder, and Stephen Torres to the January 17 debate at El Rio. Photo: John Ferrannini

Sparks flew between two of the three queer candidates present at a January 17 debate for those running for San Francisco District 9 supervisor over the war in Gaza and antisemitism at home.

The forum was held at the El Rio bar and nightclub on Mission Street — the district covers the Mission, Portola, and Bernal Heights neighborhoods. It was hosted by the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club among other local political groups. As many as 200 people packed the bar's patio to watch.

Current District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen is termed out. Four years ago she ran unopposed for reelection. This time, there is a crowded field to replace her.

At one point, when the candidates could question one another, Jackie Fielder, a queer woman, took on Trevor Chandler, a gay man, about his time as a community outreach director for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, mentioning political endorsements it made in 2022 of congressional Republicans who had refused to certify the 2020 election results on January 6, 2021, and who oppose same-sex marriage.

"Trevor has been quoted as being proud of the fact that he can work with people like Mike Pence to get $1 billion in taxpayer dollars to Israel," Fielder said, referring to the former vice president. "Twenty-three thousand Palestinians are dead."

On October 7, Hamas terrorists went into Israel and killed 1,200 people in the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust. Israel responded with an extensive bombing campaign in the Gaza Strip, governed by Hamas, and a ground invasion, which has led to the deaths of at least 23,000 Palestinians, according to media reports, making it the deadliest conflict in the region in over four decades.

Fielder also criticized Chandler's characterization that the San Francisco Board of Supervisors' resolution backing a ceasefire in Gaza, which passed 8-3 January 9, was a "do nothing" resolution.

"I've talked to people in this district who have lost family in Gaza as recently as last week," Fielder said.

Responded Chandler: "I have spent more time in the West Bank than anyone on this stage negotiating and talking with the head of the —"

Chandler couldn't finish because he was cut off by boos from the audience.

Fielder then asked Chandler if he would have voted for the resolution. He responded by criticizing the behavior of some of the individuals who showed up to City Hall, particularly during the time devoted to public comment during the board's rules committee meeting January 8.

"When I saw outright denials of the use of sexual violence and rape, when I saw that I would not have associated myself with that and I would have voted against it," he said. "Would I have associated myself with people who make pig noises at Jewish residents? No."

According to a video of the supervisors' rules committee meeting, where the ceasefire resolution was discussed, some people in the board chamber used pig noises and made devil horns with their hands while a Jewish man, who said he lost cousins on October 7, spoke.

Later, Chandler noted his work on campaigns nationwide to legalize same-sex marriage as part of his time with the Human Rights Campaign, a national LGBTQ rights organization.

Chandler reiterated his position to the Bay Area Reporter after the debate.

"What has become sadly clear is that for too many calling for a ceasefire is that it isn't about this war but whether Israel should even exist, which I find abhorrent and unacceptable," he stated. "After witnessing the behavior of those advocating for the resolution, heckling those expressing concerns about rising antisemitism and denying the proven use of rape as a weapon by Hamas, there is no way I would have associated myself with them and would have voted against the resolution."

Candidates talk drug overdose, housing crises

The other candidates running for District 9 supervisor who were at the forum are Stephen Torres, a queer man who used to be on the Castro LGBTQ Cultural District board and the city's entertainment commission and who works at Twin Peaks Tavern on Castro Street; Roberto Hernandez, whose work with the Carnaval festival and as founder of the Mission Food Hub has earned him the honorific "Mayor of the Mission;" Jaime Gutierrez, who works for the San Francisco Municipal Railway; and Julian Bermudez, a veteran who has lived and worked in the district his whole life.

If there was one thing the candidates agreed upon, it's that the city and the Mission are on the wrong track.

"Having been a kid raised here, I am sad and I am angry and I am hurt that our city has turned into what it is today and it is unfortunate and enough is enough," Hernandez said. "I believe we collectively can take over City Hall and take our city back."

But that was where the agreement ended — as the candidates presented widely divergent views on how to handle the housing crisis, the drug overdose crisis, and small businesses.

Fielder said, "We have no way for people to access free, on-demand treatment" who are on fentanyl. Until then, she said, it's a red herring to ask if people should be forced into treatment.

The city just recorded its worst year for overdoses in 2023, with 806 accidental drug deaths, most of them due to fentanyl, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

"We have completely failed every single person in San Francisco who has died of any overdose," Fielder said, noting last year's record-breaking number of over 800 overdoses. "You know why? It's because we have continued this failed policy-based approach based on fear. ... We have to invest in treatment and services."

Chandler's platform centered on what he called "safe and clean streets." He supports arresting fentanyl dealers and said many of the city's problems harken back to the street conditions, including open-air drug markets and drug use.

There were also differences of opinion on harm reduction, which is a range of intentional practices designed to lessen the negative consequences associated with drug use. Torres and Chandler both brought Narcan to share with the other candidates so they can carry it on their persons and administer it if they run into someone experiencing a drug overdose. Narcan is an opioid overdose treatment that is available over-the-counter and administered by those who carry it with them.

But while Torres noted he also works at a safe consumption site (referring to the bar, which serves alcohol), Chandler said he doesn't think harm reduction is enough. He also made a jab at Fielder.

"When someone has been in this race for 250 days without putting out a single plan about how they would solve the opioid epidemic, ask them why," he said.

When asked what he would tell a small business considering leaving San Francisco, Chandler said, "I've had hundreds of these conversations."

"The No. 1 thing small businesses tell me they want is 'we want safe and clean streets so we can have the foot traffic necessary to stay in business,'" Chandler said. "We have some of the most littered streets in the entire city and we need to hold DPW [Public Works] accountable."

Asked the same question, Torres said that the city's small businesses are suffering because downtown interests prioritize big business over neighborhoods thriving.

"Nobody feels ownership over their communities right now," Torres said. "We've gotten here for many different reasons and we owe it to our small business community to uplift them and center them. Since things are being streamlined and deregulated, our small businesses are in a bigger crisis than they've ever been in."

Hernandez also talked about community, saying that it needs to become more feasible for people to buy houses in the neighborhoods in which they grew up.

"We fought and fought and fought and saved 17,000 people from being evicted, yet we lost 10,000 people," Hernandez said. "That was criminal in this city. We need a first-time home buyer program so they're not vulnerable at all from being evicted."

Gutierrez agreed that the sense of community needs to be restored by improving people's economic opportunities.

"The cost of living keeps rising and the standard of living keeps falling, so we have to offer hope to these people and give them jobs," he said. "It was easier to come and make your way in this city [in the past]. Now, it's 'hooray for me and eff you' around here, and it sucks."

All of the candidates said they'd preserve district elections in some form — former supervisor, mayoral candidate, and superior court judge Quentin Kopp proposed last year a charter amendment that would allow every San Francisco voter to vote in each of the 11 supervisorial districts.

Chandler was notable in saying that he'd prefer a hybrid model of supervisors elected citywide and by district.

"I believe in a hybrid model," he said. "I believe the mayor should not be the only one thinking citywide and we need a check on the mayor."

The candidates also said they'd seek to bridge the gap between the Asian American Pacific Islander and Latino communities, which each representing one-fifth of the district's population, Fielder said.

"The Asian community and the Latinx community in the Mission-Portola area have similar issues," Bermudez said. "The difference is the language. We're hard working, traditional families trying to make by. I'm willing to extend a hand to anyone who would like to help me connect with the Asian community."

Fielder and Torres said they would not vote for Mayor London Breed to be reelected. They were the only two to directly answer the question, posed by gay Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club President Jeffrey Kwong.

Michael Petrelis, a gay man who is also running for D9 supervisor, was not at the debate. The Milk club had initially left him off when it didn't see his name on the candidate list from the ethics commission, club officials said. By the time the club realized the oversight, Petrelis said he had another commitment and could not attend.

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