San Francisco supervisors elect Peskin as board president

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Monday January 9, 2023
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District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin was elected president of the Board of Supervisors after 17 ballots Monday, January 9. Photo: Courtesy Aaron Peskin
District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin was elected president of the Board of Supervisors after 17 ballots Monday, January 9. Photo: Courtesy Aaron Peskin

The divisions among the San Francisco Board of Supervisors were on full display Monday as the 11 members voted to elect one of their own as board president for the next two years. After three supervisors were initially nominated for the powerful post, but no one emerged the winner after 12 votes, District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin emerged as the consensus candidate.

Though it took five more votes to elect him board president for a third time in the position. He was elected after 17 rounds on a 7-4 vote after gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman effectively dropped out of the running by voting for Peskin on the 16th vote.

"Much is made in the media about the alleged toxicity on this body, but I have to say that has not been my experience," said Peskin. "We have differences, but I have found, even in the heat of debate, it has been a pleasure to work with my colleagues. I consider all to be my friends and look forward to work with you in a balanced way."

The board's progressives had split between District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton, who was elected president two years ago as the first Black man to wield the board gavel, and District 1 Supervisor Connie Chan, an immigrant woman of color. District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen had nominated Walton, while nominating Chan was District 7 Supervisor Myrna Melgar, also an immigrant woman of color.

The board's moderates backed Mandelman, whose name had also been floated three years ago to be president. District 2 Supervisor Catherine Stefani had nominated Mandelman, who would have been the first out board president since 2002, when former gay District 9 Supervisor Tom Ammiano passed on the gavel in early January of that year.

In 12 rounds of voting Melgar and Chan both voted for Chan, while the rest of the progressives — Ronen, Walton, Peskin, Dean Preston (District 5), and Ahsha Safaí (District 11) — voted for Walton. Joining Mandelman in voting for him to become president were Stefani and gay Supervisors Matt Dorsey (District 6) and Joel Engardio (District 4).

At an impasse, Chan asked for nominations to be reopened, seconded by Peskin. With all but Dorsey and Engardio in support, the motion passed and Peskin nominated himself to once again be board president. He served in the role from 2005 through the start of 2009, while he had bowed out of the presidency contest in 2003 after the board had also deadlocked between three candidates.

"This was not on my list of things to do today, but I don't want to get to that magic 15," said Peskin, referring to the drawn out vote last week to elect Republican Congressmember Kevin McCarthy of California speaker of the House. "I am going to do something I have not done in 20 years and nominate myself in an attempt to break this logjam."

Mandelman then asked for a "bathroom break," and the board reconvened after a 10-minute break. Yet on the 13th vote, Peskin received no votes as the outcome remained the same with five for Walton, four for Mandelman, and two for Chan.

On the 14th vote Chan and Melgar threw their votes to Peskin, who voted for himself. But the other eight supervisors remained split between Walton and Mandelman. The 4-4-3 split outcome remained the same on the 15th vote.

Mandelman then voted for Peskin on the 16th vote, giving him four votes, while his three backers stuck with him and the other four remained with Walton. Ronen then asked for a five-minute recess.

When the board reconvened, the trio of gay supervisors along with Stefani threw their support behind Peskin, who once again voted for himself along with Chan and Melgar. The remaining four supervisors again voted for Walton.

Dorsey noted that 16 years ago then mayor Gavin Newsom, now the state's governor, had remarked on Peskin's "remarkable ability" to bring the supervisors together as board president.

"I still agree," he said, "I am proud to be supporting him for president and urge my colleagues to do so."

Recalling how former District 4 supervisor Katy Tang had worked well with Peskin years ago on passing a balanced city budget, Engardio said he looked forward to working collaboratively with Peskin this year on the budget at a time when the city is forecasting several years of deficit.

"I care about the budget," said Engardio. "I look forward working with someone as seasoned on the budget as Peskin. The budget is probably the most important thing we will work on this year."

The board presidency vote came after San Francisco Superior Court Presiding Judge Anne-Christine Massullo administered the oath of office to the five winners of the even-numbered supervisor districts in the fall election. With the retention of Mandelman and Dorsey in their seats, and the election of Engardio to his westside seat, the board for the first time has three gay men serving together on it.

It is also the first time there has been a trio of LGBTQ supervisors in the city since 2012. While LGBTQ leaders hailed the milestone, they also noted more work is needed to elect a more diverse contingent of LGBTQ supervisor candidates since the current trio is comprised of all white men.

"It's definitely a historic moment and I am very excited to see we were able to expand our representation on the board. But there is more work to be done to see it is a much more diverse representation," said outgoing Alice B. Toklas LGBTQ Democratic Club co-chair Gary McCoy.

Considered a potential candidate for the District 8 seat in 2026, McCoy told the B.A.R. when asked about his electoral plans at Mandelman's January 6 community swearing in ceremony, "I will get back to you on that."

Another potential District 8 candidate, former Mandelman legislative aide Tom Temprano, emceed his former boss' event last Friday. Now political director for Equality California, which works to elect LGBTQ people to office across the state, Temprano noted to the B.A.R. that just a few years ago there was concern about seeing no LGBTQ supervisor serving in San Francisco for the first time since the late gay supervisor Harvey Milk's historic election in 1977 as the first LGBTQ community leader to secure a board seat. (Then numbered District 5, much of Milk's seat is now within Mandelman's District 8 boundaries.)

"It sends a strong message that in San Francisco, a seat at the table for LGBTQ people is important, especially with the LGBTQ community under attack," said Temprano. "We need to continue to diversify LGBTQ representation, of course, but we should be celebrating this historic representation."

Andrea Aiello, a lesbian who is executive director of the Castro Community Benefit District, also recalled the concern of a few years ago at the dwindling number of LGBTQ supervisors in the city when the B.A.R. spoke with her at Mandelman's event. Excited at the prospect of working with all three gay supervisors this year, Aiello added that she doesn't expect them to agree on every single issue.

"It is great that we know have people representing the LGBTQ community from all sides of the city and not just the Castro. But I don't expect them to all vote the same because they have to represent their constituents," she said. "It shows that LGBTQ people are moving all over the city. I think we will have more sway and votes on the board, but I don't expect them to be a voting bloc. I look forward to working with all of them."

Joseph Sweiss, a queer man who hails from a Christian Orthodox Arab household, served as Dorsey's campaign manager. He told the B.A.R. Sunday at his swearing in ceremony that Dorsey's election to a full term "still feels surreal."

He added that "it is even more surreal for us, in 2023, to see not one, not two, but three gay supervisors" serving in San Francisco.

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