Political Notebook: Gay leader launches bid for SF District 9 supervisor

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday April 18, 2023
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Trevor Chandler, left, a candidate for District 9 supervisor in San Francisco, visited a park with his fiancé, Adrian Chang, and their dogs, Juliet and Milos. Photo: Courtesy Trevor Chandler
Trevor Chandler, left, a candidate for District 9 supervisor in San Francisco, visited a park with his fiancé, Adrian Chang, and their dogs, Juliet and Milos. Photo: Courtesy Trevor Chandler

Relatively unknown outside of LGBTQ political circles, and a white candidate running for a seat San Francisco Latino leaders want to reclaim, Trevor Chandler is launching his bid for District 9 supervisor 19 months before voters will cast ballots in the race. By doing so, the gay leader aims to spend this year addressing the various hurdles he will face as a candidate.

"For me, the clear challenge I am dealing with is lack of name recognition. It is why I wanted to get started early," Chandler, 36, told the Bay Area Reporter in an exclusive interview about his candidacy. "I am not naïve. I know what my main challenge will be so I want to start heading out there and knocking on doors."

District 9 covers the heavily Latino Mission district and had more of the Mission Dolores neighborhood added to it as part of last year's redistricting process at the request of Latino leaders and others due to its historical significance to the Latino community. Doing so also incorporated more of the American Indian Cultural District into the supervisorial district.

The incumbent, Supervisor Hillary Ronen, a straight ally, is term limited from running again next year. She succeeded her boss, gay former supervisor David Campos, after being elected in 2016.

Campos had succeeded gay former supervisor Tom Ammiano, who departed in 2008 after being elected to the state Assembly. First elected citywide, Ammiano was assigned to the District 9 seat in 2000 when the supervisors reverted back to being elected by district.

Thus, while gay men have historically held the seat, the current Board of Supervisors is not lacking in LGBTQ representation. After the elections last year of Supervisors Joel Engardio in District 4 and Matt Dorsey in District 6, there are now three gay white men serving on the board, as District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman easily won reelection to a second term last November. (Chandler had endorsed both Dorsey and Mandelman but said he didn't actively campaign for any candidate last year.)

The election of a fourth out supervisor would be historic in San Francisco, as the most LGBTQ people to serve on the board at one time has been three. But having none be a person of color blunts any argument supporters of Chandler's candidacy make for having him help reach that milestone, especially if an out Black, Latino, or other LGBTQ person of color decides to enter the District 9 supervisor race.

"I totally respect those concerns and I look forward to having those conversations," said Chandler. "The case I am going to be making is based on my views, and not discounting or disparaging anyone who might be skeptical of me being another white gay guy."

As an associate regional field director for national LGBTQ advocacy organization the Human Rights Campaign, Chandler spent six years working to elect queer people to public office across the country. He currently sits on the advisory board for statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization Equality California.

"I will be talking to every person, even those skeptical of me. It is a great San Francisco problem to have that we are concerned about having over a third of our Board of Supervisors being queer people," said Chandler. "I think we can always do better at being more diverse."

Currently just one Latina serves on the board, District 7 Supervisor Myrna Melgar, who fled El Salvador's civil war as a child in the 1980s. She is up for reelection next year.

Chandler officially launched his campaign Tuesday, with the rollout of a video and his campaign website going live.

Running as a progressive

As for the city's political divide between progressive and moderate Democrats, Ronen is aligned with progressives, as were Campos and Ammiano. Chandler will be seen as a moderate, particularly for his support of the recalls last year of three of the city's progressive school board members and district attorney.

Nonetheless, Chandler told the B.A.R. he is running as a progressive. And he pointed to the fact that the school board recall had majority support in all of District 9's voting precincts.

"I am not naïve to the camps you are talking about. People will call me whatever they will call me," said Chandler. "They should compare me to their record of knocking on doors and electing progressive candidates and passing progressive laws."

A native of Laconia, New Hampshire, and a Plymouth University graduate, Chandler worked for former Democratic congressmember Paul Hodes of his home state after college. He served as campaign director on Hodes' unsuccessful U.S. Senate bid in 2010.

That year "was a Republican year. We were destroyed," recalled Chandler.

It also brought to power in the Granite State a conservative GOP Legislature, leading Chandler to pivot to fighting for LGBTQ rights with HRC. He "lived out of a suitcase" throughout the East Coast working in a number of states until being sent out to Minnesota to help defeat efforts to ban same-sex marriage and then to enact it into law in 2015.

From there he relocated to Portland, Oregon, to wage another marriage equality battle. By late 2016, he had moved to San Francisco and took a job with the newly formed group AIPAC, which promotes ties between the U.S. and Israel.

"I have been proud to play a key role in both the fight for the freedom to marry as well as for the rights of the trans community, with seven marriage equality campaigns and numerous other civil rights efforts," Chandler told the B.A.R.

He switched gears from politics to tech last year and went to work for the public safety app Citizen as its director of government affairs and public policy. But in January he was laid off, leading him to decide to seek elected office years before he ever had contemplated doing so.

"Putting myself on the ballot was never something I ever imagined I would be doing, especially not this early in my life. I had always thought maybe when I was retired," said Chandler, who is in the process of becoming a substitute teacher for the city's public school district. "I am without a job and able to take a breath and see a path separate from a career where I could make a difference."

Chandler and his fiancé, Adrian Chang, have been renters in the Mission for two years and live with their rescue Pitbull Juliet and Milos, a tri-paw Chihuahua terrier. They plan to marry this fall at Mission Street restaurant Foreign Cinema.

During his eight years as a San Francisco resident, Chandler has lived in numerous neighborhoods, including Nob Hill and the Tenderloin. As a gay teenager, he never imagined living in the city.

"It is a wild dream come together," he said.

Last year, Governor Gavin Newsom named Chandler to the California State Board of Pharmacy, on which he has served since September. Having no professional experience as a pharmacist or in the pharmaceutical industry is why Chandler believes he was chosen for the statewide oversight role.

"Because I am an outsider, someone who knows the game but I work from the outside to fix things," said Chandler. "I have built a reputation as a fixer and someone who can see big problems. I can untangle big knots, and if they can't be untangled, I can figure out how to cut through the knots."

What he does have experience in is addiction, as Chandler is a recovering alcoholic with seven years of sobriety. He told the B.A.R. it provides him with "a unique perspective" into the opiate drug crisis and the role the pharmaceutical industry played in it.

Chandler said he worked with Assemblymember Matt Haney (D-San Francisco) on his Assembly Bill 1286 that, among other requirements, would ensure adequate staffing at pharmacies "to prevent fatigue, distraction, or other conditions that may interfere with a pharmacist's ability to practice competently and safely." It is awaiting a committee hearing.

"It is the largest update to pharmacist protections in a decade," said Chandler, that will "both protect pharmacists and hold Big Pharma accountable with increased penalties for breaking the law."

On another issue aimed at addressing the city's overdose drug crisis on the streets, Chandler told the B.A.R. he is supportive of seeing San Francisco allow safe injection sites open up as long as they are not in residential areas. (As the San Francisco Chronicle reported last week, while Ronen has been working to see such a facility overseen by a local nonprofit open in her district, City Attorney David Chiu's legal concerns have blocked the effort.)

But he also believes in treatment-on-demand and ensuring any drug user who wants to address their addiction should not end up on a waitlist for admittance to a facility that will assist them in getting sober.

"I support it in nonresidential areas as a tool and not as the only solution," Chandler said of the facilities. "I believe San Francisco needs to completely renovate and completely redo how we are responding to the opiate crisis. We need to invest significant resources into detox and abstinence facilities that currently do not have the resources they need."

It is just one issue that will likely come up in the conversations Chandler plans to engage in with District 9 residents over the coming months as he seeks their vote. It is a campaign nearly everyone in his life, except for Chang, told him he was "insane" for undertaking.

"I am not just someone pointing out the problems and how to fix them, because there are big problems and we can fix them, I am acting as a cheerleader and saying, 'Don't give up on San Francisco. We can fix this!'" said Chandler. "I have been surprised that I have been working to convince folks there is hope and that the city is salvageable. So many other people feel otherwise."

To learn more about his candidacy, visit his campaign website at trevor4SF.com.

Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check http://www.ebar.com Monday mornings for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column reported on a gay Stockton man who is running for a seat on the City Council.

Keep abreast of the latest LGBTQ political news by following the Political Notebook on Twitter @ http://twitter.com/politicalnotes

Got a tip on LGBTQ politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail [email protected]

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