Political Notebook: On board prez, gay SF Supervisor-elect Engardio is undecided

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday January 4, 2023
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San Francisco Supervisor-elect Joel Engardio has not decided whom to support for board president at the body's organizational meeting Monday, January 9. Photo: Courtesy Joel Engardio
San Francisco Supervisor-elect Joel Engardio has not decided whom to support for board president at the body's organizational meeting Monday, January 9. Photo: Courtesy Joel Engardio

Gay San Francisco District 4 Supervisor-elect Joel Engardio will face his first test as a new member of the Board of Supervisors shortly after he takes his organizational oath of office Monday, January 9, when he casts a vote for president of the city's governing body.

As of Tuesday, he remained undecided on which of his colleagues to support. Speaking to the Bay Area Reporter in mid-December, Engardio said he planned to weigh all the options as for who wants to be board president and how they fit in with his own priorities as the supervisor representing the Sunset district.

"We have plenty of time to see where the winds blow on that one," Engardio said.

It is expected that the first vote will come down to being between District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton, the current board president, and gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman. Both easily won election to second and final four-year terms in November.

While Mandelman's name had been floated three years ago as a possible contender for board president, Walton emerged as the consensus candidate and was the only person to be nominated when the 11 supervisors met virtually on January 8, 2021. He is the first Black man to serve in the role.

There hasn't been an LGBTQ president of the board since 2002, when former gay District 9 Supervisor Tom Ammiano passed on the gavel in early January of that year. The only other out member of the board to serve as president was the late gay supervisor Harry Britt, who was elected to the powerful position in 1989 and served through early January 1991.

Walton's tenure as board president coincided with the ongoing COVID pandemic and surprisingly robust city coffers despite the impacts of the global health crisis. But he also faced criticism last summer for allegedly haranguing with a racist slur a sheriff's deputy guarding an entrance to City Hall, and he has had a tense relationship with Mayor London Breed the past two years.

Able to vote for himself to be board president again, Walton has yet to lock up the six votes he needs to clinch a second two-year term in the position, according to several sources. It is believed he is short by at least two votes.

Walton didn't respond to the B.A.R.'s request for comment by the paper's print deadline Wednesday morning.

Mandelman also has yet to lock up the six votes he would need to become president of the Board of Supervisors. It is assumed he has three votes secured ahead of Monday's board meeting, set to begin at 10 a.m. inside the board chambers, with the presidency election likely to get underway around 10:30 a.m.

"It's certainly something I would be open to," Mandelman told the B.A.R. in terms of serving as board president. "The city is facing big challenges. Trying to bring the mayor and supervisors together to address the challenges would be something I would be interested in."

But Mandelman acknowledged, "I think there is a lot of support for the current president to continue. I think it remains unresolved, that is where this is."

Engardio did tell the B.A.R. he is "open" to supporting Mandelman for board president.

"He has demonstrated good leadership on issues I care about," said Engardio, pointing to his legislative work on easing the city's zoning for new housing and trying to make it easier to use conservatorships to get unhoused individuals with mental health and addiction issues into treatment. "Generally, I agree with a lot of his public safety stances."

Asked what he is most looking for in a board president, Engardio told the B.A.R. a unifying figure.

"It is important that a board president unify the board and be someone who transcends the so-called moderate/progressive divide," said Engardio.

Both Engardio and Mandelman are considered to be in the moderate camp more aligned with Breed, along with District 2 Supervisor Catherine Stefani and gay District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey. Walton is in the progressive camp, along with Supervisors Connie Chan (District 1), Aaron Peskin (D3), Dean Preston (D5), and Hillary Ronen (D9).

At one time viewed as a moderate, District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safaí has grown closer with his progressive colleagues, as has District 7 Supervisor Myrna Melgar. It was Melgar, at the time a newly sworn in board member, who nominated Walton to be president two years ago. Both have also been floated over the last month as possible board president contenders, as has Chan.

Then there is Dorsey, appointed last year by Breed to fill a vacancy. He could emerge as a candidate for president, as he is seen as someone able to work closely and collegially with the mayor and his board colleagues at a time when the city is projecting steep budget deficits this year and next.

Dorsey told the B.A.R. he is planning to nominate Mandelman on Monday to be board president. He noted Mandelman was the first to endorse his bid for a full term last year and that he had backed Mandelman when he first ran for supervisor but lost his 2010 race.

"Rafael is someone knowledgeable about the issues and temperamentally well-suited to being a board president. I think he would be excellent," said Dorsey. "I have put myself out of play as a swing vote right out of the gate; that is who I am supporting. I haven't entertained a scenario that doesn't include Rafael Mandelman being president of the Board of Supervisors."

The board presidency vote is sure to be a focal point of chatter and gossip at this weekend's community swearing in ceremonies for the winners of the even-numbered supervisor districts in last year's election.

Walton is hosting his at 11 a.m. Friday, January 6, at the new Southeast Community Center located at 1550 Evans Avenue. He has invited former mayors Willie Brown and Art Agnos, along with his district's former supervisor, Sophie Maxwell, as his special guests.

Mandelman will take his oath Friday at 4 p.m. at LGBTQ senior services provider Openhouse's campus on Laguna Street. Engardio is hosting an RSVP-required affair Saturday at the Irish Cultural Center, due to the limited space of the venue.

Gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), a former District 8 supervisor, will administer the oath to Mandelman. He will also speak at Engardio's event, where former District 4 supervisor Carmen Chu, now the city administrator, will administer the oath.

Dorsey and Stefani are both hosting events at 11 a.m. Sunday. He will return to Delancey Street, where he was initially sworn in last year as the appointed supervisor, and has asked Delancey Street Foundation co-founder, President and CEO Mimi Silbert to administer his oath. Due to expected rain, Stefani moved her event from Francisco Park to City Hall and has asked California state Treasurer Fiona Ma to swear her in.

New year brings staff changes

The start of 2023 is also ushering in staff changes in the offices of two city leaders and at statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization Equality California. Longtime EQCA spokesperson Samuel Garrett-Pate, currently managing director of external affairs, is leaving to become vice president at J&Z Strategies, while Tami Martin stepped down last month as EQCA's legislative director and is now serving in the same position for the state Assembly.

Drew Hammill, longtime spokesperson for former House speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), is leaving her D.C. office, where he has been serving as her deputy chief of staff. As he told Roll Call, his immediate next plan is to catch up on sleep after working for Pelosi the last 16 years.

And stepping down Friday as Wiener's communications director is Catie Stewart, who is opening up her own communications consultancy firm focused on the Legislature. Succeeding her at Wiener's office is Erik Mebust, who had been deputy national press secretary at Climate Power, which focuses on addressing climate change.

Political Notes, the notebook's online companion, will return Monday, January 9.

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

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