Political Notebook: Gay men launch SF bids for BART, City College board seats

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Saturday May 4, 2024
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Castro resident Joe Sangirardi, left, is seeking a BART board seat in the November election, while Luis Zamora is running for the City College of San Francisco Board of Trustees. Photos: Courtesy the candidates
Castro resident Joe Sangirardi, left, is seeking a BART board seat in the November election, while Luis Zamora is running for the City College of San Francisco Board of Trustees. Photos: Courtesy the candidates

Gay men have launched bids for seats on the boards overseeing the regional transit agency BART and City College of San Francisco that will appear on the November 5 ballot, with a third expected to also seek the BART seat. Victories by the candidates would help bolster out representation on the respective governing bodies.

Luis A. Zamora announced in a May 2 post on X his campaign for one of the four community college board seats up this fall. He is one of six candidates, including incumbent straight allies Aliya Chisti and Alan Wong, the current college board president, to have pulled papers, so far, with elections officials.

In the next month or so Zamora plans to hold a campaign kickoff event, he told the Bay Area Reporter in a May 3 interview. Among his endorsers is bisexual CCSF Trustee Shanell Williams, who opted not to seek a third term this year and did not respond to a request for comment.

"I am a community college graduate. I know, first hand, the opportunities it can provide," said Zamora, 38, who received an A.A. degree in liberal studies in 2005 from the Rancho Santiago Community College District in Orange County.

At an event Saturday, May 4, with his supporters, Joe Sangirardi kicked off his campaign to succeed gay BART director Bevan Dufty, who is serving as board president this year. He is solely endorsing Sangirardi in the race.

"I am very excited to talk to voters about the issues I care about, which is making sure public transit is safe and clean, so I can earn back their trust in the institution of BART. I feel confident meeting voters where they are will give us a win in November," Sangirardi, 33, told the B.A.R. in an interview ahead of his campaign kickoff.

Last July, the Political Notebook broke the news that Dufty would not seek a third term in his District 9 seat that covers San Francisco's eastern neighborhoods.

"I have found Joe to have a great work ethic," Dufty told the B.A.R. "He listens carefully. He is grounded in policy. He gets things done."

Also looking at entering the race is former Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club co-president Edward Wright, 32, who is gay and queer. A legislative aide to former District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar, Wright now is an adviser for strategy and communication for the city's Muni transit system.

He pulled papers to create a finance account for a BART campaign with Alameda County elections officials, who have oversight of the races for the multi-county transit agency. Widely expected to seek the seat, Wright told the B.A.R. May 3 that he has yet to make a final determination.

"I am always looking for opportunities to serve my city and serve my community, and I am actively considering whether I can be useful as a member of the BART Board of Directors given my experience with public policy, public budgets and public transit," said Wright.

As the Political Notebook reported in November, lesbian BART director Rebecca Saltzman will also be departing later this year. She opted not to seek reelection to her District 3 board seat, which covers parts of Alameda and Contra Costa counties in the East Bay.

Queer BART director Janice Li, whose District 8 seat includes the western neighborhoods of San Francisco, is not up for reelection until 2026. To date, the race for Dufty's BART seat is the only one with a known out candidate.

The regional transit agency has struggled to recover from the disruptions that the COVID pandemic wrought. With more people working from home, BART's ridership patterns have changed over the last four years, leading it to alter its schedule to meet higher demand during non-commute hours and on weekends.

Long struggling to contend with fare evaders, the system has been rolling out new entrance gates to make it harder for people to skip paying to ride. With an overall operational budget of roughly $1 billion, BART is projecting a $26 million deficit at the end of its 2026 fiscal year.

State lawmakers this session are moving forward a bill to allow BART and other struggling Bay Area transit agencies to seek a new permanent source of funding on the ballot in 2026 so they aren't so reliant on fares to cover costs. The fiscal cliff BART faces is why Wright is contemplating a run for Dufty's seat.

"In all honesty, if BART wasn't facing this degree of challenge, I wouldn't be considering it. If there is a way for me to be useful, I want to be useful," Wright said. "I think maintaining reliable and robust BART service is critical to San Francisco's recovery, to our climate goals, to social and racial equity. I think whoever holds this seat needs to be someone that can build the biggest tent possible to support and secure new funding for transit."

This is Sangirardi's first time seeking an elected public office. Among those also endorsing him are gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), Assemblymember Matt Haney (D-San Francisco), and gay San Francisco Supervisors Rafael Mandelman and Joel Engardio. He told the B.A.R. the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund and the BART union AFSCME 3993 are among the groups supporting his candidacy.

In the March 5 primary he won a seat on the oversight committee that runs the San Francisco Democratic Party. A native of Tulsa, Oklahoma, who had been living in Washington, D.C., Sangirardi works as the development director for California YIMBY, the statewide housing advocacy organization.

"I am someone who works in housing, which is just so closely tied to transit. They are one and the same issue," said Sangirardi, who lives in the city's Castro LGBTQ district. "When I got to San Francisco, I had firsthand experience of how expensive living in this city is and trying to figure out how to fix it."

The need for more housing in the region built near transit so people don't need a car to get around is a large reason why he wants to serve on the BART board. For years the agency has been building dense housing developments on its parking lots and other land it owns near its transit stops, an effort Sangirardi wants to see it continue with.

"I want to build more housing in San Francisco so LGBTQ people can afford to stay here and live here and move here, and so young people can afford to live and stay here and move here," said Sangirardi. "Basic problems like safety and cleanliness that need to be addressed are the same problems that BART has."

Last year, Sangirardi was one of the more vocal supporters of the renovation project now underway at the Castro Theatre. His willingness to take on the controversial issue impressed Dufty.

"He is not afraid of a little controversy," he said.

A sci-fi geek, Sangirardi purposefully launched his BART bid on May 4 due to it being attached to the "Star Wars" franchise and its famous catchphrase of "may the force be with you." Fans turned the pun "may the fourth be with you" into an unofficial holiday on that date each year.

"It felt cheeky and exciting," Sangirardi said.

On a more serious note, he said he wants to lay the groundwork now as a BART director ahead of any ballot funding measure in 2026 to ensure voters will support it. And like with wanting to see the Castro Theatre survive amid cultural changes impacting the movie business, Sangirardi feels similarly about the need to preserve and expand BART service in the decades to come.

"For me this was an opportunity to really get at fixing another really important institution in our city and Bay Area," he said. "I believe in public service. It is not about being fun; it is about being able to make a real, tangible difference in people's lives."

College board candidacy

Zamora in late 2021 stepped down as a city immigrant rights commissioner when he was hired as City Attorney David Chiu's director of executive affairs. He had worked for Chiu on his state Assembly staff.

He is one of the city's delegates to the California Democratic Party and was elected last May co-chair of the statewide party's LGBTQ+ Caucus. Zamora was just elected a district-level delegate to the national party's presidential convention in Chicago this summer.

He had sought a seat on the body that oversees the San Francisco Democratic Party on the March 5 primary ballot but came up short. Nonetheless, it laid the groundwork for his college board campaign, said Zamora.

He also has endorsements from Dufty, Wiener, Haney, and Mandelman. Gay former CCSF trustee Alex Randolph is also supporting Zamora, as are District 7 Supervisor Myrna Melgar, Teamsters Joint Council 7, and LiUNA! Laborers Local 261.

"Our team of supporters is continuing to grow, and I am excited for what our campaign will accomplish over the next six months," said Zamora.

Like BART, CCSF has struggled to deal with the impacts it felt from the COVID pandemic. It saw enrollment initially drop but increase by more than 10% during the current academic year.

While the board was able to approve a balanced budget and set aside a 5% reserve, it faced harsh criticism from students and faculty over the cuts it made to do so. And it is already bracing for more fiscal challenges in coming years.

As Wong noted in a recent guest opinion piece in the SF Examiner, "the big elephant in the room is that beginning in the 2025-26 fiscal year, City College will no longer receive cost-of-living adjustments, and revenue will be frozen until City College is eligible for more funding under a revised state funding formula enacted in 2017." If it doesn't see enrollment continue to grow, CCSF may not see its funding increase until the 2031-32 fiscal year, he warned.

The board must once again bring on a new leader of the college, as Chancellor David Martin will depart this summer to be an assistant superintendent and vice president of administrative services at Sierra College in Placer County. Hired in 2021, he was the ninth chancellor in eight years and leaves as CCSF is again being scrutinized by accreditors and state community college leaders, noted the San Francisco Chronicle last month.

At the top of the issues Zamora wants to address as a CCSF trustee, according to his campaign site, are "clarity and accountability" between the board and chancellor so that "appropriate authority is delegated while maintaining accountability." He also wants better communication between college leadership and its various constituents.

Fixing its fiscal crisis will require attracting more students, said Zamora, who believes CCSF needs to do a better job of marketing itself. And he would like to see it partner with local high schools to pilot a Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools (P-TECH) program, so students unlikely to enroll in college can still earn their high school diploma, a credential, or an associate degree.

"CCSF has some things they need to work on," Zamora acknowledged. "I don't shy away from a tough job. Usually, that is where I excel the most."

He pointed to his prior work at law firms in managing the administrative side of things, from facilities management to overseeing teams working in reception and record keeping, as preparing him with the skill set needed as a college board member. He did so with an eye toward cutting costs for the firms, noted Zamora.

"This is the kind of experience we need to bring to City College, especially at a time when its financial stability is coming back into question," he said.

Should he be elected, Zamora would serve alongside CCSF Trustee Vick Chung, the first, openly nonbinary, genderqueer person to hold an elected office in the history of San Francisco. Elected in 2022, Chung won't be up for reelection until 2026.

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.

Keep abreast of the latest LGBTQ political news by following the Political Notebook on Threads @ https://www.threads.net/@matthewbajko.

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

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