Political Notebook: 2nd gay candidate, Wright, seeks SF BART board seat

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday May 22, 2024
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Edward Wright has announced that he is running for the District 9 BART board seat. Photo: Courtesy the candidate
Edward Wright has announced that he is running for the District 9 BART board seat. Photo: Courtesy the candidate

Widely expected to seek one of San Francisco's seats on the board overseeing the regional transit agency BART, former Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club Co-President Edward Wright made it official Wednesday. He timed his digital announcement to coincide with Harvey Milk Day.

California observes the special day each May 22 on the late San Francisco supervisor's birthday; Milk would have been 94 this year. A public transit advocate and the first gay elected official in the Golden State, Milk was assassinated in 1978 less than a year into his first term.

"Harvey has been such an inspiration and motivating force throughout my life," Wright, 32, who is gay and queer, told the Bay Area Reporter.

Wright had been employed by the UNITE HERE union as an aide to Milk protégé Cleve Jones, a longtime gay civil rights and labor leader. Working with Jones when he published his memoir, Wright assisted him in the effort to donate to the Smithsonian Milk's bullhorn that he used during public demonstrations and other events.

"I have his bullhorn tattooed on my arm," noted Wright, now employed as an adviser for strategy and communication for the city's Muni public transit system.

The contest for the BART board's District 9 seat covering San Francisco's eastern neighborhoods will appear on the November 5 ballot. Last July, the Political Notebook broke the news that gay BART director Bevan Dufty would not seek a third term in it this fall.

Dufty, who is serving as board president this year, endorsed gay housing advocate Joe Sangirardi to succeed him. Sangirardi, 33, the development director for statewide housing advocacy organization California YIMBY, launched his campaign May 4.

"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.

As the B.A.R.'s Political Notebook column had noted in early May, Wright months ago had 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. At the time Wright had told the B.A.R. he had yet to make a final decision about entering the race.

A key factor for why he wants to serve on the BART board is to help the agency address the fiscal cliff it is facing. 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. Without a fiscal lifeline, BART could need to address a $385 million operating deficit in 2027.

"I think, for me, it is just an acknowledgement that the challenge that BART is facing is existential. By the end of the first term of whoever wins this race, BART could very well not exist anymore," said Wright in a May 21 interview with the B.A.R. "If I feel like I can help right that course and ensure BART not only survives but also thrives, I want to be a part of that solution. It is critical for the next District 9 BART director to be someone who has experience in public transit, public policy, and public budgets, and I am the only candidate in this race that does."

He previously had worked as a legislative aide to former District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar, who has endorsed Wright in the BART race. Gay former supervisors Mark Leno and David Campos also are supporting his candidacy.

Also backing Wright is queer BART director Janice Li, whose District 8 seat includes the western neighborhoods of San Francisco. In a statement from Wright's campaign Li said she was "grateful" that he is willing to lead the transit agency and would be "exactly the leader" needed at this time.

"I know what it takes to do this job. From listening to community to passing public policies, from working on multi-billion-dollar budgets to leading major transit projects, he's done it all," stated Li, who is not up for reelection until 2026. "I'm grateful Edward's willing to step up to serve BART and the countless people who rely on it."

Current supervisors endorsing Wright are board President Aaron Peskin, who represents District 3 and is running for mayor on the November ballot, District 1 Supervisor Connie Chan and District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston. Chan and Preston are both running for reelection this fall.

District 7 Supervisor Myrna Melgar, also seeking another term this fall, is another endorser of Wright. She called him "thoughtful, compassionate, and rooted in community" in his announcement about his candidacy.

"Competence matters. We need someone who can cut through the tired political fights and actually deliver results," stated Melgar. "I know Edward will because I've seen him do it time and time again."

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.

To date, the race for Dufty's BART seat is the only one with known out candidates.

Longtime gay activist Michael Petrelis, who twice lost to Dufty for the BART board seat, told the B.A.R. he wants to seek it again this year. But he is awaiting word from elections officials on if he can do so while also running on the November 5 ballot for the open District 9 seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

Candidates in California for years have been told they can't seek election to more than one position on a ballot. Yet Assemblymember Vince Fong (R-Bakersfield) won a court fight to run for reelection to the state Legislature and for an open House seat on the March 5 primary ballot. Tuesday, May 21, he won the runoff race for the Central Valley congressional seat vacated by former House speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield), and his name is set to appear on the fall ballot for both seats.

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 LPAC's Bay Area endorsements ahead of its San Francisco fundraiser June 11.

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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