Political Notes: For 1st time trio of gay men sworn in as San Francisco supervisors

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Monday January 9, 2023
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Matt Dorsey, left, is sworn in as District 6 San Francisco supervisor January 8 by  Delancey Street Foundation President and CEO Mimi Silbert as Dorsey's goddaughter Isa Burke holds a Bible that once belonged to the late gay supervisor Harvey Milk. Photo: Rick Gerharter<br>
Matt Dorsey, left, is sworn in as District 6 San Francisco supervisor January 8 by Delancey Street Foundation President and CEO Mimi Silbert as Dorsey's goddaughter Isa Burke holds a Bible that once belonged to the late gay supervisor Harvey Milk. Photo: Rick Gerharter

With the swearing in Saturday of District 4 Supervisor Joel Engardio, there are now three gay men for the first time serving on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. It also marked the first time in a decade that there is once again a trio of LGBTQ supervisors on the governing body.

District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman and District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey also won their races on the November 8 ballot to retain their seats. Mandelman is now serving in his second and last full four-year term.

Dorsey, who is a recovering addict and living with HIV, was elected to a full four-year term. He had been appointed last year by Mayor Breed to fill the vacancy created by Assemblymember Matt Haney's (D-San Francisco) election to the state Legislature.

The last time a trio of LGBTQ supervisors served together was in 2012. While Mandelman, Dorsey, and Engardio are considered to be more moderate members of the board, and will likely often be aligned on myriad policy issues, each has a style all their own that was reflected in their individual community swearing in ceremonies they held over the last three days.

Mandelman, who represents the LGBTQ Castro district, opted to hold his Friday in the community events space at the Laguna Street campus of Openhouse, which provides services to LGBTQ seniors and operates a below-market-rate apartment complex in partnership with affordable housing developer Mercy Housing. As he noted during his remarks, the two agencies are in the planning stages for a third building of nearly 200 affordable apartments that will be geared toward LGBTQ older adults.

"I think I have the best job in the world and I am very grateful for all of you helping me to get it," said Mandelman, who asked the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus to perform at his ceremony.

Administering the oath of office was gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), whom Mandelman had lost to in 2010 when he first sought the District 8 supervisor seat. Back then Mandelman was more on the progressive side of the city's politics and seen as a "streets activist" and "a little bit rough around the edges," said Wiener.

It elicited a laugh from the audience and a "wow" from a bemused Mandelman. But, as Wiener explained, Mandelman didn't allow that electoral loss to defeat him and instead found other ways to lead in the city, from within the local Democratic Party and on the boards of LGBTQ groups to being an elected member of the city's community college board at a time when it was fighting to retain its accreditation.

"He's a great supervisor," said Wiener, adding that Mandelman is also a leader who "truly has gravitas."

Looking back at his first term, Mandelman acknowledged, "It's been quite a rough four years. We have been through a lot."

From having "a fascist in the White House," said Mandelman, referring to former President Donald Trump and his attacks against San Francisco and its progressive values, to ongoing crises with homelessness and drug overdoses, and then the outbreak of the COVID pandemic in 2020.

"Now we have a set of economic challenges that will be with us for years," said Mandelman, as the city braces for several years of budget deficits compounded by a wave of layoffs in recent weeks at a number of major businesses located in the city.

Nonetheless, Mandelman said he is "an optimist" and continues to "have a lot of hope for San Francisco. This place, Openhouse, gives me a lot of hope."

Despite the political divides that have led to increased partisanship at all levels of government, Mandelman sounded an optimistic note about the ability for the city's 11 supervisors to work collaboratively in tackling the many issues confronting San Francisco.

"I know we can come together to get things done because I saw it happen in November," said Mandelman, pointing to 72% of voters passing a transit bond on the ballot that some had feared would fail.

But he also acknowledged that residents of the city are fed up with the infighting and bureaucracy at City Hall, as evidenced in the recalls last year of three school board members and former District Attorney Chesa Boudin.

"I reject the notion that 2022 represented a lurch to the right in San Francisco," said Mandelman. "But make no mistake, the voters demanded change and we need to give it to them."

New District 4 Supervisor Joel Engardio speaks at his January 7 inauguration ceremony at the Irish Cultural Center. Photo: Courtesy Facebook  

New supervisor in D4
Engardio, at his swearing in Saturday held at the Irish Cultural Center near the San Francisco Zoo, also spoke about voters demanding change from the city's elected officials in his remarks. A vocal backer of the recall elections last year, Engardio credited those voters who ousted the elected officials, especially parents of public school children, for helping him to finally win a supervisor seat on his fourth bid for the position.

He had lost his past three campaigns for the District 7 supervisor seat. But his Lakeside district home he shares with his husband, Lionel Hsu, was redistricted last year into District 4, providing Engardio another shot at being elected to the board.

Despite his annoyance at the focus on his being a four-time candidate during the campaign last year, Engardio and the elected leaders he asked to speak at his inauguration leaned into that factoid of his political biography. It represented his doggedness, they said, as well as his husband's never-lagging belief that one day he would win a race.

"Of course four time's a charm," noted Breed, adding Engardio's victory showed one should "never give up fighting for what you believe in."

Breed told the audience that Engardio would ensure the voices of Sunset residents were heard at City Hall and that he "will represent San Francisco's values at its very best." She also extolled the value of bridging divides in order to address the city's issues.

"Regardless of what is going on with our politics, I know when we work together we can accomplish amazing things," said Breed.

Chris Weipert, a member of the local band Cotton Polly, noted even though she doesn't see eye-to-eye with Engardio in terms of his political positions, he officiated her wedding and asked the trio of musicians to perform at the ceremony. She called Engardio one of the kindest and most authentic people she's "ever known."

Wiener also spoke and called Hsu an "absolute rock" of support for Engardio, adding that "all four times he's had Joel's back."

Joking he is an "old school" member of Team Engardio, due to having been one of the only elected leaders in the city to endorse Engardio in all four of his supervisor races, Wiener first met him in 2011 as he geared up for his candidacy on the following year's fall ballot. While Engardio had a reputation as a "talented writer" through his journalistic career, back then "no one knew who this guy was," recalled Wiener.

"I saw that spark," Wiener said. "I knew Joel had what it takes."

Former District 4 supervisor Katy Tang remarked that she and another former holder of the seat, Carmen Chu, believed that Engardio's inauguration drew a larger turnout that either of theirs had. Tang, also, referred to Engardio's not giving up on his dream to become a supervisor, saying the better judge of a person's character comes in what they do after they have fallen.

"I saw Joel after he lost was still out there," said Tang, who now leads the city's office for small business. "Joel has really been doing the work even when no one was watching him."

Hsu, now the first husband of the Sunset, as Tang referred to him, held a Bible once owned by Engardio's grandmother for him to rest his left hand on while he took his oath of office, administered by Chu, now the city administrator. Chu joked that when she was the city's assessor and launched an effort to digitize her office's records, Engardio was one of the only reporters who cared enough about it to interview her for an article.

"Joel is someone who cares about how things work," said Chu.

After Engardio took his oath and kissed Hsu, San Franciscan Ava Nicole Frances, the daughter of gay dads now enrolled at New York University, performed a rousing rendition of "Over the Rainbow." As she sat down on stage, Engardio took the microphone to ask the crowd, "Do you believe in miracles?"

Crediting the "exhausted majority" of District 4 residents who elected him over their sitting supervisor, Gordon Mar, Engardio touted his victory to their being "fed up" with the status quo and wanting a change at City Hall.

"The miracle isn't me. It's not divine intervention," said Engardio. "It is every resident who woke up, stood up, and voted to change the direction of our city. And we are just getting started."

He pointed to the yearslong fight to attain marriage equality as one example of how he learned perseverance can pay off in the end. He had worked for the American Civil Liberties Union during a time when many states were banning same-sex marriage.

"I truly believed I would not be able to get married in my lifetime and it only took 10 years. Sometimes, you have to play the long game," said Engardio, adding that, "three loses on my way to being elected a supervisor was nothing."

He credited Hsu for being "the number one reason" as to why he is now on the board.

"I am sure everyone is wondering why you let me run a fourth time," Engardio joked.

Dorsey returns to Delancey Street
For his second swearing in ceremony within the last year Dorsey returned Sunday to Delancey Street, where he took his oath as the appointed supervisor. Delancey Street Foundation co-founder, President, and CEO Mimi Silbert administered his oath. She, too, touched upon the theme of people working together despite their differences.

"We teach the ability to come together, to rely on each other," said Silbert, adding that, "relying on each other gives us a sense of unity and that is so critical."

To take his oath, Dorsey had his goddaughter, Isa Burke, hold a Bible that once belonged to the late gay supervisor Harvey Milk. His friend Tom Ostly, a former assistant district attorney in the city, lent it for the ceremony, having bought it at auction a decade ago.

Eschewing musical performances, Dorsey joked he had made an oversight after attending his colleagues' swearing ins. In a panic, he said he had asked Omar Walker, with United Playaz and a graduate of Delancey Street who gave the benediction, if he knew any magic tricks.

"This is the second in seven months for me, so I thought understated was the better approach," said Dorsey. "I wanted to keep it personal today and speak from the heart."

Dorsey highlighted his Roman Catholic faith, thanking his fellow parishioners at St. Patrick's for their support during his campaign. He also spoke of his own struggles with addiction as for why he has made addressing overdose deaths from fentanyl and getting drug users into treatment top priorities of his at City Hall.

"I am profoundly thankful for those in the recovery community. You energized me during a highly public but deeply personal endeavor," said Dorsey, who also thanked the many city residents who have reached out to him since becoming a supervisor and spoke of their own experiences with addiction.

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

Due to the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, the Political Notes column will return Monday, January 23.

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