Gay, HIV-positive SF Supervisor Dorsey wins full term

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday November 15, 2022
Share this Post:
District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey spoke at the Chinese American Democratic Club in October. Photo: Frank Jang via Facebook
District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey spoke at the Chinese American Democratic Club in October. Photo: Frank Jang via Facebook

In winning a full term on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, gay District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey has become the city's first HIV-positive elected supervisor. His win also continues the presence of two gay men on the board, as gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman easily won his November 8 reelection bid.

Mandelman first won election to the seat that covers the LGBTQ Castro district in a June special election in 2018 where he trounced gay District 8 Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, a longtime survivor of HIV who had been appointed to fill a vacancy. In the November general election that fall, Mandelman easily won a full four-year term.

Dorsey became the second known person living with HIV to serve on the board when Mayor London Breed appointed him last spring to the vacant District 6 seat. Former supervisor Matt Haney resigned when he was elected to a vacant state Assembly seat.

His chief of staff at City Hall, Honey Mahogany, had sought to be appointed to succeed her boss then ran against Dorsey in last week's election. She was vying to become the city's first transgender and first LGBTQ Black supervisor.

But Dorsey defeated Mahogany with 53.88% of the vote to her 46.12%, according to the unofficial returns. Longtime Black transgender advocate Ms. Billie Cooper and Black labor leader Cherelle Jackson both received less than 4% of the vote.

"Better than it feels being appointed, but it's also humbling," Dorsey told the Bay Area Reporter about his victory.

After elections officials updated the vote count November 14, Mahogany conceded the race and called Dorsey to congratulate him. In a tweet thread she said she was taking "a much needed break with friends and family" before returning to work as chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party and reopening the Stud Bar — "the best gay bar in San Francisco," she wrote — as part of its collective ownership.

"I've been in public service here in my hometown for decades, and I'm not going anywhere! I'm looking forward to working with Supervisor Dorsey on things we agree on: building housing, stopping the fentanyl crisis, and saving our city's struggling small businesses," tweeted Mahogany, a native of the city.

A third gay supervisor could join Dorsey and Mandelman on the board in January should former journalist Joel Engardio defeat District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar. While there have been three LGBTQ supervisors at one time on the board in past decades, there has never been a trio of gay men serving on it at once.

As of Tuesday, Engardio was leading in the race with 51% of the ballots counted for a lead of 498 votes. But with 15,500 additional ballots yet to be counted, he told the B.A.R. it could be Thursday or Friday until the contest is called.

"Still too close to call," he wrote in a texted reply Tuesday.

Engardio and Dorsey both landed in first place on election night and continued to lead with each subsequent vote count update. Progressives have argued they were able to do so because the city's redistricting task force earlier in the year gerrymandered the supervisor districts to make it easier for moderates like the two gay leaders to win.

For District 6, that meant removing the Tenderloin, with its many LGBTQ residents, out of the neighborhood and placing it within District 5, represented by progressive supervisor Dean Preston. Engardio saw his Lakeside neighborhood removed from District 7, where he had run for supervisor three times and lost, combined with the Sunset in District 4.

While the San Francisco Chronicle endorsed Engardio, the city's mainstream paper had backed Mahogany in the District 6 race. Yet Dorsey told the B.A.R. he believes he was able to maintain his seat because voters in the district had connected with his public safety stances.

A recovering addict, Dorsey has made addressing the city's drug overdose crisis and open-air drug dealing a top priority of his at City Hall. While his detractors painted him as basically a police officer, due to his having been the chief spokesperson for Police Chief William Scott for two years, Dorsey centered his campaign on those issues and how they tied into retail thefts, car break-ins, and the ongoing homelessness crisis in the city.

"I thought I would have to do the work convincing the voters they are all related. As I talked to voters, they are already there," said Dorsey in a phone interview with the B.A.R. "And it is not just in Mid-Market where you'd expect it, it is in the East Cut and Mission Bay. My feeling was whenever I talked to voters about this, they appreciated I was coming from a place of lived experience and this would never be the hot button issue of the month for me."

Instead, said Dorsey, it is a main reason why he sought to be appointed supervisor and ran for another four years to tackle the intertwined issues.

"It is why I asked for this job. It is an obligation for my survival, and what I intend to work on as long as I have this job," said Dorsey.

Engardio has also focused on public safety and crime issues in recent years. It, too, appears to have paid off with voters in the more suburban neighborhoods on the city's westside.

Mahogany had acknowledged as much during her brief remarks on election night at her watch party for campaign staff and supporters.

"Right now in San Francisco we are seeing unprecedented things. On the other side of town a sitting supervisor may be unseated," she noted. "It speaks clearly where the voters are at. We are seeing people be very concerned about safety and looking for a tough-on-crime message."

District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton, president of the board, and District 2 Supervisor Catherine Stefani, who was unopposed, both easily won second terms on the November 8 ballot. The real political fight for Walton will be if he can find a majority of votes on the 11-member board to continue holding the gavel next year.

District 7 Supervisor Myrna Melgar is expected to seek the presidency. Mandelman is likely to also be nominated for the position when the supervisors meet to swear-in the winners of the even-numbered supervisorial races January 8.

Help keep the Bay Area Reporter going in these tough times. To support local, independent, LGBTQ journalism, consider becoming a BAR member.