Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

Political Notebook:
Endorsement battles
loom in SF supe races


District 5 Supervisor Christina Olague
(Photo: Rick Gerharter)
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August is shaping up to be a hot political month as local candidates must meet filing deadlines and the endorsement battles for San Francisco races are heating up.

Two out supervisor candidates, in particular, face considerable odds as they hit the campaign trail. Incumbent District 5 Supervisor Christina Olague, a bisexual Latina appointed earlier this year to represent the left-leaning district, has drawn criticism from progressives in recent weeks upset with her stances on a host of issues.

District 7 supervisor candidate Joel Engardio, left, and his partner, Lionel Hsu (Photo: Courtesy Engardio for Supervisor campaign)

In the race for the open District 7 seat, where incumbent Supervisor Sean Elsbernd is termed out of office, political newcomer Joel Engardio is learning that being gay does not guarantee support from LGBT electeds or politicos. So far the only out politician to endorse Engardio is gay District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener , who also endorsed one of his opponents, Mike Garcia.

Olague has had an easier go of it in attracting out endorsers. Her list of supporters includes gay state Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), whom she marched with in the Pride Parade; gay District 9 Supervisor David Campos , who appears headed to an easy re-election win this November; and city Treasurer Jose Cisneros.

While she has attracted progressive endorsers, such as Campos and Public Defender Jeff Adachi, Olague has seen former D5 Supervisor Matt Gonzalez recently withdraw his initial backing of her and gay state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) endorse one of her opponents, John Rizzo , a member of the community college board.

Ammiano told the Bay Area Reporter this week he is open to making additional endorsements in the D5 race and is expected to meet soon with Olague.

"I have known John for a long time. I have trust that he will vote in a manner that will be consistent," he said of his early backing for Rizzo. "Sometimes it gets troubling when candidates, even colleagues, might go back and forth on an issue."

In the D7 race Ammiano has given unranked endorsements to Port Commissioner Francis "FX " Crowley and Norman Yee, president of the city's school board. He has not ruled out endorsing a third candidate.

"Whether or not I do another one is to be determined," said Ammiano, who has spoken to Engardio a few times at public events but has not formally met with him to discuss his candidacy.

In an email and a phone interview last week with the B.A.R. Engardio expressed frustration in not being able to line up more support from the city's LGBT elected family. While he has spoken to Campos, Cisneros, and Leno, as well as mayoral aide and former supervisor Bevan Dufty, none have offered him a formal endorsement.

"While I understand an election should be based on merit and not sexual orientation, as a gay man it's sad to see what seems to be a lack of support for our LGBT candidates by our LGBT Leaders," wrote Engardio, a former journalist who has devoted his full attention this year to running for public office.

The first out candidate to seek a supervisor seat in the city's more conservative neighborhoods, Engardio has secured the endorsement of the national Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund. He noted the group does not support candidates it thinks can't win.

"I was able to show them my plan to win. I was also able to show that even in San Francisco, there is new ground to pioneer for LGBT candidates in a district where an openly candidate has never won the seat before," wrote Engardio, who has qualified for city matching funds and expects to have $70,000 in campaign cash on hand as of mid-August.

Ammiano told the B.A.R. that Engardio's griping sounds "a little self-serving." Nowadays LGBT candidates should not automatically assume they have a lock on the LGBT vote, he added.

"I think there was a time where to have anybody openly gay was a good thing for visibility. I also think a more sophisticated approach is more appropriate now," said Ammiano, who saw how divided the LGBT community can be when he ran for mayor in 1999 and again in 2003. "You don't want to endorse someone based on orientation, there could be quite a few positions you are divergent on. It doesn't have to be uncivil but it has to be expected."

In a phone interview Engardio said he isn't surprised at his inability to land more political endorsers, as "politicians gravitate to those they know." He said he has attracted the support of many gay and lesbian couples that have moved into the district to raise families.

"We had good talks," he said of his conversations with those electeds he has spoken with so far. "So I don't expect anything. They saw a gay candidate and reached out and gave good advice. To be honest, they should endorse whoever is the best candidate, not just someone who is gay."

His disappointment may continue, though, when it comes to whom the city's LGBT Democratic clubs endorse. In fact, both Olague and Engardio can expect stiff competition from several straight opponents also expected to seek the support of the city's two main LGBT Democratic Clubs.

Unlike during the 2010 election, when the even-numbered supervisor seats were up for grabs, neither the moderate Alice B. Toklas nor the more progressive Harvey Milk opted to suspend their by-laws and grant early endorsements in this year's election.

Instead, the two clubs' members will be voting in coming weeks to endorse one of the 11 people who have pulled papers, so far, to seek Olague's Haight and Western Addition centered seat, and must choose among the eight candidates running for Elsbernd's seat covering neighborhoods west of Twin Peaks.

"I think we have an awful lot of strong candidates," said Alice Co-Chair Martha Knutzen when asked to handicap the competition for the club's endorsement in the D5 and D7 races.

Candidates have until Friday, August 10 to turn in the required paperwork to seek the odd-numbered supervisor seats and the city's two BART board seats. There are also four seats up for grabs on both the school and community college boards.

One week later Alice will kick off its endorsement process. The club's political action committee will meet Saturday, August 18 to make its recommendations.

The full club is expected to then vote Monday, August 20. A candidate for one of the six supervisor seats on the fall ballot needs to receive 66 percent of the vote to secure a sole endorsement in their race.

In contests where there is no clear favorite, then the club will re-vote on making ranked choice endorsements in those races. Under San Francisco's voting system, voters can rank up to three candidates in the supervisor races.

Asked specifically about Olague and Engardio's ability to secure an Alice nod, Knutzen said this week that she believes "they both have a good chance at it, especially if we are doing ranked choice endorsements."

Their being members of the LGBT community will certainly play a factor, added Knutzen, though that does not guarantee a candidate an Alice endorsement.

"People will definitely look at their candidacy and evaluate them," she said. "The kind of candidate we look at we look for experience in politics and very strong support of the LGBT community. We also look at the viability of their campaign and their ability to build coalitions."

The Milk Club is hosting debates with candidates in the D5 and D7 races before its members vote in mid-September on whom to endorse for either seat. With Engardio a self-identified moderate, and Olague's ties to Mayor Ed Lee, neither is assured of winning the Milk Club's support.

"Honestly, I don't know," said Milk club president Glendon Hyde, also known by his drag name Anna Conda, when asked whom the club was likely to back in those races. "There isn't really someone the club feels is echoing their sentiments at this time."

Tuesday, August 14 the Milk Club is hosting a debate with D5 candidates. It will grill D7 candidates Tuesday, September 4. Both debates take place from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Eric Quezada Center, 518 Valencia Street in the Mission.

The Milk club's PAC will then meet over the weekend of September 15-16 to make its recommendations. The full club will finalize the endorsements Tuesday, September 18.

The club revamped its endorsement process this year to address how to rank candidates in races where voters can choose up to three people, such as supervisor and mayor. Members must score the candidates on a scale of one through five, with five being the best score.

To be endorsed candidates have to receive 60 percent of the vote. If more than one person reaches that threshold, then they will be ranked first, second or third based on the scoring system.

Due to her ties to Lee, whom she pushed to run for a full term last year and was then rewarded with the supervisorial appointment, Olague likely has a better shot at gaining Alice's endorsement than she does the Milk Club's, where Rizzo has been gaining traction.

In the D7 race Yee is the one to watch at Milk, while Garcia, president of the city's Board of Appeals, could walk away with Alice's nod.

It isn't out of the question for both clubs to name a straight candidate as their number one choice in both races. Last year neither Alice nor Milk endorsed a gay candidate as their top choice for mayor.

At this point the only gay supervisorial candidate likely assured endorsements from both clubs is Campos, as he has not drawn any serious challengers.

Next Thursday, August 9 Campos will officially launch his re-election bid with a party from 6 to 8 p.m. at 780 Cafe, located at 780 Valencia Street.


Keep abreast of the latest LGBT political news by following the Political Notebook on Twitter @

Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 861-5019 or e-mail

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