Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 11 / 15 March 2018

D7 Supe Yee in rematch with gay opponent


District 7 San Francisco supervisor candidates Joel Engardio, left, John Farrell, Ben Matranga, incumbent Norman Yee, and Michael Young gathered in Cole Hall on the Parnassus campus of UCSF for a recent forum. Photo: Rick Gerharter
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Four years ago Joel Engardio, a gay man and journalist, fell short in his bid for the District 7 seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. He landed in fourth place behind the winner, Norman Yee.

Now Yee is seeking re-election as the City Hall representative for several neighborhoods west of Twin Peaks. Vying to unseat him is Engardio, who writes a column for the San Francisco Examiner , and three other opponents who believe voters are seeking a change in leadership.

Under the city's ranked-choice voting system, where voters can rank up to three candidates, it is likely that it will take several rounds before a winner is declared in this year's race. A candidate needs to secure 50 percent plus one of the vote in order to win, and in 2012, it took six rounds before Yee emerged the victor.

"Norman won with only 29 percent of first choice votes. He never had a mandate, as 70 percent of the voters didn't pick Norman in the first round of voting," Engardio, 44, who owns a home with his husband, Lionel Hsu, in the Lakeshore part of the district, told the Bay Area Reporter.

After taking part in a candidate forum held Thursday, October 6 by the League of Women Voters of San Francisco, Yee demurred when asked by the B.A.R. if he thought he could clinch his being re-elected in the first round of voting this year.

"You never want to be overconfident," said Yee, 67, a former school board member who raised two daughters in Westwood Park with his wife, Cathy, and recently became a grandfather. "I do feel like I have done my best to serve the district."

But candidate Ben Matranga, 33, who led the city's Vision Zero project to end pedestrian deaths, predicted the vote count would again take several rounds and that Yee would be defeated.

"I think it will go multiple rounds of voting," said Matranga, who lives in West Portal with his wife, Daniela. "There is an overwhelming sense in the neighborhoods that people want change."

The other challengers, real estate agents Mike Young, 43, and John Farrell, 57, are also counting on District 7 residents wanting to elect a new supervisor.

"I will not be a complacent supervisor. I will work for you," pledged Farrell, who worked as a budget analysis under former Mayor Frank Jordan and raised two daughters in the district with his wife, Claudette.

Young, a native San Franciscan and Army veteran who spent a decade working overseas for the State Department, praised Yee for his working with constituents on a participatory budget process. But he also implied Yee has not been as involved with neighborhood groups as a supervisor should be.

"We need aggressive interaction with the neighborhood associations," said Young, who worked as a fiscal and policy analyst in former Mayor Willie Brown's budget office.

Yee's opponents face daunting odds running against an incumbent, as the only sitting supervisors not to win re-election since the board reverted back to being elected by district in 2000 have been those appointed to fill a vacancy by the mayor.

Endorsed by the five other progressive members of the board, Yee has also won the support of his moderate colleagues Board President London Breed and District 4 Supervisor Katy Tang, who has also endorsed Engardio in the race.

Engardio won the sole backing of the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Francisco Examiner and is the Bay Area Reporter 's second choice behind Yee. He also won a first place endorsement from gay District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener.

He would be the first LGBT candidate to win a supervisor seat in a district on the western side of the city. And he could be the lone elected LGBT supervisor on the board should he win his race, Wiener be elected to state Senate, and Kimberly Alvarenga, a lesbian running for the District 11 supervisor seat, lose her race.

The board's other current out member, District 9 Supervisor David Campos, is termed out of office this year. No LGBT candidates opted to seek his seat.

Safety, housing top concerns

During the forum, all five candidates named public safety as the most pressing issue in District 7, noting a spike in home burglaries and car break-ins. Yee noted how he has worked with the police department to assign more officers to the district and is pushing legislation at the board to create a neighborhood crime unit. (The measure adopted by the board Tuesday restricts the police neighborhood foot patrols to only address property crimes.)

Engardio said that "crime is definitely top of mind" and that residents "are looking for leadership" on the issue from the supervisor's office.

"It is important to have a supervisor who follows the data and communicates with constituents," said Engardio, a senior manager for content marketing at video telemedicine company Doctor On Demand.

Matranga, noting he had been endorsed by all four of the city's public safety groups, asserted that there has been "a lack of attention from the supervisors and City Hall" on the spike in crime in the district.

The city's housing affordability crisis was also a top concern, with the candidates noting that the district has its fair share of renters and not just homeowners. Three major redevelopment projects are expected to bring hundreds of new housing units to the district with the remodel of Park Merced, the city looking at adding housing to Balboa Reservoir, and the potential of seeing housing built at the Stonestown Galleria mall adjacent to San Francisco State University.

"We are having our fair share of housing, so it makes sense for neighbors and developers to work together," said Yee. "I think we are doing a good job in the district on development."

Engardio advocates redeveloping the district's commercial corridors so that several stories of housing are added atop the retail spaces. Doing so would provide units for "seniors who want to downsize," he said, and options for "parents who want their kids and grandkids to live nearby."

One issue that Yee differs on from all of his opponents is the local ballot measure Proposition H, which would create a public advocate position at City Hall. He alone supports it, noting the position has been effective in cities that have created it, such as New York City.

"As the district supervisor, of course I am the advocate for my own constituents," said Yee. "But there are a lot of issues the public advocate can take on."

All four of his challengers called Prop H a waste of money that would add another layer of unnecessary bureaucracy to city government.

"It is a horrible idea," said Matranga, adding it would be "wasteful" and is "a naked political move" on the part of its supporters.

Young suggested "it would be cheaper to just have additional staff for the supervisors," while Farrell said, "I thought that is the job of the supervisors."

As for Engardio, he predicted the person given the role would work to block Mayor Ed Lee's initiatives while laying the groundwork to run for mayor themselves.

"We don't need it here, we have plenty of advocates," he said.

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