With Trump in mind, SF supervisors vote for unity
by Matthew S. Bajko
He is still a week away from becoming president, but Donald Trump loomed over this week's swearings-in of new and returning members to San Francisco's Board of Supervisors.
The incoming Republican administration and GOP-controlled Congress have vowed to repeal the Affordable Care Act, crack down on undocumented immigrants in the country, and roll back workplace protections for LGBT federal employees as well as rescind other pro-LGBT policies. Not only are all three actions anathema to San Francisco's leaders, they are also likely to be coupled with severe financial implications for the city's budget and its residents.
With the change in leadership in the nation's capital foremost in their minds, the often-fractious supervisors opted for a show of unity this week. All 11 members of the board voted to re-elect District 5 Supervisor London Breed to a second two-year term as board president at a special meeting the morning of Monday, January 9.
"Our city faces daunting challenges in worrying times," warned Breed, who will oversee the first board to have a female majority, consisting of six members, since 1995, when there were seven women serving as supervisors.
She noted that not only are immigrants under attack by the incoming president, but transgender men and women "feel unwelcome in our country or unsafe in their own communities" because of transphobic policies being pushed by Republicans.
And she pointed out that Mike Pence, the next vice president, "thinks the LGBT community suffers from a disorder that needs a cure."
"Not on my watch, not on my watch," vowed Breed, adding that the city's values "have never been more important, our fight more clear, and our role never more needed."
Her name being the only one put forward for the board presidency marked the first time in a decade that the supervisors had unanimously lined up behind one of their colleagues for the leadership post, which sets the board's agenda and doles out committee assignments, noted District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who seconded Breed's nomination for the presidency.
While acknowledging "there are policy differences on this body," the progressive Peskin said Breed, who aligns with the board's now six-member moderate majority, had the smarts, independence, and qualifications "to bridge that divide" at City Hall.
"If there was ever a time to bury our divisions, this is the time," said Peskin, who took his fourth oath of office this week as a supervisor, having easily won re-election to a full term in November.
From 2001 to 2009 Peskin held the seat representing Chinatown, North Beach, and Fisherman's Wharf at City Hall. In 2015 he ousted Julie Christensen, who had been appointed to a vacancy earlier in the year by Mayor Ed Lee, to return to the board.
Known for his cantankerous behavior during his first stint on the board, when he also served as board president, he joked that his "Peskin 2.0" persona must be holding since he made it through last year without yelling at any of his board colleagues. The board's ability to be collegial and find common ground will be especially necessary, predicted Peskin, during Trump's presidency.
"Housing creation and preservation will take on even greater urgency with – I am not going to say his name - taking power," said Peskin. "People do not feel safe outside San Francisco. We have a lot of work to do and housing is only a part of it."
Returning District 7 Supervisor Norman Yee, part of the progressive minority on the board, also called for City Hall to present a united front against the policies being proposed in Washington, D.C.
"With President-elect Trump in office we must stand together and make sure our values and culture in San Francisco is forever maintained," said Yee, a new grandfather who, at the age of 67, is the oldest current board member.
Gay District 8 Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, the first out HIV-positive person to serve on the board, warned that San Francisco is facing an "existential threat" from Trump and Republicans in Congress, who are already targeting immigrants, women's rights, and LGBT rights.
GOP leaders want to roll back "rights we have come to take for granted," warned Sheehy, named by Lee last Friday to fill the seat vacated by gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco).
"As we move forward, let's not fight amongst ourselves but fight together against our common threats," Sheehy asked of his board colleagues.
Despite their pleas for comity, it was clear differences still remain among the board members.
With the departures over the weekend due to term limits of progressive former supervisors Eric Mar (D1), David Campos (D9) and John Avalos (D11), Peskin now finds himself a leader of the city's progressive camp. And he made it clear, with Lee sitting next to Breed on the board dais, that he would continue to push to rein in the interests of "corporadoes" at City Hall.
He called out in particular the need for "common sense regulation" on short-term rental companies like Airbnb and policies to promote the construction of housing not only for the homeless but families and others priced out of the city.
"Yes, it will mean a little less profit for developers, but I am sure they will get by," said Peskin.
And Supervisor Hillary Ronen, succeeding her former boss Campos to become the first woman to represent the Mission district and Bernal Heights at City Hall, vowed to continue to be a progressive voice on the board in the mold of the trio of termed out supervisors.
"I will continue the fight you have been leading the last eight years," said Ronen, who noted that the night of her election in November was not the jubilant moment she had expected it to be due to Trump's victory.
Nonetheless, Ronen vowed to continue the work she has been focused on the past 15 years to "shift power and wealth from the ultra rich and corporations alike" to women, immigrants, and the LGBT community.
"We have an opportunity to advance this agenda more in this era than before," she said.
Former school board member Sandra Lee Fewer, who succeeded Mar as the first woman elected to represent the Richmond district, pledged to focus on issues of affordability and livability, especially for senior residents.
"This is time for unity," said Fewer, seen as part of the progressive camp on the board.
Freshman District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safai, like Sheehy the father of a public school student, said education issues would be a top concern of his, as would be the plight of working families, many of whom live in the Excelsior and Outer Mission neighborhoods he now represents.
Part of the moderate majority, Safai signaled how the new board members are likely to find common issues to work on despite with which political camp their allegiances lie.
"Everything I do on this board," said Safai, will be done to help working families and working people, "particularly when it comes to housing policies."