The Case for John Avalos

Written by Chris Daly. Posted in Opinion, Politics

Published on January 05, 2009 with 47 Comments

District 11 Supervisor-Elect John Avalos and Supervisor Chris Daly on election night.
Photos by Luke Thomas

By Chris Daly

January 4, 2009

John Avalos, Community Organizer

District 11 Supervisor-Elect John Avalos

I first met John Avalos back in 1999 at his old place in the Excelsior, across from Monroe Elementary School. By this time, John was already well known in community organizing circles for his work at Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth. John and his partner, Karen Zapata, had opened up their home as the Excelsior mobilizing spot for Tom Ammiano’s campaign for Mayor. I can remember thinking how lucky we were to have such a great connection in the Excelsior, a neighborhood that had been notoriously difficult for progressives.

Between 2000 and 2004, John served as the Director of Organizing for Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth and as Political Director for Justice for Janitors, SEIU Local 1877. At Coleman, John led the citywide outreach effort to pass the reauthorization of the Children’s Fund. He also brought Coleman to the next level of advocacy around the City budget, organizing service providers and residents to directly engage on the defining questions facing City Hall decision-makers. At Justice for Janitors, John mobilized political support for 2 contract campaigns, ensuring that over 2000 workers received wage increases while preserving healthcare and retirement benefits.

City Hall Savvy

In early 2005, I invited John to work as a Legislative Assistant in my office. It was one of the best decisions I have made as a Supervisor. Over the last 4 years, I watched as John Avalos adroitly managed legislative and political affairs, always taking time to hear from everyone while watching out for our City’s most vulnerable.

Most notably, John was able to use his experience as an organizer to open City Hall’s doors to ensure that the voices of San Francisco’s most vulnerable communities were clearly heard during budget deliberations. John was able to demystify the budget process for community stakeholders while coordinating sometimes-tedious budget discussions between Supervisor offices, the Budget Analyst, Controller, and Mayor’s Budget Office. John played much of this role at City Hall even in the years that I didn’t Chair the Budget Committee. Through John’s work, tens of millions of dollars worth of vital services for childcare, health and mental health programs, park restorations, and senior support were saved from the chopping block. And tens of millions more were added for affordable housing and other programs.

Let’s be honest here, there are several Legislative Assistants that are more involved in the day-to-day running of local government than many members of the Board. John was one of these “leg aides” and was known as the go-to-guy on budget matters. His even-handed work on the City budget drew strong praise across the political spectrum with accolades from Supervisors Sean Elsbernd and Ross Mirkarimi!

On the Frontline for Justice

We all have some experience in supporting a candidate for office and then being disappointed with their performance once elected. Maintaining the accountability of elected officials to the progressive communities who elect them is as important as winning elections in the first place. Over the years I’ve noticed that there are 2 indicators of how responsive a politician will be to progressive politics. The first is rooted-ness in community. The second is sense of justice.

While John’s roots in community are deep, his desire for social justice is even stronger.

In 1999, when John Avalos learned of the wrongful conviction of David Moreno and Justin Pacheco for a murder they did not commit, he launched a media campaign through We Interrupt This Message to free the two Latino youth from jail. By generating national coverage of the case and, generally, of racism in the criminal justice system, John was able to help Moreno and Pacheco win a not guilty verdict on all charges and their freedom. You can’t find John’s fingerprints on this case. He didn’t do it for personal gain or advantage. He did it because it was the right thing to do.

John has witnessed the injustice that the system can deal out, and it doesn’t just inform his outlook. It drives John to fight for justice at every turn.

Perseverance Through Adversity

My other measure for elected officials is how they respond to crises, which seem to come up far too often in local government. When it comes to tough times, the Avalos family has been put to the test. John’s daughter Rene was born 16 weeks early during a family trip. Rene battled for her life, and after 4 months and 2 hospitals, she made it home. Through it all, John was a Super-Dad. Not only was he glued to Rene’s bedside, he also navigated the complicated hospital bureaucracies and managed interactions with doctors, nurses, and hospital administrators to make sure Rene got the care she needed. Faced with the adversity of his first child’s life in the balance, separated from his home, and with skyrocketing medical bills, John was able to draw from a community of support, and rally through.

John Avalos, Emiliano, Rene and Karen Zapata.

John Avalos for President of the Board

I support John Avalos for Board President because I believe he is the best choice to lead the new progressive Board during these tough times. His progressive politics are grounded in decades of community and labor organizing work and a profound desire for social justice. John is universally liked and respected and has an uncanny ability to bring people together.

Supervisor-elect Avalos may know more about the City budget than I do, even with my 8 years on the Board, thrice as Budget Chair. This is important because, with the current financial crisis, the City budget is likely to occupy the new Board for the better part of the next 2 years. It would be smart for the Board to elect the Supervisor with the most hands-on budget experience to our top leadership spot.

John has assembled what will be the most experienced and diverse staff at the Board. Rachel Redondiez brings 8 years at the Board with her own impressive record of community and labor organizing. Francis Hsieh has 4 years at the Board plus another 2 as an aide in Sacramento. She comes back to City Hall from her position as Deputy Director of NARAL Pro-Choice California. Coupled with John’s 4 years at City Hall, the Avalos office isn’t just going to be prepared; they are ready to lead on day one.

Despite all this experience, John Avalos will be a new face for change in San Francisco politics. This little piece here is probably the most extensive column ever published about John. John’s fresh face fits neatly with the mantra for progressive change that has just swept across the country. With a community organizer and relative outsider set to take the keys to the White House, a John Avalos Presidency at the Board would make for very good symbolism.

This fall, John assembled one of the most sophisticated and well-organized progressive political campaigns that this City’s seen. Like Eric Mar and David Chiu, he took some of downtown’s toughest hits and proved his political mettle. John has helped politically transform what was a conservative neighborhood into one that is very much in play for progressives. (In addition to electing John, District 11 was one of five to support the Affordable Housing Charter Amendment.)

The recent release of Gus Van Sant’s biopic not only elevates the stage for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors; it also provides us with the opportunity to turn the tables on the definition of the Supervisor from the Excelsior. Think about the meaning of a progressive Latino Board President, from the neighborhood that used to be known for producing Dan White.

John Avalos is ready to walk in a proud line of progressive Board Presidents, as a community and labor organizer who has battled through adversity with a passion for social justice.

Chris Daly

Chris Daly

Chris Daly is the Political Director for SEIU Local 1021, a union of over 50,000 public sector and non-profit workers. He served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors from 2001-2011 and owns and operates The Buck, a bar and grill on Market Street.

More Posts - Website


Comments for The Case for John Avalos are now closed.

  1. I find it very discouraging that Chris has chosen to take this low road approach and John has gone along with it thus creating a chasm within the progressive movement and possibly harming the chances of electing a progressive mayor. Chris simply has not made a case for some compelling need to have John as board prez rather than Ross vis a vis moving the progressive agenda forward. Especially considering the fallout, I would think that compelling need would be the standard. However, I do understand his support of John on a personal level.

  2. Chris Daly:

    What I will say, is John better concentrate on the problems of District 11 before embarking on advancing his own political fortunes. 71%, is quite a significant number of voters who didn’t support him. He needs to remember that. Unlike Sandoval’s tenure, there will be more eyes on Avalos’s performance.

  3. The Numbers Game.
    Excellent point Chris and well worth repeating as the contest for Governor heats up. The fallacy of pretty-boys ‘popularity’ was debunked by the numbers that showed that 75% of voters did not support him for Mayor. Whatever you guys do, however you play the game, please do not perpetrate a Plaxico by going off half-cocked, shooting us in the you know what and delivering the Presidency to the Newsodomites. You and Ross need to colaborate on a strategy that will ensure a progressive leads the Board, whether it be John or one of you two. This could greatly enhance our chances of reclaiming Room 200 from clones like Dennis the Menace.

  4. Chris Daly

    No. What I’m saying is that it’s very hard to find any elected official who received votes from more than 30% of those registered in a contested election.

    Your last Supervisor, in his last election, received 10,679 votes. That’s the winning number. It would be great to have 100% turnout and a perfect democracy, but we don’t.

  5. Chris Daly:

    So what you’re stating, is 71% of the people in my district didn’t vote for John. That’s a signinficant amount of voters, who will be monitoring how well he represents the interests of our community. How will ascending him to the presidency of the board immediately solve the problems in my district?

  6. Chris Daly

    That should read, “1) Ross refused to run for Mayor after playing the Progressive Convention for maximum adulation”

  7. Chris Daly

    John Avalos received 10,225 votes out of 35,265 registered voters for about 29%. This is a very high percentage considering that this was a heavily contested election. By comparison, in 2007 Gavin Newsom received 105,596 votes out of 419,598 registered voters for about 25%. With no disrespect to my good friend Quintin Mecke, this was largely an uncontested election.

    While strength in district is not the most important argument for Board President, I think that it is a valid one. However, I look at it quite differently than Erika. The Board Presidency is a powerful position. District Supervisors who serve as Board President are in the best position to deliver for their district. Realizing this, progressives have the opportunity to all but lock up one potentially tough 2012 reelection.

    As for District 11, a reoccurring theme has been the lack of respect. Elevating the D11 Supervisor to the Board Presidency would instantly deliver the respect that has been missing since before Dan White.

    As for the YouTube clip, thanks for the memories! This was my last ditch effort at the full Board on July 17th. It was in the beginning of June that, 1) Ross refused to run for Board President after playing the Progressive Convention for maximum adulation; 2) Ross refused to support my original motion in Budget Committee (back when I had Ammiano’s support on the committee); 3) Newsom’s political operation turned up the heat on the budget; 4) Peskin removed me from Budget Committee (I had been the Chair); 5) I accused the Mayor of hypocrisy for cutting treatment programs while dodging cocaine accusations; 6) everyone hides under their desks while I get clobbered; 7) Quintin Mecke finally agrees to be the progressive standard bearer for Mayor.

    Perhaps I am missing some points, but I think that it is important to say that even if this never happened, I would be supporting John Avalos for Board President.

  8. Erika,

    You seem to keep deflecting Chris’s points with tangents, as he correctly points out that he has yet to see any thoughtful rebuttals. Try re-reading his post before you respond and counter his reasoning. Hopefully that will lead you somewhere.

  9. What Chris Daly fails to take into consideration is nearly 73% of District 11 voters didn’t support John Avalos as their first choice to represent the community. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, and the opportunity to faithfully work for improving agenda items in our city. However, if portions of District 11 begin to resemble his hometown of Wilmington, CA., he’s going to hear about it.

  10. It was Henry Brooks Adams who once said:

    “Politics, as a practice, whatever its professions, has always been the systematic organization of hatreds.”

  11. Correction from my earlier post: John Avalos won his race by 1133 votes. An impressive victory for sure, but Ross still got 3 times as many votes.

  12. Chris,
    Both you and John Avalos are progressive heroes, but the fact is that Ross is the ONLY progressive supervisor with broad-based support in his district.
    Consider the numbers:
    Ross got 27,482 votes in November. That is almost 3 times as many votes as any other progressive candidate for supervisor got.

    Avalos received 10,225 votes to emerge the victor in a ranked choice ballot, beating Asha Safai by a mere 123 votes.

    Unlike Ross, John may well face strong opposition from constituents who don’t approve of his actions.

    I am also puzzled by your remark that Tom was supportive of your budget motion. The clip is on youtube here:
    You didn’t get a second from anyone – including Tom. Did Ross have Tom bound and gagged or something?

    Regarding the next mayor’s race, it seems you are hoping some other progressive will emerge from the shadows. That really worked for us progressives in 2007, didn’t it?

  13. while reasonable arguments can be made for both john and ross for board prez, the reality is that whomever becomes prez is and has always been more about politics than the merits. SF progressives are best served by their leaders working together towards unity thereby 1) not allowing board prez to slip away; and 2) increasing our mayoral prospects in ’11. united we conquer, divided we….

  14. Chris Daly

    Wow, I didn’t realize that we were already in a 2012 Mayoral runoff between Dennis Herrera and Ross Mirkarimi! If we weren’t, I’d consider a potential candidate like Tom Ammiano (who, by the way, was supportive of my budget motion until Ross killed it). Don’t forget that three years before the 2003 race, our best candidate didn’t even hold elected office yet.

    John Avalos is ready to be Board President. I believe that I made a strong point of it in this column, and I haven’t seen any thoughtful rebuttal to my arguments for John from the Ross faithful.

    If we want to make the argument entirely about experience and don’t want to count time actually doing the work as Legislative Assistant, then I guess I should be Board President. I have twice the experience of Supervisor Mirkarimi, and at the moment, I only have one fewer vote for the position (my own).

  15. In addition to all of his great qualities as a progressive leader and as an individual, of which Chris has written about, John (next to Matt Gonzalez) would make the most handsome Board President that ever was. Huzzah!

  16. I can understand Supervisor Chris Daly’s attraction to having a “fresh face” as the President of the Board of Supervisors, but the greater need is for a seasoned, experienced incumbent Supervisor to run those long, complicated agenda-packed Board meeting and hearings. That is not a knock on John Alavos. He’s a fine gentleman, has worked in City Hall for years, and will make a good supervisor I’m sure.

    But let’s face it, the top candidates for the job are Supervisor are Ross Mirkarimi, Sean Elsbernd, Bevan Dufty and Sophie Maxwell.

    I’m a moderate/conservative when it comes to San Francisco politics, but I would be more than willing to support Sophie Maxwell and even Ross Mirkarimi for Board of Supervisor President because I feel they have the experience for the job and would put their personal, political beliefs and agendas on hold, at least temporarily, for the benefit of all San Franciscans if the issue called for such.

  17. Let experience take the lead.

    Ross Mirkarimi is more qualified and has the time on the board to better understand the job as POBOS.

    Personalities aside, I don’t think that a newbie should ever get the top board job. It doesn’t make sense.

  18. John is great. I just hope he and Chris can count to 2011. Chris says he is not backing Ross for Mayor. Who the heck IS he supporting? Dennis Herrera?

    Chris wrote on his SFBG response to the Guardian editorial that he is not happy with one of Ross’ votes in 2007. It was a vote in which Chris did not get support from anyone on the Board. Did Chris refuse to support Tom Ammiano for Assembly because of his lack of support on this particular vote? Or, is he holding Ross to a different standard than everyone else?

    I still support Ross for Board President. Ross has universal backing in his district, which will allow him to lead without worrying about constituents who may not support him. The new supes will be busy just setting up their offices for the first few weeks, if not months.

    A ranked choice ballot would be perfect for the Board Presidency vote! I support Ross #1 and John #2!

  19. chris makes a good case for john. indeed, of the new progressive supes he has the experience and right temperament for the post. as luke pointed out in a post a while back, however, ross holds the keys to the post. without ross on board dufty might squeak in. a bit of counsel to ross and chris: get together and work out past differences/issues to the point that SF progressives are united, maintain board prez and are primed to take Room 200 come 2011.

  20. Harold Brown

    Hey Chris,

    You’d be the best Board prez.. Everyone around me agrees with that but will back Avalos as second choice. Why don’t y’all have a ranked choice ballot? Save lots of time.


1 2 3