By Luke Thomas
April 16, 2012
Undaunted by spring showers, lightning and thunder claps, appointed District 5 Supervisor Christina Olague kicked off her campaign for election in her own right Thursday, drawing as many as 50 supporters and political bedfellows to Urban School located in the heart of the Haight District.
In attendance included Mayor Ed Lee, Senator Mark Leno, Supervisor David Campos, former Board of Supervisors President Matt Gonzalez, as well as labor leaders including Mike Casey of Unite HERE Local 2 and Larry Griffith of IFPTE Local 21 and the San Francisco Labor Council.
Olague, a progressive, said she chose Urban School for her kickoff event because, “a lot of my activism began in high school.”
“When I was still in high school, I fought for the equal rights amendment,” Olague said. “We never won, but it was a good fight.”
As a young teenager and with her mother’s permission, Olague said she was on the frontlines of demonstrations to protest nuclear power at Diablo Canyon. That battle was ultimately lost, but her activism on issues important to her sensibilities would combine to shape her independence and progressive politics.
How much of a fight she will have in the months ahead leading up to the November election will be determined by whether she can maintain her independence on the Board of Supervisors as well her ability to strengthen her base of support against more entrenched candidates that have already declared candidacies, or are waiting in the wings for Olague to trip and fall.
Despite her incumbency status, which generally wards off less well-heeled challengers, Olague’s closest declared competitors include College Board Trustee John Rizzo and longtime D5 community activist, London Breed.
Already the whisper campaigns have begun, Olague said. But like a true fighter, she welcomed them. “Bring it on,” she said. “We know we’re going to win in November.”
Mayor Ed Lee appointed Olague to the D5 seat in January following former District 5 Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi’s election to Sheriff. Insiders believe Olague’s co-chairship of the controversial “Run, Ed, Run” campaign was pivotal in Lee’s considerations in naming her.
“I did take my time,” Mayor Ed Lee said, referring to his appointment of Olague while holding an umbrella to protect him from the rain. “I wanted to be very deliberate because once I made the decision, not only is there no turning back, it’s got to be the right decision. It’s got to be for the right reasons and it has to always be for San Francisco.”
Lee said when he was “wrestling with the [appointment] decision, what always came to the forefront – and something I have been passionate about myself and why I’ve always worked for the city and worked as hard as I did for different agencies and different mayors – is about community.”
Lee’s appointment of Olague was welcomed by many on the left, particularly SEIU organizer Gabriel Haaland who had written an open letter to Lee lobbying for her appointment. In his remarks at the kickoff, Haaland praised Lee for the appointment saying, “This is my first opportunity to thank the mayor for appointing someone of [Olague’s] caliber. We’re all incredibly grateful Mr. Mayor in District 5 that you took the time and considered all the options and really thought hard, we can tell.”
But it wasn’t long before Lee would come to realize his appointment of Olague came at a price. Some of his most deep-pocketed boosters, who spent small fortunes on electing Lee to the mayoralty, privately accused him of appointing an independent lefty more interested in what’s best for average San Franciscans than what’s best for their bank accounts.
Those whispers started swirling when Olague voted in support of three-thousand tenants – against Mayor Lee – facing an uncertain future at Park Merced at the hands of developers with ties to former Mayor Willie Brown, one of Lee’s biggest boosters in the mayor’s race.
“I think the mayor made a very courageous choice,” said former District 5 Supervisor and Board of Supervisors President Matt Gonzalez. “He did make a choice here that was not from political self-interest. He did not go and find somebody that was going to support him in every decision – and I can assure you that that would be what 99 percent of elected officials would do, given the opportunity.”
“It was something that he did not get credit and respect for,” Gonzalez added.
“She’s not only progressive, but she’s also independent,” added Unite HERE Local 2 President Mike Casey. “It’s very hard to stand up and say ‘no’ or ‘yes’ when the very person who appointed you is going a different way. It only happened on one issue (Park Merced), but it was only one issue.”
Olague also raised eyebrows among progressives when she became the pivotal sixth vote that will put Ranked Choice Voting up for a test on the November ballot. She joined Supervisors Mark Farrell, Sean Elsbernd, Carmen Chu, Malia Cohen and Scott Wiener – the most conservative members on the Board – in co-sponsoring a charter-amending ballot measure that aims to repeal Ranked Choice Voting in all citywide races.
In a post-event interview, Olague said the most pressing issues facing her District include quality of life issues, youth unemployment, affordable housing for an increasing senior citizen population, and improving public transportation in a Transit-First city.
“Certainly there’s certain parts of the District that I think we still need to look at – how do people live, what is the condition of housing, when do people get repairs, are resources are available to serve communities so that their needs are met.”
On youth unemployment, Olague said, “It’s not just about giving a job to someone but making sure they have the skills to succeed in those jobs.”
Olague said she will be working to develop youth job-training programs around technology and construction.
Like her predecessor, former District 5 Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who championed community policing in the District and across the city to reduce violent crime, Olague said she is an enthusiastic supporter of police walking foot beats.
“We’re totally supportive,” she said. “I am a huge fan of foot patrols. So we want to support a lot of what he [Mirkarimi] started and build on that. So a lot of people were concerned when he left because, I think, they were concerned that we didn’t have the same level of commitment (to community policing), which we do.”
“I think police really do need to know people in the neighborhoods. And also, this is one way that if a cop knows the youth in the neighborhood, regardless of their race or economic background, then maybe they’ll be less likely to criminalize them, right?”
Olague’s endorsements include San Francisco Labor Council; Senator Mark Leno; Mayor Ed Lee; Public Defender Jeff Adachi; Treasurer Jose Cisneros; former Board of Supervisors President Matt Gonzalez; Supervisors Jane Kim, David Campos and Eric Mar; Community College Board Trustee Chris Jackson; BART Board Director Tom Radulovich; California Democratic Party Chair John Burton; SEIU Organizer Gabriel Haaland; Building Inspections Commissioner Debra Walker; community leader Shelly Bradford-Bell; Haight-Ashbury community leader Calvin Welch; former Planning Commissioner Lisa Feldstein; and community leader Espanola Jackson – according to Olague’s website.