By Luke Thomas
September 21, 2012
Eight candidates vying to be the next elected District 5 Supervisor squared off during a contentious debate Wednesday providing a packed house at the West Bay Conference Center with a sense that the hotly-contested race is turning in to an all out slug fest.
That’s good news for democracy enthusiasts and residents of the most progressive District in San Francisco whose passions have yet to be ignited in a race that could have far-reaching implications as the City marches forward with economic development policies via corporate tech tax breaks while doing little to protect residents from skyrocketing rents and affordability impacts.
The debate was refereed and moderated by San Francisco Bay Guardian Editor Tim Redmond and sponsored by D-5 Action; Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council; Cathedral Hill Neighborhood Association; Fillmore Neighbors Association and Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association. The debate format included a round of questions from a panel of debate sponsor moderators, a round where each candidate was required to ask a question of a randomly selected candidate, and a round of candidates firing questions at each other.
The candidates in the ranked choice race that will be decided by voters in November are former Redevelopment Agency Commissioner London Breed; community organizer Julian Davis; indigent defense attorney Daniel Everett; former Sunshine Task Force Chair Hope Johnson; appointed District 5 Supervisor Christina Olague; San Francisco Immunization Coalition Director Andrew Resignato; Community College Board Trustee John Rizzo and small business owner and mother Thea Selby.
As would be expected, Olague, who was appointed to the D5 seat by Mayor Ed Lee following her co-chairship of the controversial ‘Run, Ed, Run’ campaign and former District 5 Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi’s election to Sheriff – was besieged by an onslaught of slings and arrows with former Redevelopment Agency Commissioner London Breed leading the pack and pulling no punches.
Olague has come under fire from progressive circles on a number of issues since her appointment, including her support for a luxury condo development on the waterfront, her participation with downtown allies to eliminate ranked-choice voting, and her most recent support of the re-appointment of a Republican to the Planning Commission.
Despite her indebtedness to the mayor for her appointment, Olague contends she is independent.
Breed, who has raised the most money to date and has been endorsed by groups most progressives consider to be less than progressive (San Francisco Police Officers Association for example) and who lost out to Olague for the D5 appointment, was first to draw blood, calling into question Olague’s independence and being party to a political “dictatorship.”
“The decision to appoint Supervisor Olague was made after she came out and pushed the ‘Run, Ed, Run’ campaign,” Breed said in response to a question posed by Everett about why Breed does not respect Lee’s appointment of Olague. “Supervisor Olague has lived in twelve different places over the last twelve years and she just moved to District 5 over four years ago, and as far as I am concerned I want a supervisor who cares about doing things in the District, and many of the folks who are on this panel actually care about making a difference, not just for this District, but for the City. So, as far as I am concerned, I just want a supervisor who I can trust. I want to make sure we have an open door policy because the Supervisor’s office is not an open-door policy – it’s a dictatorship, just like the mayor’s office is.”
Not taking the bait, Olague responded, “I’m not going to honor that type of negativity with a response.”
“Either we can trust you or we can’t,” Breed fired back.
Olague campaign staffer Larry Griffith called out from the audience, “We can trust her,” to which Breed responded, “You are all on her payroll.”
When it was Breed’s turn to ask Olague a question, Breed asked Olague to explain why she opposed granting a height exception to a waterfront building project in 2008 when Olague served on the Planning Commission, but, as supervisor, voted in support of the 8 Washington waterfront luxury condos project, a 135-foot development largely opposed by progressives and District 5 residents and now subject to a November 2013 voter referendum.
Labor Council pressure
Olague responded, “Like (Supervisor) Eric Mar, who also supported the project and Supervisor Jane Kim, all of us are progressive supervisors on the Board. We began our conversation regarding this issue with the Labor Council. It was an issue that was very important to the labor community. Carpenters and other members of the trades have been facing very deep unemployment issues. Also, the project that Ms. Breed is referring to is one that is in a different location on the waterfront and the impacts of that project are very different from what I believe are the lesser impacts of 8 Washington. Also, we got $11 million in affordable housing funding, which is far and above what is normally required in the in-lieu fee. We are turning a private tennis club and swimming pool into a publicly accessible space and we are going to be charging 50 cents for each car that comes in and out of the lot that will go to transportation infrastructure. It is a community benefits issue for me and the Labor Council.”
Kim’s election to the D6 seat in 2010 was in large part credited to funding and support from former Mayor Willie Brown, Rose Pak and the Chinese Community Development Center, a non-profit organization and beneficiary of City funding – the same entities that are supporting Olague. Mar, who is fighting for his political survival against former Recreation and Park Commissioner David Lee in the race for District 1 Supervisor, would have likely faced opposition from Pak and Brown had he opposed the 8 Washington project.
During a follow-up question, Breed asked Olague, “I want to know as someone who claims to be progressive, tell me, do you think that progressive supervisors like Sue Bierman, Matt Gonzalez or Ross Mirkarimi would have voted for 8 Washington?”
Olague responded, “I haven’t had a conversation with any of the above about this issue, so I don’t know.”
‘Run, Ed, Run’ cooties
When it was former Sunshine Ordinance Task Force Chair Hope Johnson’s turn to ask a candidate a question, she also trained her sights on Olague.
“You co-chaired the ‘Run, Ed, Run’ campaign,” Johnson said. “One of my concerns is, is though you didn’t actually break the black-letter law of campaign financing… it sort of skirted the spirit of campaign finance laws for people’s right to know where that money is coming from. Can you explain why you thought that was a good idea considering your progressive background?”
Olague responded, “I was chair of the ‘Run, Ed, Run’ campaign. I was asked to join that campaign by someone I respect – Gordon Chin – who as executive director of the Chinatown Community Development Center, has done a lot in this city for low-income tenants – all communities, not just Chinatown. That’s what I felt very comfortable doing. I’m also comfortable, if you like, to review some of these campaign finance laws. We consulted with many attorneys and we were to the letter of the law so I’m happy to discuss any uncomfortable issues you have with that campaign finance law – we can totally look at that. Also, I am happy to have been appointed by Ed Lee but my record has been independent. I’m not going to disassociate myself from people who have helped me out in my past and I think the recent public power stance that I took is an example of how I respect him, but I don’t always agree with him.”
Progressive movement run by ‘straight white males?’
Community organizer Julian Davis, the progressive standard bearer in the race who has been endorsed by Supervisors John Avalos and David Campos, former Board of Supervisors President and D5 Supervisor Matt Gonzalez, former Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, Assemblymember Tom Ammiano and who recently received the sole endorsement of the Harvey Milk Democratic Club, called into question Olague’s vote in support of Michael Antonini’s reappointment to the Planning Commission.
“At a recent Harvey Milk Democratic Club meeting, you lamented that you felt that the progressive movement is being run by ‘straight white males,’ Davis said. “Yet, when your planning commission appointment came up, you appointed a straight, white Republican male to the planning commission. How do account for that and how exactly is that progressive?”
Olague responded, “I think it goes without saying that the progressive movement in San Francisco is not kind to low-income people of color who happen to be progressive. I can say that first hand. That would be another question. I don’t think they prioritize the issues that are relevant to low-income communities of color. That’s been my observation. As far as Antonini is concerned, I’d like you to know that progressives like Aaron Peskin, progressives like Ross Mirkarimi and others, both voted to bring him back onto the Planning Commission, twice. Aaron Peskin, I believe voted three times to bring him back to the Planning Commission. So progressives on this Board of Supervisors voted consistently to return Antonini to the Planning Commission. I believe in my case, it had to do with the fact that I actually served with him for seven and a half years. We rarely agreed. We voted singularly on one issue and it had to do with architecture and not public policy. So it had to do with the collegial history that I had with him.”
The pile on continued with Selby calling into question Olague’s integrity.
“Rose Pak was able to deliver $46,000 to your coffer in one evening,” Selby said. “How can you serve us with integrity if you find it absolutely normal to receive huge sums of money from sources outside the District and very much in line with Mayor Lee?”
Olague responded, “I think my voting record, if anyone takes the time to look at it, speaks for itself. I think on the Planning Commission, I was consistently progressive and I voted on issues like Park Merced – I was three of the votes opposing it. I didn’t feel that we should gut 1500 rent-controlled units that were perfectly sound priced units. Treasure Island, there was no finding is radioactive (sic), that brings 20,000 people on to an Island with two exits and thirty-seven identified significant impacts in the EIR – I voted against that one. Time will tell. Also, the Lennar project in Bayview Hunters Point, I had some concerns about that and that hasn’t changed and hopefully the community will ultimately benefit from that project. But, that being said, since I’ve been on the Board, I have shown independence. One of the first votes I cast was Sharp Park appeal. I voted on the Avalos revenue measure over the mayor’s. I voted yesterday for CCA (Community Choice Aggregation) and I’ll continue to vote what I think is best for the citizens of San Francisco.”
Mayor Lee, who said PG&E is a “great company” in the aftermath of the San Bruno gas pipeline explosion, appeared to be prepared to veto CCA on behalf of PG&E, but was stymied Tuesday by a veto-proof (8-3) vote in support of CCA, a public power program that will go some distance in breaking PG&E’s decades long energy monopoly while offering residents 100 percent clean and renewable energy beginning next year.
Who would the candidates endorse in the ranked choice race?
Perhaps the most revealing question posed to candidates was who would each candidate endorse second and third in the ranked choice race.
Olague said she would endorse Rizzo and Everett. Selby said she would endorse Rizzo and Johnson. Everett said he would endorse Selby and Olague. Johnson said she would endorse Resignato and Rizzo or Davis. Resignato said he would endorse Johnson. Breed said she would endorse Davis and Rizzo. Davis said he would endorse Rizzo and Selby. Rizzo said he would endorse Davis, Selby and Breed.
There’s not much to separate the candidates on the issues. All support efforts to increase affordable housing, improving public safety and Muni performance. The one stand out issue is on Sit/Lie, a controversial ordinance passed by voters in 2010 that makes it illegal to sit or lie on a sidewalk between 7 am and 11 pm. Breed is the only candidate to have supported the measure.
Asked by a panel moderator about her support of Sit/Lie, Breed said, “I supported Sit/Lie because I believe in making sure that we deal with issues of that nature especially because we have got to make sure that people who are impacted in the Haight, are safe and comfortable with being in the Haight. But more importantly, the people who are the problems in the Haight need services. We give a lot of money to social service agencies in this city and we need to make sure that they’re there where the issues are.”
Another panel moderator took Rizzo to task over the accreditation problems at City College.
Rizzo said he was recruited by the late Milton Marks, “to help him fix problems like this that we’re facing today.”
“My first task after three months was dealing with corruption, out and out corruption, money laundering,” Rizzo continued. “I brought in auditors and we methodically, after pushing out the administration that was later pled guilty to felonies, the audits showed $40 million of unapproved expenses. We fixed it. They were $200 million over budget on their projects. Our last two buildings after my reforms were on budget.
“With the current situation which I have been working on for four years, these same issues, bringing up these same things that the accreditation was finding, I now have a mandate to fix it. I brought in a group called FCMAT, a state agency. We just got their report yesterday and it’s going to help us lead the way and I’m very glad I brought that report in to the district.”