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    All Politics Is Local: Board of Supervisors Recommendations and Spotlight on Two Great Women

    By Louise “Lou” Fischer–

    While the rest of the world is focusing on the nail-biting drama of the upcoming federal election and wondering if we will keep the House, flip the Senate, and whether the current president will steal another election, we still have the entertaining spectacle of local elections on November 3. In San Francisco, the bluest county in California (and Trump’s favorite punching bag), county supervisor elections are less of an undercard and more of the main event; a referendum of choice between multiple shades of blue.   

    In 2000, the city was segmented into eleven districts of (mostly) equal populations; elections are staggered every two years between odd and even districts. This year is an “odd” year—how appropriate given the current “unprecedented times,” so candidates representing Districts 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, and 11 will fill mailboxes with shiny printed literature. In the absence of door-to-door canvassing and mass gatherings, we’re limited to online meetings, fundraisers, and GOTV (get out the vote) events. I really miss in-person campaigns, but alas, “it is what it is.”  

    In this year’s supervisor election, there are two “ho-hum” races and four that are contested. In Districts 3 and 9, Aaron Peskin and Hillary Ronen could go into the Witness Protection Program and they’d still win. District 7 is an open seat (Norman Yee is termed out) with a supposed “favorite,” but with ranked choice, this race is a toss-up. District 11 incumbent Ahsha Safai is running against a former supervisor who can’t resist Newton’s Second Law of Motion (centripetal force), to run again, or he just can’t get a job in the real world.

    Districts 1 and 5 have two fantastic women running; I’ve known and supported Marjan Philhour and Vallie Brown for years. Both candidates have long and storied careers in public service and ran in previous elections. Marjan lost the D1 (Richmond District) race in 2016 by a margin of 4% and Vallie’s D5 (Haight, Western Addition, Fillmore, and other areas) loss last year was by an agonizing 185 votes out of a total of 23,261 or a difference of a razor thin 0.80%. I had a chance to “email chat” with both of them and learn about their goals for their districts and the city (responses edited for brevity).

    Why are you running again? 

    Marjan Philhour (D1): My husband Byron and I are raising our three children in the Richmond and I want them and our senior and immigrant communities to be able to stay in the neighborhood. The Richmond has had failed leadership for the last 20 years. I’m running to ensure that issues such as safe and clean streets, housing affordability, support for small businesses, and homelessness are actually addressed. 

    Vallie Brown (D5): I believe that I’m the best candidate to help lead our city’s COVID-19 recovery. The issues facing this city, including homelessness, a housing shortage, overcrowded transportation, and restrictions on small businesses, have been exacerbated by the pandemic. We must build more housing at all levels and help small businesses recover. D5 needs a thoughtful, responsive leader with an actionable plan, and I believe I am that leader.

    What is the #1 issue for your district?

    Marjan Philhour (D1): Homelessness will be my top priority; we have not seen real leadership on this issue. I will work to invest in mental health services, permanent supportive housing, and to strengthen conservatorship laws to provide help to individuals with severe mental illness. It is neither compassionate nor progressive to allow people to live on our streets, especially during a pandemic.

    Vallie Brown (D5): Homelessness is my number one issue in District 5; COVID-19 has made it an urgent and overwhelming disaster. We need sustainable solutions that provide services for people suffering from mental illness and substance abuse. I want to establish more supportive housing by expanding the Small Sites program to purchase private buildings. Currently, it costs $800K to build one affordable housing unit, but to purchase an existing building can cost as little as $450k. 

    Other than homelessness, what is your top priority for the whole city?

    Marjan Philhour (D1): Supporting small businesses. We need to make it easier to open a business and we must give small businesses flexibility to thrive in a constantly changing business environment. We’re losing 10% of our small businesses every month. 

    Vallie Brown (D5): The housing crisis and racial equity. I have a strong track record of pushing for policies that expand housing at all levels of affordability. I am committed to furthering racial equity and justice in community-led reforms of housing, education, policing, and healthcare. 

    Louise Fischer: Vallie, that was 2 priorities, but D5 is a challenging district, so I’ll let it slide.  

    What sets you apart from the other candidate(s)?

    Marjan Philhour (D1): I have government, business, and community organizing experience at the state, federal, and local levels of government and I’m very active as an organizer in my own neighborhood. I served in the SF Mayor’s office and have run two small businesses; I co-founded our local merchants association (Balboa Village Merchants Association). I take a hands-on approach to community work as well as in my professional work and would bring that same passion to the role of supervisor.

    Vallie Brown (D5): I’m a collaborative leader; even when I don’t agree with people, I work together to build bridges with communities and find a solution that benefits everyone. District 5 needs a leader who has the experience and inclination to unite our neighborhoods around the issues that divide them, not one who allows progressive vs. moderate politics to get in the way of real change.

    My Recommendations for the Other Districts

    District 3Danny Sauter – No, he won’t beat Peskin, but give a guy credit for trying.

    District 7 – This is a tough one. In this district, ranked choice is your friend. All of the three following candidates are good choices: openly-gay candidate Joel Engardio, former member of the Board of Education Emily Murase, and former Planning Commissioner Myrna Melgar. If you are an identity voter, Joel is gay, Myrna is Jewish, and Emily is Japanese American but also a diminutive little ball of fire with an impressive hat collection.  

    District 9 – There is no one running against Hillary Ronen; so much for ranked choice. I live in the district and even though we have ideological differences, I’m voting for Hillary.

    District 11 – Vote for Ahsha Safai. While recycling is good for the environment, it doesn’t apply to elected officials; no need to recycle former supervisors.  

    Most importantly, just vote! This year, all registered voters in California will receive a ballot in the mail so you have no excuse. You can also safely vote in person in SF starting on October 5 (outdoors at Bill Graham Civic Center). If you are using a mail-in ballot, it’s probably best to drop it off at City Hall or at the 588 neighborhood polling locations on November 3—or as I call it “the most important Election Day of our lives.”

    Louise (Lou) Fischer is a Former Co-Chair of the Board of Directors of the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club and has served as an appointed and elected Delegate for the State Democratic Party. She is a proud graduate of the Emerge California Women’s Democratic Leadership program, was a San Francisco Commissioner, and has served in leadership positions in multiple nonprofit and community-based organizations.

    Published on September 10, 2020