Profiles of Compassion and Courage: Rafael Mandelman

stuBay Times columnist Rafael Mandelman, elected in 2012 to be a member of the Board of Trustees for City College of San Francisco, is an attorney who primarily represents local governments and nonprofit housing developers. He specializes in matters related to land use, real estate, economic development and affordable housing. Given the importance of these issues and his compassionate nature, we are so lucky to have him here in the Bay Area!

Rafael moved to San Francisco in 1985 at the age of 11. He attended Brandeis-Hillel Day School and Lick-Wilmerding High School before heading east to Yale College. Yale, known at the time as the “Gay Ivy,” was a great place for him to come out and begin to define his adult identity. After college, he attended Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and UC Berkeley, where he earned his law degree. He served on the City’s Building Inspection Commission and Board of Appeals, before getting elected to the Democratic County Central Committee in 2006. He serves on a number of nonprofit boards, and currently co-chairs the board of the LGBT Community Center.

SS: How did you become involved in your work?

RM: My professional work has reflected my desire to combine and use my legal and policy training in a way that serves local communities. I feel lucky that I have been able to do that.  I am passionate about my extracurricular civic work as well – politics, public service, volunteering. Sometimes it feels like I have two jobs, at least, but I really do get a lot of satisfaction out of my community involvement.

SS: Who have been your key mentors?

RM: I have been lucky to have known and learned from some very strong women. One was my grandmother, a holocaust survivor who saved my father and then built a new life for herself and him in the United States. She was one tough lady and an incredibly loving one as well. I miss her a lot, but I feel so privileged to have known her. Another tough lady who has taught me a lot is former Senator Carole Migden. Carole and her queer contemporaries in politics busted through glass ceilings and opened new worlds of possibility for those who would follow. She taught me the value of pure stubbornness, of simply not giving in when you are right.

Rafael Mandelman

Rafael Mandelman

SS: If you could solve or fix a community problem, what would it be?

RM: Right now, of course, I am singularly focused on the problem of keeping City College open and accredited. It really is an absolutely critical institution, vital to lots of local businesses, not to mention the tens of thousands of people who have been able to pursue their educational and vocational dreams there. The thought that anyone could think it would be a good or acceptable idea to shut this institution down is absolutely infuriating to me.

SS: What achievement are you most proud of?

RM: I say that running for Supervisor in 2010 was the most fun thing I have done as a grownup. Of course, I would like to have won that race, but I feel proud of our accomplishments in the campaign nonetheless. At the start of the campaign, I think I was the least well known of the candidates, and I really had so much to learn about how to run a campaign. But in the end, we gave Scott a run for his money, and offered the voters of District 8 a real choice. And I really felt spectacularly proud to have been able to give voice to the progressive values of so many District 8 residents. I think that’s one of the most rewarding things about politics – being able to express the ideals and aspirations of people who are able to use you and your campaign as their megaphone. It was a great honor.

SS: What are your goals for the
future?

RM: Over the short term, I will focus my energies on defending and strengthening City College. I am cautiously optimistic that the ACCJC’s death sentence will be rescinded (either through the appeal process or through the courts), but even after that happens, there will be a ton of work to heal the wounds at City College and set it on a path to a better future. Over the long term, I hope to continue to find ways to serve our community.

Stu Smith is board chair emeritus of Shanti Project, board chair of The Paratransit Coordinating Council, a member of the Castro Country Club Advisory Board and the LGBT Senior Task Force, and producer and host of the public access TV program “The Drag Show.” KQED has honored Stu as a 2013 LGBT Hero.