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    Representation Matters: A Chance to Vote for Two Highly Qualified Women on Election Day

    By Louise “Lou” Fischer–

    Ever since the first elections in approximately 508 B.C. when male landowners in ancient Greece cast their votes on broken pieces of pottery, women have been woefully underrepresented at all levels of government. Over 2500 years later, this trend continues despite volumes of published studies on the effectiveness of women as legislators and leaders.

    In general, female elected officials are more likely to be liberal and open-minded regarding civil rights and social equality, and are more committed to women’s issues—especially pay equity, health care, family policies, and gender discrimination. Research shows that women in government are more collaborative and are focused on building coalitions and consensus rather than employing an autocratic style of leadership.

    This doesn’t mean that we throw caution to the wind and vote for just any woman; the key is to elect talented and highly qualified women. I’d vote for Michelle Obama in a minute and I actually did vote for Hillary Clinton (3 times!), but the only vote that I’d ever throw down for Melania Trump is “most unhappy and reluctant First Lady since Mary Todd Lincoln.”

    This November, San Francisco has a chance to elect two extremely qualified women. Vallie Brown, District 5 Supervisor, was appointed by Mayor Breed last year and is on the ballot to serve a full 4-year term. In the District Attorney’s race, we have an “only in San Francisco” twist; what had previously been an open race for District Attorney is no longer, with the appointment of Suzy Loftus to fill the seat recently vacated by outgoing DA, George Gascon.

    Suzy Loftus for District Attorney

    Suzy Loftus

    I first met Suzy in 2008 when we entered the Emerge California Women’s Leadership program; even in a class full of talented women and many future elected officials, she stood out. This is no small feat, as our class of 2009 included Libby Schaaf (current Mayor of Oakland), Lateefah Simon (current BART Board Director), Catherine Stefani (current SF Supervisor, District 2) and a few other noteworthy elected officials throughout the Bay Area.

    Suzy brings a wealth of both law-and-order and community experience to the position. She served as an Assistant District Attorney in the City, General Counsel at the California Department of Justice (under Kamala Harris), President of the SF Police Commission, and most recently as General Counsel to the SF Sheriff’s office under Vicki Hennessy.

    She spent a few years at the Center for Youth Wellness, an innovative program that serves children in Bayview/Hunters Point who are suffering from childhood trauma and adversity. Whether deliberate or not, Suzy’s background prepared her for this role. She is by far the most qualified and experienced candidate, which is why Mayor Breed chose her to lead the office upon Gascon’s resignation.

    I recently volunteered to do neighborhood canvassing with Suzy, and in between ringing doorbells, shaking hands, and chatting up voters, she answered a few questions for me for the San Francisco Bay Times.

    Lou Fischer: What is it about your experience & background that makes you different from the other candidates in the race?

    Suzy Loftus: It all boils down to approach, experience, and support. My approach is collaborative and not authoritative; I bring people together to solve problems. I have the most experience [of all candidates] inside and outside the courtroom, and more qualifications than my opponents. I’ve earned more support from national, state, and local leaders; this will benefit the office greatly when advocating for budget, resources, and policy changes.

    Lou Fischer: I was going to ask, “What is your number one priority for the office if you win in November?” But at this time, I guess it’s: “Now that you’ve been appointed, what is your number one priority?”

    Suzy Loftus: To rebuild the office through recruiting top talent and to improve morale. Another top priority is to get the civil rights unit up and running as soon as possible.

    Lou Fischer: Two of your opponents have never served as an Assistant District Attorney. It must be hard to hear them make campaign promises or statements that you know are completely out of the purview of the DA’s office. Give one example (no names!) of an issue that is an “eye-roll moment” where you wish you could say, “Hey, I did this job. You can’t do that!”

    Suzy Loftus: Well, one of my opponents is getting a lot of applause at debates and rallies with his promise to turn Juvenile Hall into a mental health center. While I agree that the City needs a comprehensive mental health plan, and especially safe and secure places for children who are in distress, this is not under the jurisdiction of the District Attorney’s office. In my experience through the Center for Youth Wellness, we need a comprehensive mental health plan that brings all the City Departments together to develop new modes of care that will work.

    Vallie Brown for District 5 Supervisor

    Vallie Brown

    Vallie Brown, the current incumbent and 20+ year resident of the D5, has deep roots in the community and direct experience in City Hall; she served as a legislative aide to two supervisors, Ross Mirkarimi and London Breed, so she knows how to get things done.

    She also knows what it is like to struggle with housing insecurity, homelessnesss, and inadequate health insurance. As a child, she moved around a great deal “just before getting evicted,” and at times had to sleep in the family car until her single mother could put together enough money for rent. Sadly, her mother passed away due to lack of suitable health care when Vallie was only 14 years old. Vallie was kind enough to share her story and her priorities for the role of supervisor with me for the San Francisco Bay Times.

    Lou Fischer: What makes you different from the other major candidate in the race?

    Vallie Brown: The ability to find common ground even when you disagree. In 14 months, I’ve passed 30 pieces of legislation on issues as diverse as affordable housing, homelessness, equity, climate environment, and women’s reproductive rights. As a neighborhood activist for 2 decades, I know what it feels like to have other people say what’s best for a community, without input from that community. My 10 years of experience as a legislative aide working on affordable housing gives me the knowledge and experience to get things done without making promises I can’t keep. As a woman of Native/Indigenous heritage, I understand the importance of women having a voice, and a seat at the table; our government should reflect the people it represents. It’s troubling that San Francisco is composed of more than 50% women, yet we are only represented by 4 out of 11 members on the Board of Supervisors.

    Lou Fischer: What would your top three priorities be as supervisor?

    Vallie Brown: Housing: We need to protect renters, while building new apartments and affordable housing. Since being appointed, I worked to expand funding for the Small Sites Acquisition program to prevent Ellis Act evictions and preserve rent-controlled housing. I fought for the Neighborhood Preference Policy, the Displaced Tenant Preference legislation, funding for a Tenants’ Rights Ombudsman to mediate disputes, and funding for Housing Counseling Readiness & Financial Empowerment Programs to provide support for low- and moderate-income households. I’m also working to get additional funding for rental subsidies and housing vouchers for high-need homeless families and low-income seniors. I’ve worked on Identifying City land for 100% affordable housing such as the former McDonald’s location at 730 Stanyan and another location on Octavia Blvd. At 400 Divisadero and two other sites on or near Divisadero, I legislated for a higher inclusionary rate than mandated at the time. We can quadruple the number of affordable apartments and turn a polluting asphalt gas station, a car wash, and an abandoned radiator shop into new affordable housing.

    Homelessness: We need to be creative. At the top of my list is bringing a Transitional Aged Youth (TAY) Navigation Center to the district. I authored and unanimously passed San Francisco’s first Vehicle Navigation Center and Safe Parking Program, which will provide social services, case management, and a safe place to park for people living in cars and RVs. I also allocated additional funding for bathrooms, showers, and on-site case managers. I funded a new collaborative program called Safe Resting Place, which will support a local D5 church and homelessness service provider, Project Homeless Connect, to get people connected to services, and off the street. I also fought to keep open our D5 Homeless Shelters for Youth, especially for unaccompanied minors and trans TAY-youth in the Haight-Ashbury. I was a vocal supporter of Prop C – Our City, Our Home local ballot initiative and unanimously passed legislation to give this initiative oversight by the community so it is “ready to go” when that $300-$400 million is available.

    Clean & Green SF/Environmental priorities: I’m excited to have passed what I’m calling Plastic Bag Ban 2.0, which will phase out the use of non-recyclable produce bags in grocery stores and increase the bag fee from 10¢ to 25¢. I passed legislation for commercial spaces over 50,000 sq. ft. to use 100% renewable energy by 2030. I introduced legislation to mandate that multi-family residential buildings over 50,000 sq. ft. report energy usage to the City—we can’t manage what we aren’t measuring. I also introduced legislation for all new City buildings to use clean, renewable electricity, and start phasing out natural gas. We are rebuilding playgrounds, planting sidewalk gardens, and hundreds of new trees, and improving streetscapes across the district. Finally, we’re making our parks more ecologically in tune with California’s climate changes by incorporating drought-resistant, native plants in open spaces.

    Lou Fischer: What about transportation and traffic congestion?

    Vallie Brown: We need to ease traffic and congestion. We should seriously look into working with state regulators to regulate TNCs (Uber/Lyft). We need to pass Prop D to tax TNC rides, make Muni safe, and invest in more Muni operators to avoid Muni meltdowns. We are currently short almost 400 Muni operators. We need to look beyond cars, busses, and trains, and expand our bike share network throughout the City. Most of all, we need to address dangerous intersections and realize Vision Zero by seriously addressing bicycle and pedestrian safety in D5 and throughout the City.

    So, there you have it: two fantastically talented and qualified women. If you live in D5, vote for both Suzy and Vallie. If you are not a D5 resident, you can only vote for Suzy. We need more women in office. We still live in a country where women are suffering from wage gaps, where everything from medication to office chairs is designed without women in mind, and where a man accused of sexual assault and perjury can be confirmed to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. We need to do better. Vote for women!

    By the Numbers
    4 (36%) – Number of women currently on the SF Board of Supervisors (BOS) out of 11; this will drop to 3 (27%) if Vallie Brown is not re-elected)
    592 – Approximate number of people who have served on the BOS since 1856
    35 (5.9%) – Number of women on the BOS since 1856
    1921 – First woman elected to the BOS
    1953 – Second woman elected to the BOS
    1966 – Third woman elected to the BOS
    44 – Total number of people who have served as mayor of San Francisco since 1850
    2 (4.4%) – Total number of female mayors in the history of SF
    25 – Total number of people who have served as SF district attorney
    2 (8%) – Total number of female district attorneys in SF (Senator Kamala Harris and newly appointed Suzy Loftus)
    1 – Number of mothers to serve as district attorney (Suzy has 3 amazing daughters!)
    39 – Total number of people who have served as governor of California
    0 – Total number of female governors in CA (this distresses me greatly)
    44 – Number of women who have served as governor in the U.S. (in 30 states)
    20 – Number of states in the U.S. that have never had a female governor
    1974 – First female governor elected in her own right (Ella T. Grasso, in my home state of Connecticut)
    51% – female population in the U.S.
    25 – percentage of women currently in the U.S. Senate
    23 – percentage of women currently in the U.S. House of Representatives
    28 – percentage of women currently in statewide elected executives (e.g., governor, secretary of state, controller, treasurer, etc.)
    29 – percentage of women currently in state legislative seats (in all of the U.S.)
    22 – percentage of female mayors in cities with populations over 30,000 (shout out to our own Mayor Breed and Oakland’s Mayor Schaaf)
    0 – percentage of female presidents of the U.S. (please, oh please, in 2020!)

    Louise (Lou) Fischer is a Former Co-Chair of the Board of Directors for 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.