Photograph by Don Nolte

Photograph by Don Nolte

Tony Kelly, District 10 candidate.

February 2014

Kelly to Challenge Cohen in District 10 Board of Supervisors Race

Brian Rinker

This November’s race for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors District 10 seat is shaping up to be nothing like the 2010 election. Four years ago 21 candidates competed for an office to be vacated by then-supervisor Sophie Maxwell, who was termed-out after having served 10 years in the position. This year Malia Cohen, who received the third most first place votes in that election, but won after multiple rounds of ranked choice voting, will square off against a much diminished crowd of would-be politicians.

The 2014 race will include some familiar faces, however. Earlier this month Tony Kelly filed the necessary papers with the City to become a District 10 candidate. Kelly captured a dozen more first place votes than Cohen in 2010, but ultimately lost the race to the now incumbent supervisor. The only other challenger who has declared her intent to run is Bayview resident and real estate agent Diane Wesley Smith, who also appeared on the 2010 ballot, but garnered just two percent of the votes cast.

Longtime community activist, Visitacion Valley resident, and fourth place finisher in 2010, Marlene Tran expressed interest in running this year, but hasn’t yet decided if she will. Tran said she’s been disappointed with Cohen’s work, especially within the Asian-American community. She cited the selling of the community center in Visitacion Valley, and the lack of access to bilingual municipal services, as two of Cohen’s failures.

In response to the former assertion, Cohen said that “Wells Fargo had foreclosed on the community center, and while the City was negotiating to buy it the bank sold it at auction.”

Kelly’s entry may make the District 10 election the City’s most competitive supervisors’ race. To date no candidates who have demonstrated the potential to win an election have come forward to challenge incumbents in districts two, four, six, or eight. Still, it won’t be easy for Kelly or any another candidate to unseat Cohen. Since 2000, a district-elected supervisor has never lost re-election. Christina Olague failed to win District Five in 2012 after she was appointed by Mayor Ed Lee, but she’d never been elected supervisor by the voters.

“If it is going to happen,” said Kelly, referring to the City’s first upset of a district-elected supervisor, “it is going to happened here, in District 10.”

Kelly and other challengers have some cause for optimism. After the 2010 election District 10’s boundaries were redrawn. Portola, a small neighborhood that primarily voted for Cohen – she was raised in that community – was shifted to District 11. District 10 retained Bayview, Dogpatch, Potrero Hill, and Visitacion Valley. And since there’s an incumbent, the race will feature fewer serious challengers, allowing voters a less crowded forum in which to get to know candidates before voting.

Several of the top eight candidates in 2010 have confirmed that they aren’t running. View publisher Steven Moss, who came in fifth place, said he gave the office his best shot in the last election, and had moved on to other things. Chris Jackson has relocated to the East Bay. Teresa Duque was cut out of the district when it was redrawn. First place finisher Lynette Sweet lost her spot on the Bay Area Rapid Transit board in 2012. She didn’t respond to messages from the View.

According to Kelly, the new district lines and smaller candidate pool are game changers. But he’s not relying on these variables to win the election. Kelly plans to campaign hard. Sitting in a Potrero Hill cafe, eating a ham and cheese croissant and drinking an orange juice, he made his first political commitment: “I promise that when I’m supervisor, I, or my staff, will hold community office hours 11 times a week, every week.” Kelly added that means he’ll hold office hours for community input daily in Bayview, three times weekly in Visitacion Valley and once a week in Potrero Hill. Cohen holds regular community office hours once a month for an hour and a half.

“Let’s be clear,” said Kelly, “our problems in District 10 are literally life and death issues; it is more real here.” Poor air quality, ground and water pollution, crime, stress, diabetes, economic instability, unemployment and housing affordability are some of the issues at stake for district residents, according to Kelly. Kelly said that life expectancy in District 10 is 14 years shorter than in Russian Hill. Kelly, Tran, and Smith all complained that Cohen has been an “invisible” supervisor.

A twenty year District 10 resident, Kelly founded and managed a theatre company, Thick Description, until 2010, when it became financially unviable. He served as president of the Potrero Boosters for many years, most recently between 2011 and 2013. He earns a living as the art director for the San Francisco Symphony’s Playbill, and as a freelance theatre director. Kelly helped organize the successful ballot initiative to stop the Eight Washington condominium project, and has lead community opposition to installation of parking meters in Dogpatch, the Mission, and Potrero Hill.

Cohen held a campaign fundraiser in December; the amount she’s collected so far will be made available online at the Ethics Commission sometime this month. But the supervisor said that it’s too early to talk about the election. Instead, she pointed to her recent accomplishments, including, in collaboration with District Six Supervisor Jane Kim, introducing legislation to stop asking applicants if they’ve ever been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony on job and affordable housing applications. According to Cohen, the criminal check box is a “barrier to entry,” causing those with criminal backgrounds to be denied jobs and housing. Under her bill employers could still ask applicants about their criminal history, and run background checks. The proposal is meant to help applicants with checkered pasts get their foot in the door.

To help address obesity and high diabetes rates in Bayview, Cohen supports a two percent per ounce tax on sugary beverages, an idea that’s being pushed by at least two other supervisors. Other cities have tried similar soda taxes; all have failed. Cohen also said she helped expand the 22 bus line into the Southside neighborhoods, a change that’ll be completed in 2015, with new diesel hybrid buses replacing the overhead wire ones.

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