SF’s D9 Supervisor Race Takes Big Turn

by on October 30, 2023

Photo shows Roberto Hernandez
Roberto Hernandez

Does Hernandez Make Race a Tossup?

Until two weeks ago, “progressive” Jackie Fielder was the clear favorite in the D9 Supervisor’s race. D9’s voting history—Ammiano to Campos to Ronen— made it likely voters would replace Hilary Ronen with someone from the same political camp.

But on October 19 longtime Mission activist Roberto Hernandez entered the race. Hernandez grew up in the Mission and Bernal Heights. He would become the first District 9 Supervisor who was born and raised in District 9.

Hernandez is widely known for his work on Carnival and for leadership in addressing the COVID crisis in the Mission. He has most recently been involved in creating the Cultural Arts Healing Center on Florida Street, which combines ninety units of affordable housing with a cultural arts center.

Hernandez’s announcement was backed by farmworker icon Dolores Huerta (who he met in Delano at age 12) and a bevy of elected officials, including California Treasurer Fiona Ma, Controller Malia Cohen, State Senator Scott Wiener, and Supervisors Shamann Walton, and Myrna Melgar. Ahsha Safaí has not formally endorsed but has said publicly that Hernandez would be an “amazing” supervisor.

Hernandez was also unanimously endorsed by Teamsters Joint Council 7. He is expected to gain other key labor support as the campaign proceeds.

Can Hernandez break the progressive establishment’s hold on D9? Here’s our early take.

The Power of Bernal Heights

Since Tom Ammiano won the D9 seat when district elections resumed in 2000, Bernal Heights voters have determined the winner. Bernal’s high voter turnout and effective organizing paved the way for David Campos and Hillary Ronen to follow Ammiano’s lead. Unlike the city’s other most “progressive” identified district, D5, candidates backed by the progressive establishment have won every supervisors’ race.

As I describe in my book, Generation Priced Out, Bernal Heights is the heart of left NIMBYism. Homeowners combine progressive views on national and international issues with opposition to new market rate housing; they have vastly increased their own property values by creating an artificial scarcity of homes in the neighborhood.

Although D9 also includes Portola and much of the Mission (the Mission boundaries have changed with redistricting over the years), the Bernal Heights political agenda has framed supervisor races. Three factors may change this for the November 2024 D9 race.

Changes in 2024

First, public safety is a top D9 election issue for the first time. There have been many stories about Mission residents upset with open air drug dealing, drug usage, and illegal vending connected to the drug trade. I don’t think these residents are going to support Fielder, who has been critical of the police.

I haven’t seen polling specific to Bernal Heights. But Hernandez told me that he thinks public safety is the “number one issue” in that neighborhood. Polls find public safety a top issue citywide so he’s probably right. Bernal Heights voters concerned with safety may be less hospitable to Fiedler and more supportive of Hernandez and a third candidate, moderate Trevor Chandler.

Second, Hernandez is a stronger candidate than any prior challengers to D9’s progressive establishment. His well-attended and endorsement-backed October 19 announcement says that he already has a campaign base. Chandler’s active campaign means that two of the three leading candidates are likely to have their second place votes go to the other—that could prove the roadmap to victory for Hernandez (an aide to Ronen that previously planned to run has dropped out).

Third, voters may prefer an older candidate with decades of experience. San Francisco has elected very few supervisors over fifty. Voters have elected far more under forty –it’s not even close. Yet when San Francisco wants to advertise itself nationally, it recently picked Nancy Pelosi and Willie Brown—both in their 80’s.

I asked the 67 year old Hernandez while he finally decided to run for office after forty years as a community activist. He told me, “It’s painful to see what’s going on in the city. People talk and talk and I only see bandaids. There’s a feeling of dysfunction and I have a track record of getting things done.”

D9’s largest vote getter in November 2024 will be Joe Biden—another elder leader. Hundreds of millions of dollars will be spent by Biden supporters to make the case that age and experience is a virtue—and that should help Roberto Hernandez.

Fielder’s Strengths

Fielder remains a very strong candidate. She would be the first queer woman elected to the Board in 27 years. She is a woman of color in a city where that is a major political asset. She told the SF Chronicle last April that “It’s time for Latinas, Native Americans and queer people of color to have representation on the Board of Supervisors.” (Supervisor Melgar is Latina)

Fielder can count on getting most of the support of strong Ronen and Campos supporters.

Fielder is closely identified with the San Francisco-chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). That should be a big asset given the group’s ability to provide volunteers and funding. But DSA might cost her some votes after its response supporting the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel. I can foresee independent campaigns barraging D9 voters with photos of victims of the terrorism that DSA’s original statement not only condoned but endorsed.

There is a theory that you don’t pick against a political establishment until it loses a race. So Hernandez still faces a challenge. But with rising concern over public safety and Hernandez’s deep D9 roots the supervisor’s race has shifted from a walkover to a tossup.

Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the Director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which publishes Beyond Chron. Shaw's latest book is Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America. He is the author of four prior books on activism, including The Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. He is also the author of The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

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