Mandelman sets up D8 showdown

Challenge to Sup. Jeff Sheehy will be proxy battle over the mayor and the direction of the moderate board

Rafael Mandelman, who led the City College Board through some very rough times, surprised nobody in local politics when he formally announced last week that he’s challenging Sup. Jeff Sheehy for the District 8 seat.

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His announcement sets up what could be (depending on how Sheehy votes in the next few months) a replay of the classic District 3 race in 2015, where Aaron Peskin challenged Mayor Ed Lee’s appointee, Julie Christensen, and won.

Sheehy isn’t Christensen – he has a political history that includes a stint as the president of the Harvey Milk Club way back when, and 20 years ago, he was generally considered part of the progressive world.

But now he’s linked to a very unpopular mayor whose tech-friendly policies have done immense, almost incalculable damage to the city. And Mandelman, also a former Milk Club president, will have the support of much of the progressive establishment.

Let me make one thing clear from the start: Mandelman (like Peskin) is not a radical leftist; he is not, as David Latterman argues, “firmly entrenched on the hard left” of the city. He’s pretty much in the mainstream of progressive thought, and is a pragmatist; more Jane Kim than John Avalos (and I say that with great respect for both Kim and Avalos).

Both candidates are going to raise lots of money. Mandelman would most likely be an independent sixth progressive vote, particularly on housing issues.

Tom Temprano, who has worked with Mandelman on the Community College Board, told me “I am 100 percent with Rafael. He’s exactly what District 8 needs — he’s a bridge builder, he’s very thoughtful, and he knows ever inch of that district.”

Sheehy hasn’t had to vote on that many difficult issues yet, but that’s about to change.

We will see in the next few weeks where Sheehy lands as some critical votes come down that will test the six-five moderate majority. If Mandelman were on the board today, the Peskin-Kim affordable housing legislation would likely get his vote. He told me this weekend that he is strongly opposed to the Safai-Breed plan to oust Police Commission member Petra Dejesus: “I think Petra is an extraordinarily competent police commissioner and I am can’t see any reason to replace her.”

 The mayor wants the Safai-Breed approach on housing. He clearly wants to replace DeJesus. There will be more: Condo conversion issues, Airbnb, the city budget, a navigation center in D8 …         

The election isn’t until next June, but the race has already started.