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News + PoliticsNot a whole lot of debating at D6 debate

Not a whole lot of debating at D6 debate

Few major policy differences emerge—which is not good news for the challengers.

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I was really looking forward to a lively debate between the D6 candidates this week; four people, including the incumbent and the most prominent challenger, sat for 90 minutes with a solid format and a chance to make clear their policy differences.

I walked away disappointed. So many opportunities, so little, well, debate.

Both Sup. Matt Dorsey and Honey Mahogany, who is clearly the leading challenger, have a potential problem: Nobody thinks things are going just swimmingly in D6, and both have some responsibility for that. Dorsey is the incumbent, appointed by the mayor. Mahogany was the chief of staff to the previous incumbent.

Ms. Billie Cooper, Sup. Matt Dorsey, Cherelle Jackson, and Honey Mahogany at the debate.

This is a district that historically has elected strong progressives, from Chris Daly to Jane Kim to Matt Haney, who gave up his left credentials and moved sharply to the center when he decided to run for state Assembly.

But it’s a new district now, and more moderate; the Tenderloin is now in D5, and the condos for rich people are now a pretty dominant part of D6.

So the two leading candidates have to do a bit of a dance, both saying that they have addressed and are addressing the serious problems in the district, and saying that they are not just a continuation of policies from Breed and Haney.

Mahogany also has to make clear why the incumbent isn’t doing the job and needs to be replaced—which is difficult when he’s only been a supervisor for a couple of months.

That means she has to show where the two sharply disagree on issues. I didn’t see much of it at the debate.

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised that both said that public safety was the biggest issue in the campaign. Dorsey used to work for the cops; Mahogany knows that fear of crime is a big deal and that much of D6 supported the recall of Chesa Boudin.

Dorsey, of course, talked about his support for the recall, and about his decision, as a person in recovery, to seek the job to fight open-air drug dealing. “We have a public-health crisis fueled by criminal justice in retreat,” Dorsey said.

Mahogany followed by saying that “public safety is the biggest issue in the district.” In a modest dig at Dorsey, that could have been much sharper, she said that “we have to hold the police accountable for doing their jobs.”

Then the questions, from moderator Scott Shafer (who did a fine job reading a script but not so well following up on the issues) turned to housing.

Here, there ought to be at the very least some honest discussion (and I blame Shafer for not forcing that). For Dorsey and Mahogany, there was nothing.

Both candidates said they would promote the development of a lot more housing. Mahogany said that when she worked for Haney, “we built 9,000 units in this district, and I want to see another 9,000.” Actually, “we,” meaning the city, built zero new housing; private developers built all of it. And a lot of it was luxury condos.

She said nothing about the need for or the construction of fewer luxury condos and more affordable housing.

Ms. Billie Cooper, one of the candidates with less money and exposure, was very clear: She repeatedly said the words “affordable housing,” repeatedly talked about the failure of building luxury condos, and repeatedly said that many of the struggling residents of the district can’t afford even the below-market-rate units that developers are building.

Dorsey talked about the state putting pressure on the city to allow 82,000 new units in the next eight years, part of the Regional Housing Needs Assessment process. If the city doesn’t meet that goal, he said, the state may try to take over local land-use decisions.

But he never mentioned that the city has already approved far more market-rate housing than the state mandates, and far less affordable housing, and there is nothing in the new Housing Element that addresses that problem.

This is the elephant, or the donkey, in the room, and everyone ignored it.

I would have asked a simple question:

Of the 82,000 new housing units the state is mandating, 46,000 must be a below-market levels. That’s the RHNA mandate. The price tag for that  affordable housing, according to the city’s own data, is $19 billion. The state isn’t going to give us that money, and neither is the federal government. So where is it going to come from?

I asked both Dorsey and Mahogany that question by text. Neither has responded.

Mahogany gave Dorsey a huge advantage on the issue of the Treasure Island tolls. There are a lot of voters on the island, and they are pretty much unanimously against the idea of a $10 toll.

Dorsey, who was a bit unclear earlier on the issue, gave a very strong statement: He said that after meeting low-income residents on the island, he had concluded that the toll was simply regressive, and he couldn’t support it. Mahogany was a bit trapped, because Haney supported the toll, and as his chief of staff, she had to go along. She talked about exemptions for low-income people, but for the TI residents at the debate, that was a complete loser.

The format allowed each candidate to ask another candidate a question. That’s where Mahogany could have pressed Dorsey about, for example, the lack of reform in the Police Department (and the expensive “copaganda”) where Dorsey worked, or what Dorsey thought about the approach of the new district attorney.

Instead, she asked Cooper about Black-owned businesses in the district, an important issue but one where Mahogany and Cooper have no disagreement (and Dorsey isn’t necessarily vulnerable) and that broke no new political ground.

Dorsey, as the incumbent, has every incentive to avoid controversy. He also ignored Mahogany and asked a question of Cooper, about the importance of having an HIV-positive person representing the community at City Hall.

Debates like this, with perhaps 100 people in the audience, don’t decide supes races. But they give a sense of how a campaign is shaping up and the themes that the candidates are going to be promoting.

Other than TI, I didn’t see a lot of policy differences. And that’s not good for the challengers.

UPDATE: Dorsey called me Sunday afternoon. He said that he hopes and believes that the state will help pay for the affordable housing, at least the very-low-income part. “As this goes forward,” he said, “if we do our part I think the state will do its part.”

But he couldn’t tell me how San Francisco will ever meet the RHNA goals without substantial state and federal support. Upzoning and loosening the “bureaucratic” process for market-rate housing isn’t going to do it.

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Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.

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