I was hoping that the League of Women Voters debate for candidates from D6 would be a breakthrough moment, that the discussion would show some real differences between the leading candidates.
That didn’t happen.
Most of the discussion was just the same points that the candidates have used all along, and I don’t think the average voter saw anything that would make them change their minds.
Sup. Matt Dorsey talked about what he always talks about: Public safety and drug problems. He linked most of the major issues in the city to stopping open-air drug dealing and helping get people into treatment and recovery.
Honey Mahogany never directly challenged Dorsey as the mayor’s candidate, appointed by a chief executive who is not terribly popular right now.
On the crucial issue of housing and homelessness, the distinctions were pretty mild.
Dorsey said he supports the state definition of affordable housing, which includes, in Prop. D, people who make as much as 140 percent of Area Median Income. Mahogany talked about “deeply affordable” housing for working-class and low-income people. But she also supports Prop. D.
Ms. Billie Cooper, who is not one of the leading candidates, had the strongest response: “Poor people can’t afford BMR [Below Market Rate] housing,” Cooper said.
Mahogany talked about the impacts the pandemic has had on small business, and the ongoing problems with the permitting process. “When it costs $500,000 to open an ice-cream shop, we have work to do,” she said.
Dorsey took a different approach, which followed the agenda he has promoted since he took office: “The main concern of small business owners is public safety on the streets, open-air drug dealing, people acting out violently.”
One of the questions the LWV chose from the audience showed a lack of understanding of how local politics works: “Will you take PAC money from out of state?”
The city has a public-financing system, with $500 limits on contributions. Corporations aren’t allowed to contribute. The so-called out-of-state PACs are a pretty minor part of the money picture.
The big money comes in through independent expenditure committees, which can take unlimited cash and have in the past tried to dominate supervisor races.
On public health, Mahogany made a strong statement: “The waits for health care are far too long, and this is creating the crisis on the streets. People have to be triaged in the emergency room and sent out onto the streets in their hospital gowns. We need to make sure we fund these programs adequately.”
Dorsey noted that he had proposed an ambitious roadmap called SF Recovers to address the overdose deaths and drug-dealing on the streets.
Nobody said where that money should come from.
On homelessness, Mahogany said the city must do more to fund deeply affordable housing in D6. “We need places for people to transition out of homelessness.”
Dorsey said: “It is a sad commentary on SF’s failure to produce enough housing, affordable housing, that the state will step in.” He repeated the inaccurate statement that “the city has to build 82,000 units of housing.” The city, of course, doesn’t build any housing. Developers do.
But Dorsey talked about a local version of State Sen. Scott Wiener’s legislation and said that “we need not just fourplexes, but ten-plexes.”
Nobody on the panel said that density has no connection to affordability.
Again, Ms. Cooper: “Affordable housing isn’t low-income housing. So many people are on disability, SSI, disability. So many apartments have been empty for years while people are dying on the streets.”
One difference: Mahogany opposes Prop. B, a measure backed by Sup. Aaron Peskin that would overturn a change in the oversight of the Department of Public Works that was the brainchild of her former boss, Matt Haney. Dorsey said he supports the measure.
That was a signal of one of the challenges Mahogany is facing: She was the chief of staff to the former supe, and was involved in a lot of his policies. Many progressives are now supporting Prop. B.
Mahogany talked about the importance of fully funding Mental Health SF, but “we also have set boundaries on the street…if we have to resort to conservatorships, then that should be a tool.” But she said first the city needs to offer options.
Dorsey said that it’s hard to tell if people on the streets are in a mental-health crisis, or on drugs. Again, he said that the Right to Recovery bill and efforts to get addicts help is a priority.
The only real distinction was on police.
Dorsey also said that “we don’t have enough police officers” and that we can’t solve many other problems without that.
Mahogany agreed that “we have a safety crisis on the streets. It does feel unsafe. I have had friends who were hit in the head with golf clubs.” And she said that “police are a part of the solution.”
But she said, “we need to hold SFPD accountable.” She said she heard many stories from small businesses facing crimes where “the police were there, and they didn’t so anything … we also need someone who will hold them accountable and that is me.”
It’s remarkable how far we have come from the era, just a few years ago, when even Mayor Breed talked about defunding the police; not a single candidate even mentioned the concept.
At the end of the debate, they took on the question I have been asking for a long time: It’s going to cost $19 billion to build the affordable housing that the state is mandating for San Francisco. There is no revenue source for that money.
Mahogany said, correctly, that this is a state and federal issue; she said that as a leader of the local Democratic Party, she has been working to elect Democrats nationwide.
But the current Democratic administration has done nothing to fund housing in cities. The Democrats in Congress, including the representatives from the Bay Area (and yes, that includes Speaker Nancy Pelosi) have done nothing to bring in the kind of money that’s needed.
Dorsey said that if the state is going to mandate these goals, it has to step up and pay for some of it. There is no indication that anyone in Sacramento is prepared to do that.