By ARMAND EMAMDJOMEH
Dressed in yellow “Luchando por la comunidad” T-shirts, they filed past the ironing board that served as a sign-in table through the narrow doorway. With samba rhythms blaring and the heat on Saturday reaching near record highs, the crowded space felt more like a dance club than a campaign kickoff rally.
But it was. The yellow shirts gathered around Eric Quezada, who is running for District 9 supervisor. “¡Si, se puede!” cheered the crowd of 60 in the small office.
The campaign is attempting to establish itself as the grassroots effort against the two well-funded and politically connected campaigns of Mark Sanchez and David Campos.
“It’s not going to be the money that’s going to get people elected, it’s going to be the people walking the streets,” said Mike Casey of UNITE HERE Local 2, a union of hospitality and restaurant workers endorsing Quezada.
Along with his primary emphasis on low-income housing issues, Quezada, who is currently the director of Dolores Street Community Services, also stresses immigrants rights and violence prevention as major campaign issues.
Quezada said his connections with the local community and organizations serving the area, such as Dolores Street Community Services and the Mission Housing Development Corporation, where he was director of Resident programs until 2004, distinguish him from a field of progressive candidates.
“I’m not a money campaign, I don’t have party support, I haven’t spent time cultivating those connections, I spend my time cultivating the base,” Quezada said. He said that base is working class people of color and progressive white voters.
Lorena Quezada, his wife, agreed.
“We’re the most grassroots campaign,” she said, rocking their five-week-old daughter Michelle to a driving Latin beat. “She’s going campaigning later today.”
Holding his own child, 10-month-old Grace, District 6 Supervisor Chris Daly, who has endorsed Quezada, also attended the meeting, calling Quezada the “movement candidate.”
With a rising wave of violent crime, a severe housing shortage and sweeping tide of gentrification, the Mission district, a progressive stronghold, will be hotly contested between the three favored candidates of David Campos, Eric Quezada and Mark Sanchez.
A total of six candidates are running to replace Tom Ammiano, who has termed out and is running for Assembly. Ammiano has endorsed Mark Sanchez, the president of the Board of Education.
The new board is likely to review the city’s 30-year-old sanctuary ordinance for illegal immigrants and a proposed municipal ID card program. Both of these programs are currently in question under a review by Mayor Gavin Newsom of the city’s policies towards undocumented immigrants.
Quezada’s family moved to San Francisco when he was six years old in 1971, when their home was destroyed in the San Fernando earthquake. He credits his professional interests with his experience growing up in the Mission, and seeing activism and refugees from the United States’ interventions in Central America.
After receiving his bachelor’s degree in political science from Chico State in 1990, Quezada’s first job was working for Catholic Charities in Palo Alto. He then worked at the E.R. Taylor School in the Portola district, before leaving to join P.O.D.E.R., where he worked on environmental justice issues until 1995.
Reflecting on his experience in community development, he emphasized a comprehensive approach to countering the recent increase in violent crime.
“It’s a health issue, a housing issue, a poverty issue and an arts issue…this is a global issue that reflects how national policies have influenced local politics in Mexico and Central America.” He noted the need for organization by neighbors and community members to reduce neighborhood crime rates.
As the rally ended, the volunteers headed out to canvass their beats. Standing amid dirty paper plates and empty pupusa trays, Quezada remained optimistic about his election chances, while also rehearsing his dedication to grassroots activism. “Whether or not we’re elected, we’ll keep pushing the agenda from the bottom up.”