Talk of public safety dominated a forum dedicated to the arts as the three front-runners in the race for District 9 Supervisor spoke Wednesday night at the Red Poppy Art House.
Fielding questions from a room full of artists and activists, Eric Quezada, Mark Sanchez and David Campos proposed a unified platform through an art-focused lens.
“The arts should be a part of our city’s crime-fighting strategy,” said Campos, a police commissioner, who reminded the crowd of approximately 20 people that the city spends more than $400 million on its police force. “If only a fraction of that money was spent on arts programs for youth, imagine what would happen.”
Sanchez proposed keeping John O’Connell High School open at night, giving youth opportunities to learn art, not violence. He also spoke reverently of Jorge Hurtado, an 18-year-old poetry slam champion who was shot and killed in the Mission in August. Sanchez said the young man had created his own studio for recording poetry.
“We don’t provide that kind of opportunity enough,” said Sanchez, the school board president.
The audience expressed dissatisfaction with Mayor Gavin Newsom’s administration and others in the city government, and nodded in agreement as the candidates proposed reform. When the crowd pushed conversation toward gentrification and rising real estate prices, Quezada, a longtime community organizer, emphasized that all Mission residents — whether white artists or Latino day laborers — are facing the same problems. Everyone needs affordable housing, he said, and everyone needs the local government to help them get it in the Mission.
“Artists aren’t driving people away from San Francisco,” Quezada said, referring to the idea that they have repelled blue-collar workers. “It’s the development that’s driving people away. It’s the lack of opportunities.”
One Latina woman delivered an impassioned plea for fewer bureaucratic obstacles to small-business success. She also complained that the local government classifies 100-employee companies and independent neighborhood stores under the same “small business” umbrella.
“Where’s the attention for the Mom and Pop shops that really drive the community?” she asked.
Campos sympathized with her dissatisfaction, saying, “The only thing the city has been excellent at is giving out parking tickets.”
Sanchez called for inter-neighborhood collaboration, pointing to District 5, where Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi facilitated conversations between community organizations, youth, police officers and business owners about how to reduce violence. Since that effort, the district’s murder rate has dropped significantly, Sanchez said.
“We haven’t seen anything like that here in the Mission,” he added.
Quezada and Campos disagreed — tepidly — with Sanchez’s assessment, saying the Mission’s community leaders had been doing their part while the police department had not. But each candidate called for increased “community policing” — which they said means not only foot patrols, but stronger efforts to get to know community leaders — and increased cultural competency training.
“Sometimes change has to be imposed on the police department,” Campos said.
The candidates frequently returned to the official topic of the night, praising the Mission’s intersection between art and activism. They boasted of the neighborhood’s art history and called for local artist groups to receive more government funding.
“The arts really get pushed to the side as a political issue,” Red Poppy founder Todd Brown said. “I think everyone will benefit from a supervisor who makes sure that’s not the case.”