Eric Storey is a dog person. Within minutes of meeting Storey—one of the District’s lesser known Board of Supervisor candidates–he is likely to mention a favorite past time: walking his eight year old beagle, Toby, in the district’s parks.
But it was an unfriendly dog that first launched the 35-year-old self-described “average guy” into the crowded District 9 race.
During the summer of 2007, Storey was walking Toby near the Bernal Heights home he shares with his wife Joanna, when he and the dog were attacked by a pitbull whose owner had accidentally left the gate open. Toby went to the veterinary hospital, Storey to San Francisco General. Storey’s injuries required surgery on his left hand, and necessitated a two-month leave from his job as a telecommunications technician at Covad, a firm he joined when it was just a start up back in 1998.
The time off allowed Storey, who declined finishing college to serve in the Air Force, to reflect on what he wanted to do with his life.
“Instead of sitting in front of the TV watching Montel Williams or Sally Jesse Rafael,” he said, “I would just go to City Hall every Tuesday and sit in the galley and watch Supervisor Ammiano sleep–literally.”
At these meetings, Storey met other residents who shared his dissatisfaction with the Board of Supervisors for not addressing issues like homelessness, dirty streets, and inadequate police patrolling. Despite a political resume limited to Democratic clubs and a few bouts of activism, Storey, who grew up in Illinois and moved to Northern California in 1996, decided he would run for the seat Tom Ammiano will leave vacant when he terms out this fall and runs for the state legislature.
“Now people see they haven’t got anything done and it is kind of open for some new people,” he said about progressive supervisors like Ammiano who promised to change the direction of City Hall. Storey said that a run by a political novice is justified since experienced politicians have failed to be effective. “If things were working in City Hall I wouldn’t have a leg to stand on,” he said. “But things aren’t.”
Just months after Storey returned to work, another twist of bad luck propelled him even deeper into the race: a pink slip from Covad during a sweep of layoffs. But thanks to a private settlement for an undisclosed amount with the pitbull owner—Storey will say only that it is less than $100,000–he was able to postpone looking for a new job and is now devoting his time to classes at City College of San Francisco in sociology and astronomy, his two month old newborn, Brian, and–of course–the campaign.
Storey doesn’t seem discouraged by the fact that the seven-person race has three front-runners, none of whom are him. He was miffed, however, when the League of Pissed Off Voters only invited the top three–David Campos, Mark Sanchez, and Eric Quezada–to debate in early September. “If they were really pissed off, they would have invited me, not the usual suspects,” said Storey, who will participate in Tuesday’s debate with six of the seven candidates.
Storey said the fact that he is new to politics and is a “middle of the road San Franciscan” set him apart from the progressive heavyweights who lead the race. Unlike the three front-runners, he supports the city’s controversial civil gang injunction program and opposes the way that San Francisco’s status as a Sanctuary City has been broadly interpreted to shield all undocumented immigrants. Moreover, he says, recent ordinances like the Healthy San Francisco program, which mandates employers pay a minimum amount toward employee health care, are making the city too unfriendly to business.
Unsurprisingly, Storey, who is a young, white family man and former high-tech industry employee, doesn’t care for the term gentrification. “Beautification”–which he defines as fixing up the neighborhood, getting homeless off the streets, and attracting commerce—is one of his top priorities. He recognizes that’s controversial.
“When you mention quality of life you get certain people up in arms,” he said. “Because when you fix up things and make it look nice, you start raising rents.”
At an October 2 forum in Portola attended by six of the candidates, Storey distinguished himself for his opposition to Proposition B, a ballot initiative that would create an affordable housing fund within the city budget. Storey pointed out that such a policy would deplete resources that could be used for other projects, such as a badly needed renovation of Portola’s 317-acre John McLaren Park.
Candidate David Campos responded by saying “If you don’t put money aside for affordable housing, people aren’t going to be around to enjoy the parks,” eliciting light applause from a handful of supporters.
“Storey is irrelevant,” said political consultant, David Latterman. “But what he is bringing up is not irrelevant.”
Latterman said Storey’s message offers a counterbalance to the top three candidates’ platforms. But given the Mission’s history of fighting gentrification, Latterman pointed out that a moderate from the more affluent Bernal Heights neighborhood could never be the “pied piper” on quality-of-life issues. “Storey is no messenger for this,” he said.
At the Portola candidate forum, Storey’s everyman charm came off as glib to some. “I didn’t really feel like he had a handle on politics,” said local real estate agent Joan Loeffler after the forum.
Storey’s commitment to support both renters and property owners earned him the endorsement of the Small Property Owners of San Francisco Institute, his only public endorsement as of yet. Institute President Noni Richen acknowledged, however, that the organization is putting more resources into the Districts l, 3, and 11 races, where a victory by a moderate is more likely.
So far, Storey’s pro-business message has not translated into any public support from business associations. “They haven’t donated, they haven’t stepped up to the plate,” he said of Mission Merchants and other business groups. “They want to look for someone who they think can win.”
While five of the District 9 candidates are receiving public financing—a matching program that gives candidates up to $87,500 in public funds– the birth of Storey’s son Brian over the summer made it impossible for him to raise the $5,000 by August 26 that was needed to qualify. Without staff and only the help of a few volunteers, Storey knocks on doors and leaflets the district himself.
He rarely leaflets alone, though.
“I need to clone myself with the dog and the baby and go everywhere.”