Iswari España speaking to supporters at his kick-off party. The affair was modest: Some dozen people showed up, mostly friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors. Photo: Joe Rivano Barros / Mission Local.

At the campaign kick-off for Iswari España – the least known of four candidates in the District 9 supervisorial race – supporters talked of their frustration with the status quo.

“I want someone who can fight for us, the Latinos,” said Maria Freyo, a Mission District resident and España’s neighbor, who came to Sunrise Restaurant for the Friday night launch party. Freyo said incumbent Supervisor David Campos had done little for the neighborhood itself, and she wanted someone who would refocus on local issues.

“He knows all the problems that are happening here [in the neighborhood],” she said of España.

España declared his intent to run for supervisor in December but has flown under the radar since then. His status as an outsider will help him, his supporters believe, because the neighborhood has not had adequate representation from more establishment candidates.

“I’m frustrated with the neighborhood, and over the years I’ve seen supervisors come in and make peace offerings to the residents, institutionalizing themselves,” said España. Earlier this month, he called his opponents “well-established attorneys with the same lines” and took particular aim at Hillary Ronen and Edwin Lindo – two of his opponents with connections to Campos.

“If Edwin Lindo and Hillary Ronen worked or have worked for Campos, then what can we expect from them in the upcoming years [?]” he wrote at the time.

España moved to the United States from Guatemala when he was 11, living in Potrero Hill and the Mission for most of his time in the city. He has lived on 24th and Bryant for the past six years.

Though España has never held elected office – like all three other contenders – he did volunteer for a handful of supervisorial and state ballot campaigns in the mid-1990s. Since then, he has worked for various social service agencies, including the Human Services Agency, where he now works as a job training officer.

His work with social agencies informs his criticism of the status quo. Supervisors for the district have ignored local problems in favor of solving the “global issues” facing San Francisco, he said, and he thinks the district wants a representative who will return focus to local topics.

“There’s a lot of issues that we’re dealing with,” España said, citing youth crime, education, and small businesses as areas of particular concern.

His supporters emphasized España’s caring character, citing his work with youth while at the Human Services Agency.

“He has always demonstrated integrity, and I think that’s a character that a supervisor has to have when representing a community,” said Allen Nance, an old coworker of España’s.

“He’s such a compassionate person,” said another old coworker, Jermaine King. “He has one of the biggest hearts I’ve ever seen.”

Big heart aside, some supporters acknowledged the odds against him.

“It’s a hard fight,” said Heather Horsfield, a friend of España’s. “He has to be out there and doing a good job.”

“Is it enough to have passion to win an election? Absolutely not,” said Nance. “He will definitely need to develop the financial support and capital to get the message out.”

España’s three opponents – Ronen, Joshua Arce, and Lindo – are all better-connected, better-funded, and more experienced.

Ronen is the current chief of staff for incumbent Supervisor David Campos and has received weighty endorsements from the progressive half of the Board of Supervisors, while Arce has a background in labor unions and serves on the board of nonprofit housing developer Mission Housing.

Lindo is a relative newcomer to the scene as well, but interned with Campos’s office for four months and has been involved in neighborhood campaigns in support of the Mission moratorium and against police shootings.

España seems unfazed, however.

“It doesn’t really take much money to go to a meeting and check in with people,” he said. He had raised some $450 in a GoFundMe as of Sunday night – a pittance compared to the tens of thousands raised by the other candidates – but said he expected the donations to start coming in after Friday’s launch party.

The November 2016 election is critical for San Francisco politics. Progressives just won a 6-5 majority on the Board of Supervisors last November, and with the supervisors for Districts 1, 9, and 11 termed out – three left-leaning districts – moderates need just one victory to make the recent progressive dominance a short-lived affair.

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Joe was born in Sweden, where half of his family received asylum after fleeing Pinochet, and spent his early childhood in Chile; he moved to Oakland when he was eight. He attended Stanford University for political science and worked at Mission Local as a reporter after graduating. He then spent time in advocacy as a partner for the strategic communications firm The Worker Agency. He rejoined Mission Local as an editor in 2023.

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