District 10 candidate Gloria Berry approaches a man drinking Gold Peak Tea with a bag of groceries at the last stop of the T. The Muni platform at the Sunnydale terminus is empty on Wednesday afternoon. The late afternoon sun catches the blue streaks in her hair.
In smart black loafers with a two-inch heel, a black and white striped dress, and white denim jacket, Berry extends a magenta postcard decorated with raspberries along the top. She approaches with ease and determination.
“My name is Gloria and I’m running for District Supervisor.”
“Oh, I voted for you already!” says Gary Craig, after swallowing a gulp of tea. “It was your name that got me. I’m just waiting on you to get to president.”
Berry, 49, is one of three African American women on the ballot in San Francisco’s District 10, which stretches from the Dogpatch to Sunnydale. None carry the typical markers of candidates for public office.
Berry has served in the Navy, worked in the San Quentin Correctional Facility, fed her family off food stamps, and worked in the gig economy to stay afloat. Uzuri Pease-Greene overcame addiction, worked her way off the streets, and now lives in public housing in Potrero Hill. Asale-Haquekyah Chandler lost her son to gun violence three years ago. Both Pease-Greene and Berry have experienced homelessness.
The three candidates share a drive to prove that local women of color can run for office. All want to drag politics out of City Hall and onto the streets. “I don’t speak like a politician,” Pease-Greene says. “Please slap me if I start sounding like one.”
The four other candidates for supervisor in District 10 are men with political ambitions. Shamann Walton, Theo Ellington, Neo Vea Vea and Tony Kelly have collectively raised upwards of $500,000.
Little mind, though, has been paid to the women in the race, all of whom have avoided fundraising and steered clear of San Francisco’s progressive machine. For each woman, political ambition lies within the boundaries of District 10.
“It’s kind of like the women in the race who haven’t raised that much money are already being made invisible,” says Kim Christensen, who manages Pease-Greene’s campaign.
But they are not invisible — and neither are the residents they represent.
District 10 has the highest income disparity in all of San Francisco. Tech companies and five-dollar cold-brew dot the northern reaches of the Dogpatch. The India Basin Industrial Park is home to scrap metal processors, auto body shops, and both power and water treatment plants. New condo developments bookend the subsidized housing that crowns the easternmost hilltops.
Berry accepts no corporate donations and has avoided traditional fundraising. She raised barely enough money — $435 — to print fliers and posters. To her, votes ought to come from boots-on-the-ground conversation with community members. Berry spends time distributing fliers on the T platform at rush hour, attending community meetings, and rehearsing her talking points before candidate forums.
Her mind is set on making southeast San Francisco a more equitable place — and City Hall more representative of its constituents. “I can’t accept that … our supervisor for eight years’ claim to fame is the sugar tax and getting rid of flavored tobacco for a district like this,” Berry says, referring to the Board President, Malia Cohen. She’d like to see City Hall tackle tougher issues, like education, homelessness and housing.
Berry’s quiet voice and even demeanor belie a life spent exposed to conflict. “Those closest to the pain should be closest to the power,” she says, echoing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the New York candidate for House of Representatives.
Berry delivers one-liners like this over lunch without looking up from her half-order of oxtail over rice at Frisco’s Fried on Third Street in Bayview.
Though she just moved to the area a few years ago, Berry calls Bayview home. She was born in the Fillmore when it was still a thriving black neighborhood. She came from a working-class family. Her mom sent her to an all-girls, majority-black Catholic high school, where she participated in student government. Berry considers herself a natural leader.
The military presented the best opportunity for Berry to pursue a college education after high school. Her family couldn’t afford tuition and the job landscape for young women of color in San Francisco in the mid-1980s didn’t suit her. Berry served as an IT technician in the Navy for 12 years.
“I like to be in the field, in the community,” Berry says.
The work to come in District 10 all starts in the classroom for Berry, who recognizes that without a strong early childhood education she wouldn’t be where she is today. “We can’t complain about homeless … if you didn’t invest in the youth,” she said. “It’s like a no-brainer. For her, the short-term solutions lie beyond the public school system. Berry envisions a system of one-on-one tutors that draws on the resources of the wealthy San Franciscans.
“It’s too easy,” she says about her plan to get businesses with philanthropic interests to invest in tutoring programs at public schools. Berry thinks the tech companies that thrive in the northern reaches of District 10, whose workers occupy the new condos intended for single people, should share their resources. She’d also like to see the Golden State Warriors chip in once they cross the bay.
Based on her own experience working as a tutor, Berry thinks this approach could transform the educational opportunities for young people in District 10 — something she thinks hasn’t been a priority for representatives in the past because, she says, “it doesn’t get you re-elected.”
When she finished high school and enlisted in the Navy in 1987, the prospect of war felt far-flung and abstract. Reality hit when she found herself in Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield in Iraq a few short years later.
Berry talks about her time in the service selectively. Sometimes, it’s the commonality that carries a conversation. On the Muni platform in Sunnydale, she hands a campaign postcard to a middle-aged man carrying a giant white teddy bear.
The man said he isn’t registered to vote –– his conservative viewpoints carry little weight in deep-blue San Francisco. Berry slips in her service in the Navy. This man fought in Desert Storm, too.
“How can we make change in this city?” he asks.
Berry stayed in the service until 1997, when the strain on her family outweighed the thrill of the job. She had given birth to her daughter Bella, named for the time she at the master command center in Naples in 1991.
So Berry left the Navy and turned towards law enforcement. She took a job in the San Quentin Correctional Facility doing everything from walking the prison yard to maintaining the law library for death row inmates to running the food program. When she left, she was a sergeant in control of the prison command center.
The time she spent working at San Quentin provoked an urge to address inequalities and violence. She started getting involved in grassroots organizing and activism. The controversy at the former naval shipyard in Hunters Point drew her in, as did concerns around police violence.
When she says she thinks people closest to the pain need to be closest to the power, though, Berry refers to more than what she learned in San Quentin. A few years after quitting that job, she got sick: the medical bills added up; she was working on commission and her income suffered. In 2012, she lost her house. After bouncing between friends, family, and sublets for a couple years, while working a handful of odd jobs, she found herself unable to keep up with those bills and became homeless in 2015. For nine months she lived between shelters, her car, and transitional housing for veterans on Treasure Island. Her daughter lived mostly with grandparents.
Finally, she secured a place in Bayview in 2016.
“I don’t think I could be district supervisor without having gone through all of these different experiences,” Berry said.
The decision to run for office came after witnessing a public safety hearing at City Hall in April. Budget and legislative analysts presented, followed by Chief of Police William Scott and District Attorney George Gascón. Berry feels that sitting Supervisor Cohen went easy on Gascón. She asked the DA a single question clarifying his priorities, a fact that enrages Berry. The thought of opting out of an opportunity to push back on critical issues is unimaginable to her. “That was one of the ‘I gotta get in there’ moments,” Berry says.
Walking back to her car from the Sunnyvale T station, Berry waves down a man headed for his own vehicle. He is also parked at the Bay Shore Carwash.
Berry smiles and passes him a flier. “I’m running for supervisor,” she says.
At the Starbucks in Bayview Plaza, Asale-Haquekyah Chandler talks to a group of teenage girls gossiping at the next table over. Their raised eyebrows suggest they hear her, but none makes eye contact.
Chandler, 55, sports oversized frameless glasses with square lenses that hang on the end of her nose. She drapes her arms over the table. Her left hand falls on a poster of her son, Yalani Chinyamurindi. She wears a necklace with an enamel pendant of his face.
Her son was killed on January 9, 2015, in a quadruple homicide that has yet to be solved. “My son was the sacrifice,” Chandler says. “That’s why I’m doing this. I want my son’s life to have counted.”
Chandler speaks with the precision and objective of a preacher. A handful of the customers at Starbucks recognize her, wave from across the room, and take one of her postcards. This is Chandler’s second run for supervisor. The first time, she was just trying it on for size.
Now, she’s infuriated. Her passion is twofold. She’s tired of politicians who fail to address the issues that her community struggles with: gun violence, a faltering school system, homelessness, and the botched cleanup of the old naval shipyard.
And she’s incredulous at the paltry attention the women in the District 10 race have received. She pulls out printouts of newspaper articles profiling the men running and don’t mention the three female candidates. The folder is stuffed with additional evidence of the corruption she says has riddled the race in District 10.
“I was naïve in thinking that everyone was running because they cared about society,” she say.
Her friend Steve Morales puts a finer point on it: “How is someone going to raise money in a district like this?” He implies that individuals and organizations with interests broader and more vested than the well-being of people in Bayview Hunters Point — expressed through political donations — might have something to do with it.
“It’s a back-door political machine that’s been running this city for years,” Chandler says.
As for her own campaign, Chandler dismisses the whole business of raising money and making promises, which she thinks overlooks the people who live in District 10. Chandler reports zero dollars in funds raised. A friend printed a couple posters for her, but otherwise, she has relied on word-of-mouth and public presence over the past several months. “My mom raised me that not all money is good money,” Chandler says.
Besides, she was taught to fend for herself. At 24, she moved from Los Angeles to San Francisco, where she immediately felt at home. Southern California didn’t suit her. A few years after moving to San Francisco, Chandler got a job working at the Ella Hutch Community Center in the Western Addition. When she had kids, she got involved in community organizing.
That community is why she’s running for office. She sees an administrative process that doesn’t cater to or acknowledge needs of her neighbors struggling to stay afloat in an ever more expensive city. Chandler wants to bring more transparency to the political process and push government to operate in a less staid, more open manner.
“Someone has to connect to this,” she says. “It’s reached a point of breakdown.” Police and gun violence resonate for Chandler — her son’s effigy is ever-present. Berry and Pease-Greene also want to see the relationship between the police department and local residents undergo a radical transformation.
Education follows close behind. Chandler sees nearby tech companies as partners who just need the right incentives to invest. She’s all but given up on City Hall allocating the resources necessary to fix public education in District 10. Instead, she’d like to see a tutoring program much like what Berry and Pease-Greene describe: tech companies could provide one-on-one tutoring in STEM subject areas, better preparing local kids for the job market.
Chandler sees her campaign as educational itself. “I want to show women and children that you can,” she says. But more than a simple demonstration of ability, Chandler is driven by a will — a need, even — to speak truth to power.
Chandler talks about how she sees the legacy of slavery in schools, culture, and, especially institutions. “The government is not working for the people,” she says, punctuating each new word with a slap of the table.
“Who is going to stand up for us?” she asks. “I’m bringing in my whole army. This is a call for righteousness.”
The auditorium at the USCF Mission Bay campus was largely empty. Few people showed up for the Silicon Valley candidates forum several weeks before the election.
An intern kept the candidates to a strict time allotment. The printed program had been abandoned some hours before: it was anyone’s guess which political hopeful would speak next.
Late in the afternoon, Uzuri Pease-Greene stood up from the audience and made her way up the stairs to the podium. She adjusted the mic to her height — she’s rather shorter than the men who had spoken earlier about tax cuts, homelessness, and libertarianism.
She was the only black woman over fifty on stage that day.
“It’s time to not have any more politicians,” she said. Her tenor stood out: she made no promises and proposed no projects.
“I don’t want to be a candidate up here who tells you what you want to hear,” she said. She explained how she thought tech companies had a responsibility to invest in education — to share not only capital, but the wealth and opportunity of better schools. And she pointed out that tech companies fall short on hiring people of color.
For Pease-Greene, the race is personal. She’s been clean and sober for 10 years. Earlier, she lived on the street. Now, she lives in public housing in Potrero Hill.
Later, on the phone, Pease-Greene said she knew she had to run when people told her she couldn’t because she lived in public housing.
“That’s not a good reason,” Pease-Greene said. “I want our young people to know that it doesn’t matter where you live.”
Pease-Greene had been involved in community organizing since she landed in the Potrero Terrace projects. She became a prominent figure in the local community action committee. Through advocacy work around the redevelopment of that public housing, she met Kim Christensen.
“Her motivation was to be protective of her own community,” Christensen said, “and to make sure neighbors weren’t going to be pushed out.” Christensen lives on the other side of Potrero Hill, where the median area income is over $100,000 – nearly twice the number in Potrero Terrace, according to the Census.
Christensen encouraged Pease-Greene to explore Emerge CA, a nonprofit that trains women to run for all aspects of local government, such as the water board, the board of education, district supervisor, and so on. Mayor London Breed graduated from Emerge CA, as did Oakland’s Mayor Libby Schaff.
Pease-Greene graduated with the class of 2017. She registered for the race in early summer — a process that she found thrilling and complicated. “It’s been a learning experience,” she said. “Ask a lot of questions.”
Questions come easily to Pease-Greene. For the past eight years, she has worked for the Potrero Hill housing developer BRIDGE Housing Corporation. She wanted to work for a developer to be on the inside. She thinks someone from the community needs to see what their work consists of, and how it happens. Through that work, she’s gained insight into the mechanics of the political process — and who gets to participate.
“People making the decisions have no clue about stuff that happens to everyday people on the ground,” she said. “I’m not trying to become Mayor or go onto the Senate. The only reason I want to be supervisor is because of the job I have. I’ve seen how the decisions are being made for the people that live everyday lives.”
The everyday lives in District 10 vary considerably. The inequality in Potrero Hill is but a microcosm of the district at large. Sunnydale residents don’t face the same issues as the scrap metal yards, produce distributors, and cannabis businesses that fill the industrial zone near Islais Creek.
Pease-Greene thinks she can work around that with subcommittees — a strategy to further localize representation. She recognizes that while she knows the needs and experiences of her neighbors in Potrero Hill, they aren’t the same everywhere.
Change is unfolding at a rapid-fire pace in District 10. The kind of new development that the SOMA saw 10 years ago is creeping down Third Street. The Board of Supervisors just approved a new development with almost 1,600 units at India Basin. New restaurants, breweries and distilleries have laid foundations.
“It’s intense and scary for existing residents,” said Christensen.
That the election appears driven by dollars frustrates Berry, Chandler, and Pease-Greene. Even with ranked choice voting — which advocates argue gives minorities and women a better shot — they aren’t too sure what to expect on Tuesday.
Whatever the outcome, it’s less about competition than it is about presence. “I don’t care who you vote for, just go out and vote,” Pease-Greene said. “I want people to understand that your vote matters and your voice matters.”