Moderates prevail, winning 13 of 14 seats in the district
Democracy was alive and well at the Women’s Building on Saturday as thousands of San Franciscans flooded into the brightly muraled community center on 18th Street to have a say in the direction of California’s Democratic Party.
The throng converged on the scene to vote for the 14 delegates who will represent California’s 17th Assembly District. These delegates will, in turn, vote on the platform of the state’s Democratic Party — its endorsements of politicians and policy. California’s Democratic party holds a supermajority in the legislature and is perhaps, now, stronger than ever.
The beat of a djembe drum, the strum of an acoustic guitar, and the occasional blare of a bullhorn filled the air as the line of voters wrapped around the Women’s Building and stretched all the way down both Linda and Lapidge streets. The sidewalk in front of the building was so congested at one point that a woman yelled at the top of lungs: “Democrats can’t block the sidewalk!” In the words of YIMBY Action’s Laura Foote, one of the delegates on the ballot, the scene was a total “shit show.”
“There are so many ways to say it,” Foote said of the throngs of people trying to pack into the small entryway of the building. “A shit show, front to back.”
But a convivial shit show. Democratic politicians from both sides of San Francisco’s political aisle — the so-called “progressives” and “moderates” — smiled and glad-handed, united by the resistance California Democrats are leading on the national stage. And yet, for all the unity, a political duel between the two factions underpinned the day’s events: Two 14-member “slates” of candidates — the progressive “Reform Democrats” and the moderate “United Resistance” — competed for votes.
“It’s important because we’ve had a Democratic party that’s gone in different directions over the last two decades,” said former city Supervisor John Avalos, a delegate candidate with the progressive slate, noting that he felt the party lost its way in the ‘90s and ‘00s with its corporate leanings.
Avalos, who is also running for the executive board of the Democratic Party, said one has to “dig down” to really see the differences between the factions. In general, he said, “progressives are trying to transform the party as strong as possible [while] moderates are just trying to get in front of the issues that people really care about, but don’t want to … upset the base of support that comes from a lot of wealthy establishment folks.”
Just next to Avalos, California Sen. Scott Wiener who, with Mayor London Breed and Assemblyman David Chiu, endorsed the moderate slate, downplayed the slates’ differences and reveled in the day’s strong turnout.
“I love that we have thousands of people standing in line on a beautiful Saturday morning, going down several blocks and waiting it out because they’re passionate about voting,” Wiener said. “That’s beautiful.”
Millennial-aged activists made a strong showing as members of the progressive Reform Democrats. They were poised to take the state’s party further to the left, inspired by the 2016 rise of Democratic Socialist U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders. For some, the day of speeches, shaking hands, and defending one’s positions was perhaps a taste of a career in politics.
“We need to keep Californians in their homes with common-sense policies like rent control and just cause [for eviction] that corporate Democrats have not supported,” said Shanti Singh, the 28-year-old co-chair of the San Francisco Democratic Socialists of America chapter and a tenants’ rights activist. She delivered the criticism during a one-minute speech that each candidate gave in the Women’s Building auditorium as voters marked their ballots.
“We are not winning that at a state level, even with a Democratic supermajority,” she added. “That is just a shame.”
Kevin Ortiz, a 24-year-old Mission District native and anti-gentrification activist, said he joined the Reform Democrats to defend poor and marginalized communities of color and to push the needle on housing and police reform.
“We have a really progressive platform but I’m not here to have the status quo anymore,” he said, waiting in line to vote.
Mia Satya, a 27-year-old progressive candidate, has been an activist since she was 14. She was initially skeptical of aligning with a political party because of the perceived corruption in party politics. “A lot of times the national party doesn’t reflect the values of local people,” she said.
But in 2016, she was elected as a Bernie Sanders delegate for the Democratic National Convention. “That was really my entrance into being a delegate in the party,” she said. “And I was inspired by the fact that we might actually have a socialist president who supports fundamentally changing our economic system to support the most amount of people, instead of the one percent.”
Women in the ‘Resistance’
Laura Foote, the YIMBY Action executive director and delegate candidate, passed out United Resistance fliers in front of the community center. “We don’t have a housing caucus at the Democratic Party,” she said. “I think that says a lot.”
Foote, who has helped spearhead a movement to speed up housing development in San Francisco, said she joined the moderate slate because of its diversity and seriousness. “It’s a group of people who want to take the state forward — who want serious, substantive policy,” she said, mentioning transit, health care, homelessness and housing as the most important areas for progress. “Every person on this slate has policy chops, understands what the issues are, and is going to fight for serious policy.”
Tyra Fennell, a delegate candidate with the moderate slate, engaged a line of voters on Linda Street. She is the CEO of Imprint City, which works to activate underutilized spaces with art and culture projects. “I consider myself a ground-up person, more of a grassroots person,” she said. “I love working in a community, so I never thought of myself in politics.”
She said Assemblyman David Chiu and Supervisor Shamann Walton tapped her to join the slate. She couldn’t turn Chiu down, she said, because four years ago at a campaign event for his assembly bid, he approached her because she was visibly upset about getting “redlined” by a landlord in the Bayview. Chiu spoke with the landlord and she ended up getting the lease. “I like politicians who are solutions-oriented,” she said.
Fennell added that she’s with the slate because it is bent on supporting the Muslim community. “When David [Chiu] took focus of the …. the Muslim community in San Francisco and how to support them with the national landscape, I really respected that.”
If elected, Abdo Hadwan, a labor organizer with SEIU 87, would be the first Yemeni delegate to be represented in the state’s Democratic Party. Like the other delegates, he approached voters on Linda Street in line to make his case.
“I belong to a Yemeni community that’s always overlooked,” he told Mission Local. “We are suffering from the Muslim Ban and we are immigrants, so we want to have a voice at the table.”
Hadwan came to the United States from Yemen in 1998. He started working “here and there” in San Francisco and graduated from pharmacy school, but he ultimately landed work as a labor organizer, which has been his role for the last 10 years.
There are more than 30,000 Yemenis in the Bay Area, according to Ibrahim Algahim, co-chair officer at the American-Yemeni Association.
“After the revolution, a lot of people moved to U.S. — especially California and the Bay Area,” he said. “This is our first time being part of this campaign and the first time we have someone representing the Yemeni community … and that’s why it’s so exciting. It’s history.”
A long night?
It’s unclear how long the ballots will take to count, but we will update this post when the results are in. Some volunteers said the votes took until around midnight to count in 2017, so all the potential delegates could be in for a long night of nail-biting.
The moderate United Resistance won 13 of the 14 delegate seats for Assembly District 17, while the Reform Dems elected only Gloria Berry, a community leader in the Bayview and criminal justice activist. The other seats are now filled by Abdo Hadwan, Amber Parrish Baur, Austin Hunter, Gladys Soto, Julia Souder Prochnik, Kristen Asato-Webb, Laura Foote, Mawuli Tugbenyoh, Mick Del Rosario, Nima Rahimi, Todd David, Tyra Fennell, and Victor Olivieri. Thea Selby won the executive board seat.
But do give a round of applause to the Reform Democrat candidates: John Avalos, Bahlam Vigil, Jane Martin, Kevin Ortiz, Kitty Fong, Otto Pippenger, Lorainne Bowser, Gabriel Markoff, Shanti Singh, Brad Chapin, Mia Satya, Zhihan “Han” Zhou, Gloria Achuleta. Surely, they will live to fight another day.
All told, 2,033 people came out to vote on Saturday.