The race to represent the Mission District is on, with five declared candidates and others waiting in the wings. No matter that the election for District 9 supervisor is still 15 months away; funds are being raised, and plotting to the finish line is underway.
One problem: In an unscientific poll of some three dozen Mission residents surveyed by Mission Local, only about a third recognized any of the candidates’ names — or, for that matter, the name of current supervisor Hillary Ronen.
Esther Marks, a political consultant who ran campaigns for Tom Ammiano, among others, said these anecdotal results ring true. “From talking with others, only a third of people know who their current supervisor is,” she said. In a recent Mission Local story, consultant Jim Ross noted that his polling for a former supe revealed only 15 percent citywide name recognition.
Mission Local asked random residents on the streets in the Mission, in English and in Spanish, whether they recognized the names of their current supervisor or the seven candidates who may succeed her.
This list includes the five candidates who have filed to run — Julian Bermudez, Trevor Chandler, Jackie Fielder, Rafael Gutierrez and Michael Petrelis — as well as those who have announced their campaigns informally: Santiago Lerma, a current Ronen aide, and Roberto Hernandez, the so-called “Mayor of the Mission.”
“There’s the lowrider guy … I don’t know his name,” one person surveyed said about Hernandez.
Longtime political consultant Jim Stearns, who currently a consultant for candidate Jackie Fielder, was not surprised by these wanting numbers. He says that those in the political sphere often refer to election day as a “one-day sale,” a last-minute dash for voters as they figure out everything they need to know about candidates on the ballot.
For an election that’s not to take place until next November, that “one-day sale” is still ages away.
English speakers know Fielder, Chandler …
Up and down 24th Street, residents had mixed responses about recognizing candidates, or even knowing their current representative.
About a third of the English-speaking residents recognized candidates Jackie Fielder who, in 2020, ran unsuccessfully for state senate against incumbent Scott Wiener, and Trevor Chandler, a former lobbyist who worked for the Human Rights Campaign and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Both have been featured in newspaper stories about the District 9 race.
One Mission resident, Chelsea, had only heard of Jackie Fielder from the list of candidates, because she had supported her previous run against Wiener. “I followed her on Instagram, and supported her when she was running last. When she lost, it sucked,” Chelsea said.
… Spanish speakers know Lerma, Hernandez …
But among Spanish-speaking residents, the names that rang a bell were unequivocally those of Hernandez and Lerma, two Latinos with prominent, public-facing jobs.
Lerma is the current legislative aide for Supervisor Ronen, and Hernandez headed the annual Carnaval celebration, started and then remained active in the Latino Task Force’s food pantry, and has long been involved in neighborhood organizing.
Betty, 67, said she had heard of Lerma and Hernandez before. “But who will be better? I don’t know,” she remarked in Spanish, thumbing through fruits at San Lucas Market.
Betty is looking for someone who will “clean up the streets and drugs” at the 24th and Mission BART plaza. “I hope they fix it and change it.”
Sonia, another resident of the Mission, wants her neighbors to elect a candidate who “supports Latinos and especially the children and schools. Someone who fixes the streets is important,” she added, two of her kids in tow. While she can’t vote, due to her immigration status, Sonia said she recognizes Hernandez from conversations with friends. The others, she didn’t know.
Because some monolingual Spanish-speakers in the Mission are undocumented immigrants who can’t vote, they don’t closely watch politics, despite the fact that the winner affects their lives just as much as the lives of citizens. “I don’t pay attention; I don’t have papers,” said Andres, 50, a painter who was picking up baked goods with his grandson.
Stearns says non-English-speakers can have a harder time getting the facts about elections. “There isn’t a great media ecosystem for every language speaker,” he said.
He also said that the lack of recognition by voters could be attributed to the “relatively undistinguished” presence that the Board of Supervisors has, “in terms of being covered by the news.”
Margarita, 52, said she can’t vote, but her husband and her children do. She recognized Lerma and Hernandez, and said her family may lean toward those candidates. “I’ve read about them in the news reports, about some of the things they do,” she said, hanging by El Chico Produce’s refrigerated aisle.
… but most don’t know anyone
Most, however, were completely in the dark on the race.
“I’m embarrassed,” Josie, a Mission resident, said. She didn’t recognize any of the candidates, but she said she’s heard the name Hillary Ronen before. “I don’t know enough about San Francisco politics. I haven’t been here very long — well, I’ve been here a year.”
Luis Reynoso, a 78-year-old flower vendor known for pushing his carts around the neighborhood, said he mostly pays attention to the presidential candidates. Regarding local races, he tends to tune out. “I sell and focus on flowers, and that’s all,” Reynoso said.
And Michelle, a 30-something Mission resident, was equally oblivious of the candidates for her neighborhood. “I haven’t been following it,” she said, while walking a petite poodle mix.
When asked if she’d be voting, she answered indifferently, “Yeah, I guess so.”