The political forces that drove this week’s recall of DA Chesa Boudin and the February recall of three SF Board of Education members could yet claim another victim: Gordon Mar, the progressive-leaning Supervisor who represents the Sunset district.
Two high-profile recall supporters, Joel Engardio and Leanna Louie, will run against Mar in November. Both hope to capitalize on the fact that Mar opposed the two recalls, which were widely popular in Mar’s heavily Asian American District 4. And with the two expected to team up to maximize their chances in the ranked-choice voting process, Mar could be in real danger, political observers say.
Engardio, a media executive by trade, is a known quantity in San Francisco politics: he’s served as executive director of Stop Crime SF, a public safety advocacy group, and was an early supporter of the Boudin recall. He ran for District 7 Supervisor in 2020 and garnered the top share of first round votes, but lost out to nonprofit director Myrna Melgar in the ranked choice balloting process.
Thanks to the recent redistricting, Engardio, a longtime resident of Lakeshore, is now part of District 4—along with his politically supportive neighbors in that neighborhood and the adjacent Merced Manor. According to Election Map SF, Engardio in 2020 was the top vote-getter in the core neighborhoods that got shifted to D4 even after the ranked-choice elimination, averaging 58% of the vote.
“I didn’t move; I’ve lived in this house for eight years and the district lines moved around me,” Engardio says. “And around a few thousand of my neighbors as well.”
The “United Peace Collaborative,” led by Leanna Louie, hand out whistles and check on businesses as they close up in Chinatown of San Francisco, Calif. on Wednesday, May 18, 2022. | Camille Cohen
Louie, a small business owner and Army veteran, first came to public notice in 2020 by forming the United Peace Collaborative, which began patrolling the streets of Chinatown at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic as attacks on people of Asian descent spiked. She expects to launch her campaign officially on June 19 and, like Engardio, will emphasize public safety, schools, and small businesses as prime issues.
“(Mar) opposed the School Board recall when we wanted to recall them for so long,” said Louie. “And then the safety issues we’re facing, and he supports Chesa. So we’re very different candidates in those respects.”
District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar speaks at a Board of Supervisors meeting in City Hall of San Francisco on May 3, 2022. | Camille Cohen/The Standard
Mar, who is set to file his re-election papers at an event at City Hall on Friday, is expected to run on achievements including instituting the Sunset Chinese Cultural District, championing ethics legislation at City Hall, and recently getting passed a citywide community policing plan.
“I’m proud of my work with my neighbors to improve the Sunset’s quality of life with safer streets, stronger schools, new affordable housing, better transit and more support for families, seniors and small businesses. I look forward to running a community-based campaign on these issues, continuing to listen to my constituents’ ideas and concerns, and earning their support for another term,” Mar said in a statement to the Standard.
‘Dereliction of Duty’
School board recall volunteer Joel Engardio drops off 80,000 petition signatures at the Dept. of Election to qualify the school board recall for the ballot on September 7, 2021. Courtesy Autumn Looijen
Engardio was harshly critical of Mar for his stance on the two recalls.
“It’s dereliction of duty on the two issues residents care about the most,” he told The Standard. “And just look at the voting numbers… even the most progressive parts of the Sunset had majorities for the recalls.
Engardio said he’s raised over $20,000 for his campaign, and he’s won an important endorsement from State Senator Scott Wiener. He’s tapped recall campaign veteran Man Kit Lam to help with aggressive outreach to Chinese-speaking voters, and his husband, Lionel Hsu, will also be involved.
Despite the adversarial positioning, Engardio sees his main message as a positive one.
“I’m running for supervisor because I still believe in San Francisco. It’s important to have that optimism because there’s so much about the city that can be good and is good. We just need the political will to change direction, and use some common sense and innovation to fix things.”
Louie’s views on what she calls “a more sensible” neighborhood housing policy (meaning less density) as well as “Slow Streets,” where cars are restricted, may offer some differentiation from the more urbanist Engardio. She is opposed to closing JFK Drive and the Great Highway to cars, for example, while Engardio’s positions are more nuanced.
Still, they are closely aligned enough to form a rank-choice voting team.
“We share a lot of the same ideas about public safety,” she said. “So, yeah, we’ll be definitely working together and you know, for anybody who is going to vote for me first, I would like to ask them to vote for Joel.”
Moderates have had their sights on Mar for a while, with one group, Grow SF, launching an ad campaign against the supervisor.
Mar nevertheless benefits from the powerful advantages provided by incumbency in district supervisorial elections.
“Incumbents rarely lose; it’s usually an issue of name recognition,” says Jason McDaniel, Professor of Politics at San Francisco State University. “It’s really difficult to overcome, especially when combined with constituent service.”
McDaniel does think the challengers have a chance.
“Incumbents hate the idea of an ‘Anyone But’ campaign. That’s normally hard to pull off, but there does seem to potentially be a space for that in this race.”
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