May 2014

Bayview Residents Vie for the District 10 Supervisor Seat

Brian Rinker

Although Malia Cohen has the power of incumbency, and Tony Kelly beat Cohen in the first round of ranked choice voting in the 2010 election, a number of other candidates are vying for the District 10 supervisorial seat on this November’s ballot. In addition to the two Potrero Hill residents, four Bayview and one Visitacion Valley inhabitants have indicated that they’re running: Shawn Richard, DeBray Carpenter, Diane Wesley Smith, Marlene Tran, and Ed Donaldson.

Tran’s entry into the race late last month creates a new dynamic in the City’s only seriously contested supervisorial race this year. Tran, the sole Asian-American running for District 10 supervisor, received the fourth most first round votes in 2010, just behind Cohen. In a statement announcing that she was entering the race, Tran said, “…I am grateful to have the opportunities to work with my fellow volunteer community activists to improve the lives of our neighbors in the Southeast Sector. After months of encouragement from residents to run for Supervisor in District 10 this November, I will file my papers with the intent to run for this position…I am looking forward to my supporters to help me gather 2,000 or more signatures from registered voters in District 10 to put my name on the ballot.” The View was unable to contact Tran for further comment before it went to print.


According to Diane Wesley Smith, she didn’t want to run for supervisor, but she had to. Wesley Smith said her heart has been crushed watching Bayview residents struggle to find jobs and stay in the community. Foreclosure, inadequate affordable housing options and high employment have contributed to a mass exodus of black people who once dominated the area, she said. Wesley Smith was among 21 candidates who ran for the District 10 seat in 2010. She came in 12th, with a little more than two percent of the vote.

Wesley Smith said that as supervisor she wants to advocate for youth and seniors. She wants a community of inclusion, rather than exclusion, adding that development and jobs in Bayview-Hunters Point is driven by favoritism. Prosperity should “not be based on who you know or where you live,” Smith said. “There has to be an equal distribution of wealth. We’ve got to do better.”

If elected, Wesley Smith would start with a “good old fashioned job creating program” that brings civil servant jobs to Bayview. Right now, Smith said, the only way to get a job with the government is if you know someone. “Most people here don’t know the right people,” Smith added. “We need an avenue to get people into civil service.”

High unemployment and a lack of education and economic opportunities leads to violence, property crime, blight and health issues, as well as high rates of teen pregnancy, Wesley Smith said. “Young men need to work,” Smith said, “or they are going to keep getting these young women pregnant.”

Wesley Smith grew up in Bayview. As a young adult she participated in the civil rights movement; her mom was civic-minded and encouraged her to fight against injustices. She has a master of business administration from Buxton University, and owns a property management business, AAA Bayview Real Estate. While she was one of the first candidates to declare her intent to run for supervisor in 2014, she hasn’t filed with the Ethics Commission yet, a necessary step before a candidate can solicit campaign contributions. 


Shawn Richard carefully weighed his decision to enter the race. Several Bayview-Hunters Point community leaders approached him in 2013 pledging to support his campaign. Still, Richard needed to confer with his daughters before agreeing to run. “I prayed on it, thought on it, and then sat with my daughters,” Richard, a single father with three girls, said. “They told me ‘why not run? You’d make a good supervisor. You pretty much do it already.’”

The backing of his daughters was what convinced Richard. “I have a proven track record helping the community,” he said, adding that Cohen has lost touch with her constituents. “I’ve been doing this for 20 years.” Richard echoed other candidates in asserting that Cohen is more concerned with her political career than the welfare of District 10 residents. “I don’t have a personal agenda,” said Richard. “The community has an agenda for me.”

Richard, a bald man with a thin goatee and black-rimmed glasses, has worked to prevent violence among the neighborhood’s most troubled youth for the last two decades. According to Richard, if elected he’d be the first supervisor to be able to walk into any high crime, violent neighborhood in the district and get respect. As supervisor Richard said he’ll create a community-driven transition team for each of the district’s most pressing issues— crime, homelessness, health, education, unemployment—and meet with them monthly. “I’m going to bring City Hall to the community,” Richard said. “I plan to open an office in District 10.” 

Born and raised in Bayview-Hunters Point, Richard knows firsthand the troubles affecting the community, particularly when it comes to loss. On Easter Sunday, 1995, Richard’s younger brother, Tracy, died in a gang-related shooting. He wanted to hunt down his brother’s killer and get revenge. Reason prevailed, and instead Richard founded Brothers Without Guns to help stop senseless killings. Shortly after he founded the violence prevention nonprofit, Richard’s last remaining brother was shot dead. “When you see your brother on a metal slab, it changes you,” said Richard, who dedicated himself to helping Bayview youth stay alive. 

“A lot of us here look up to this man” said Michael Jackson, a mentor for the Hunters Point YMCA. “I am putting all my faith in him.” 

Tessie Ester, an environmental activist and head of the Hunters View tenant association was one of the community leaders who pushed Richard to run. According to Ester, he’s accountable; you can find him walking the streets. “He won’t lie to my face.”

Richard chuckled at Ester’s implication and warning. “No, I’ll get a whooping if I do.” He hopes to raise $100,000 in campaign funds in the coming months.

According to DeBray Carpenter, corporations own most politicians, but they’ll never own him. “I’m not owned by a corporation. I am not owned by anyone,” Carpenter said, adding that politicians have failed the people of District 10.

Carpenter, better known as Fly Benzo, said he joined the race for supervisor to disrupt the status quo at City Hall and bring change to Bayview-Hunters Point, where he was born and raised. Bayview needs jobs and healthy food, said Carpenter, who is big on sustainable gardens and organic nutrition. He wants to plant gardens in the community’s many empty spaces. And Carpenter wants to bring technology to Bayview, in the form of jobs, training and education. He hopes to attract Potrero Hill voters with his focus on safety and quality of life issues, like crime and blight. But Carpenter’s main concerns are for Bayview, which some call a “food desert” that’s been historically besieged by toxic superfund sites and a lack of economic opportunities. “We’re forced to live in a science project,” said Carpenter. “It’s time for a change, we are sick of the politicians selling us dreams. People in the community have been through so much.”

Carpenter is well-known in Bayview, and can often be found sauntering down Third Street. The 25-year-old rabble-rouser has been arrested more than ten times. “It is the best thing I got going for me,” said Carpenter about his notoriety, quickly adding that he’s only been convicted once, a misdemeanor for resisting arrest. That conviction came after Carpenter got involved in an altercation with police when he videoing them during a protest over the death of Kenneth Harding Jr., who fatally shot himself in the neck after police chased him through Mendell Plaza for not paying a Muni fare. “Interactions with the police are a huge part of my life. It molded me into the person I am today. It makes me better today than yesterday.”

Cahill Contractors secured a restraining order banning Carpenter from the Hunters View jobsite after he led a small posse through the area chanting black power. Carpenter confronted onsite supervisors about why they weren’t hiring more African-Americans from the neighborhood. At one point, Carpenter compared one of the employees to George Zimmerman — who fatally shot Trayvon Martin two years ago in Florida — and then posted a video of it on YouTube, according to Superior Court records. “People don’t have access to work, and it is right in front of them,” he said.

Carpenter’s has just started fundraising for his campaign. He hopes to raise enough money to run a successful campaign, but his main attraction to voters, he said, is that he lives, works and breathes Bayview. “I am going through the same things that people in the neighborhood are going through. I can speak on that,” Carpenter said. “I’m a construction worker pushing for some revolutionary change in politics.”

Ed Donaldson has filed to run for District 10 supervisor with the Election Department but hasn’t yet registered with the Ethics Commission. He didn’t respond to dozens of calls and messages from the View. Donaldson also ran in the 2010 election, ranking near the bottom of the pack, with just more than one percent of the vote. Donaldson lives in Bayview, has worked at variety of real estate jobs, and is currently the president of MAAT, a mortgage relief organization. 

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