In September, Theo Ellington filed with the San Francisco Department of Elections to become a candidate in the 2018 District 10 Supervisor race. “I’m running, quite simply, because every family, not just the wealthy folks, should have the opportunity to live here in San Francisco,” he declared.
Ellington grew up “right off Third and Palou” in a house owned by his grandfather, who had moved to San Francisco from Mississippi. Ellington called it “your typical migration story: after the war, he came over looking for a better opportunity for his family and landed right in the heart of what we now know as Sunnydale. He was your typical hardworking man. He found a job as a laborer, building the roads and freeways across the City, and he eventually saved up enough money to purchase a home.”
Last year, Ellington was able to “relive” his grandfather’s dream by buying his own Bayview house. “For me, that’s laying claim here in the City, making sure that me and my future family have a place to live and call our own,” he said. As supervisor, he hopes to ensure that others have a chance to do the same. “I will definitely work to increase the supply of housing at every level.”
As a mayor-appointed commissioner for the San Francisco Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure between 2012 and 2014, Ellington oversaw the redevelopment of the Hunters Point Shipyard, Mission Bay, and the Transbay Terminal site. “At the time, we provided the most funding for affordable housing in San Francisco,” he asserted, explaining that the goal was to create a “housing ladder” for the formerly homeless, low-income families, the working class, and senior citizens. The position gave him “vital land-use experience.”
Ellington recognizes that as District 10’s population grows, greater investment in local infrastructure will be necessary. “To be quite frank, the T-train sucks,” he opined. “It’s unreliable and causes a lot of frustration, and up there with my priorities is making sure our transit options are in line with the demands of development. In Dogpatch, the population is set to triple in a matter of three years, and the amenities have not yet met the demands. Transit is lacking. Making sure the sidewalks are safe, making sure there are enough parks and open spaces; these are things that every other neighborhood has enjoyed, but neighborhoods in the Southeast are kind of left to fend for ourselves.”
Ellington views Dogpatch as “a case study for what will happen in Bayview in a matter of three to five years.” The “north-south connection by way of the T-train” must be “substantially improved,” but “we’ve also got to make sure that our east-west connections are made,” he said.
Ellington first developed a “deep concern” for his community during middle school, when “I realized that my walk to school every day up in Hunters Point was plotted by balloon shrines,” many of which memorialized “folks who I knew, who were classmates, who were kids from the neighborhood, who were shot and killed due to gun violence. I knew that we deserved something better on this side of town, and that me becoming numb to the gun violence was not a normal feeling, so that was kind of the spark for me to say, hey, I’ve got a responsibility to serve my neighborhood in that capacity.”
While an undergraduate at Notre Dame de Namur – where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in political science before moving on to the University of San Francisco for a Master of Arts in urban affairs – Ellington served as a field coordinator for Malia Cohen’s successful 2010 campaign for District 10 Supervisor. After he graduated college, then Mayor Gavin Newsom gave him a spot on the Southeast Community Facility Commission, a division of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission that manages a community center on Oakdale Avenue and an adjacent set of greenhouses on Phelps Street.
In 2012, Ellington started a political club, the Black Young Democrats of San Francisco, which led opposition to Mayor Ed Lee’s proposal to implement New York City’s stop-and-frisk policing tactics – which target African-Americans and Latinos at notoriously disproportionate rates – in San Francisco. Lee soon dropped the idea.
In 2014, the Golden State Warriors hired Ellington as their director of public affairs to serve as a liaison between the Warriors and San Franciscans as the team prepared to build its new Mission Bay stadium. Despite fierce local debate over the arena, which culminated in petitions and even lawsuits, Ellington believes that, “generally speaking, folks are supportive of the Warriors coming to San Francisco.” Regarding the Chase Center, he said, “We know the economic benefit that it provides, but what I’m most proud of is the initiatives we’ve put forward that I’ve worked on to make sure that the community and City leadership was comfortable with the project.”
The initiatives revolved primarily around workforce development – “working with both the private and public sector to make sure we’re providing real, good-paying jobs for folks,” Ellington said – and transit, for which Ellington helped create a “locked-box fund” into which annual deposits will allow “the community to decide” how to allocate resources for “unmet transportation needs.” In Ellington’s view, the project provides “a model for other developers as they begin to come to the City.”
Last January, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Ellington – “a member of the centrist slate” – was the top vote-getter in the California Democratic Party Assembly District 17 Delegate Election, “a generally obscure exercise in democracy” in which the eastern half of San Francisco chooses seven men and seven women to attend the annual California Democrats State Convention in Sacramento to vote on party resolutions. The 2017 election was more rancorous – and less obscure – than usual, following the Democrats’ nationally disappointing November, as “Reform” candidates from the Bernie Sanders wing of the California party sought, on a local level, to wrest control from the “Rebuild” Clintonists.
Last month, Susan Eslick, Dogpatch Neighborhood Association vice president and Dogpatch & NW Potrero Hill Green Benefit District treasurer, endorsed Ellington for Supervisor, praising his “enthusiasm, organizational skills, and knowledge of the issues facing San Francisco.”
As Supervisor, Ellington promises to monitor development carefully in District 10 and advocate for his constituency’s interests. “The interesting thing that I found in the last year or so I’ve been having these conversations is that, for the first time ever, the same feeling that’s in Potrero is in Dogpatch, is in Bayview, is in Viz Valley; folks are feeling overwhelmed by the development that’s in the neighborhood, and folks are feeling like they’ve been left out and don’t have a voice in this entire process,” he described. “I don’t think there’s a situation where folks are anti-development, but it’s got to conform to some kind of standard, and that standard has to be set for the residents.”
Ellington admitted that “there’s no one-size-fits-all approach,” but “when residents have a seat at the table and developers can implement ideas that are reflective of the neighborhood, you’ve got something special there.”
At age 29, Ellington is the youngest candidate in the District 10 race by a considerable margin, but he’s “been fortunate enough to have been put in several leadership positions” already. “I would not have entered this race if I didn’t think I could win,” he insisted. In October, his campaign filed a public disclosure marking that financial contributions had exceeded $10,000. His campaign’s first major event was a birthday fundraiser at the Sea Star in Dogpatch, which, by Ellington’s estimation, about 150 people attended. “I was quite proud of that because we had a diverse mix of folks who came out,” he said.
Ellington called his candidacy “a leap of faith,” but affirmed that he’s “totally confident. I think that this is where my heart has been since the age of 13, and if you look at everything I’ve done since then, it points right back to the neighborhood that I know and love.”