Tony Kelly Hopes That Third Time’s the Charm in District 10 Supervisor Race

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In announcing his latest campaign for District 10 Supervisor, Tony Kelly said he wants to use the seat to advocate for more affordable housing, better transportation, and improved health for Southside residents. “We’re at a decision point. Are we going to rely on the neighborhood or on outside forces, such as developers? We want to have a livable, growing neighborhood,” he said.

Kelly hopes to address health and education disparities related to income and race. “We are in the most unequal district in the most unequal city in America. Development isn’t stopping. They’re looking right down Third Street. I want to help try to get more out of developers and manage growth,” said Kelly. 

Kelly wants to start a municipal bank, as a means to expand the City’s financing capacity. “We have a $10 billion budget and about $7 billion in reserves. A portion of the money should work harder for us. A small portion of it could be used to leverage loans for affordable housing or infrastructure,” he said.

Kelly serves as Potrero Hill Democratic Club president.  He’s also a theater director, freelancing with San Jose Stage Company. In addition, Kelly is the art director for Playbill, a monthly print magazine devoted to theater news. He said his 15 years of work in Southside neighborhoods has educated him on District 10’s unique issues.

“It’s the biggest district in the City, with three very different neighborhoods and many micro neighborhoods. We have many new buildings. Yet we also have a homeless crisis, which we should solve with safe, supportive, and transitive housing. We don’t have any new transit lines. We have car ownership going up in this area. We need to decrease pollution and cleanup along the waterfront. I want District 10 residents to be able to live longer, happier, healthier, more productive lives,” said Kelly.

Kelly served as Potrero Boosters president from 2003 to 2010, 2011 to 2013. He was on the formation committee for the Green Benefit District, a property tax-funded organization that supports neighborhood parks and recreation.

It’s Kelly’s third campaign for the District 10 position; he ran in 2010 and 2014 against current Supervisor Malia Cohen, finishing second in the most recent race. “For me, serving as supervisor would be the strongest way to advocate for the neighborhoods,” said Kelly.

Kelly’s goals include replacing informal homeless encampments with campsites located on public land that provide safe, clean, and secure sleeping spaces. He hopes to work with the City to continue funding for deportation hearings for indigent undocumented immigrants. And he wants to improve compliance with municipal language access laws, enabling more people to understand government signs and communications.

Kelly also wants to support families who lack a secure home.  “Case management does work. We can do much more for families. I was the author of last year’s Prop. S, which would have devoted a portion of the City’s hotel tax (to homeless families),” he said.  The proposition, which required a two-thirds vote to pass, missed that margin by slightly under three percent.

If elected, Kelly intends to hold daily office hours in the community.  “It will be me or someone from my staff. You don’t hold office hours because you want to tell people a few things. You do it because you want to listen,” he said.  Kelly believes offering office hours outside a government building will make him more accessible to undocumented individuals.

During the 2014 election, Kelly faced criticism for an unpaid $200,000 loan the City provided Thick Description, a theater company he directed, which has since folded.  “Thick Description had a settlement agreement with the City in late 2009…was finally signed and completed in 2014. Thick Description has completed its obligations under the agreement,” he said.

Matt Gonzalez, an attorney with the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office and Board of Supervisors president from 2001 to 2005, is endorsing Kelly in the 2018 election. “I think he’d be very engaged and hands-on. He’s a great candidate. He stands for progressive values that show respect for the world. I think he has a significant base in the District. I applaud his commitment to try to win the seat,” said Gonzalez.

Nicky Jacobson, founding member of Toes and Paws for Greenspace, a nonprofit that promotes inclusivity for people and dogs at Potrero Hill and Dogpatch parks, supports Kelly as well.  “I’m in Dogpatch, less than a block south of Mariposa Street. I’m very concerned about the gentrification happening here. We should be doing it responsibly. I think we need another progressive voice on the Board. Tony is not in the pocket of developers. He is independent. He represents the voice of the people,” said Jacobson.

Kayren Hudiburgh, co-owner of The Good Life Grocery, also favors Kelly.  “He is always at every community meeting, commission hearing, and Potrero Boosters meeting. He is totally involved in the neighborhood. Every day it’s a new challenge, with so much building going up. Tony’s good at putting pressure on developers. He finds new ways at looking at old problems. The same old, same old that we’ve seen is just not cutting it,” said Hudiburgh.  “How can we continue to operate and find staff, who usually can’t afford to live in the City? This makes it really hard for small businesses to survive.”

Hudiburgh said large homeless encampments in District 10 raise concerns for the welfare of those who live in them, as well as nearby workers and residents. “Too much money and too little money collide daily in front of our eyes, with the poor sleeping in doorways and tents. Small business is squeezed on all sides. We have to solve these problems. I think Tony will at least ask the right questions. He’s relentless. He’ll be the squeaky wheel and get some movement on these issues,” she said.

Marsha Pendergrass Maloof, Bayview Hill Neighborhood Association (BHNA) president, is excited about Kelly’s campaign. “I think his strengths are that he really understands the communities, not just Potrero Hill, but the District as a whole. I live in Bayview Hill, over near Candlestick Park. Some of the issues that concern me are the demolition of the stadium and air quality issues. Once candidates for District 10 seat lose, they kind of disappear. Tony’s done just the opposite. I think Tony’s a really good person in terms of trying to find common ground with residents,” said Maloof.

According to Shirley Moore, BHNA vice president, Kelly has a calming voice and approach. “People need hope to get through their daily lives, no matter the challenges. He’s solid. We have been suffering. We feel threatened and left out of the process. There has been no one to listen. I think Tony’s leadership, knowledge, and compassion for the community are what District 10 needs right now,” said Moore.

“Right now, he’s working with us regarding the lack of outreach from the developer on the Candlestick stadium site. We’re also working on opposing the garage. We have not gotten that assurance from anyone else,” said Moore, who has known Kelly for roughly two decades.

The underground parking garage to which Moore referred is under construction in Bayview Hill. It’ll serve a 550,000-square foot shopping center to be built at Candlestick Point, and may also accommodate new homes in the area. The garage site, located near Gilman Avenue, is close to Bret Harte Elementary School and the True Hope Church of God in Christ, which has a preschool.  Bayview Hill residents want the garage’s entrance moved to face the Bay, which they believe will reduce Bayview Hill residents’ exposure to polluting air emissions. 

Raymond Tompkins, a retired City College of San Francisco professor, supports Kelly’s campaign. Tompkins works in District 10, but doesn’t vote there.  “I think he has a good grasp of the problems that are facing the African American community. I haven’t done my homework on all the candidates yet. When talking to Kelly over the years, not just during election time, he has always had a good grasp and understanding of the issues facing long-term residents of Bayview-Hunters Point…The residents of Bayview want and encourage community development. We want the development of this community to be done correctly and safely without injuring the population. We need affordable housing for the Black working class population of San Francisco. We need our representatives to look into the reasons why there is a Black exodus from San Francisco. We want effective policies that will stabilize the Black business community, as well as other employment opportunities throughout San Francisco,” said Tompkins.

Ken Tray, former political director of the Board of United Educators of San Francisco, a union that represents San Francisco Unified School District teachers and paraprofessionals, and a member of its Board of Directors, said UESF hasn’t started considering candidates to endorse.  “Tony Kelly is a good guy. But we are also looking at other candidates, like Shamann Walton,” who is SFUSD Board of Education president. “(Shamann), while on the Board, asked two basic questions of policy proposals, is it good for students in the classroom and is it good for the teachers and staff who work with them? We need a candidate for District 10 who can be that kind of Rock of Gibraltar,” said Tray.

According to Dr. Frank Gilson, Potrero Dogpatch Merchants Association president, PDMA doesn’t endorses candidates for supervisor.   While he’s mulling over his preferences, Gilson can’t vote in District 10; he resides in District 6.   “I think Tony studies the issues very thoughtfully. Tony’s a lot more liberal than I am. I want what’s best for our members, the small business people, and our community,” said Gilson.

Kelly said he understands that voters may not agree on strategies and candidates. If he isn’t elected this term, he’ll continue to advocate for Southside neighborhoods.  “Nothing is personal with any of the other candidates. We’re all going to work together after election day. The future of the City depends on what we do here,” said Kelly.

With the election to be held in the fall of 2018, the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club, which endorsed Kelly in 2014, and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition said it was too soon to consider endorsing a candidate for the District 10 race.