News Analysis: District 5 Supervisor Race

A Re-Match of Two Heavyweight Candidates

By Meyer Gorelick

The race for the District 5 Supervisor seat is shaping up to be another competitive battle between incumbent Dean Preston and challenger Vallie Brown, who Preston unseated in a special election last November. 

District 5 includes the Inner Sunset, as well as Western Addition, Fillmore, Cole Valley, Haight-Ashbury, Alamo Square, Japantown and Hayes Valley, among other neighborhoods.

The two candidates rank first and third in fundraising and public financing among supervisor candidates across San Francisco this election cycle, with Brown’s war chest sitting at $441,584 and Preston with $382,133 in the bank, according to SF Ethics Commission’s Campaign Finance Dashboards. 

Brown’s hopes of winning back her seat that SF Mayor London Breed appointed her to in July 2018 (Breed left the position to become mayor after Ed Lee’s death), are not ill-conceived, as she narrowly missed reelection in the 2019 special election to fill the recently vacated seat. Preston defeated Brown by 0.8%, collecting 185 more votes than her out of the 23,261 votes cast.

Dean Preston

Preston is a tenant-rights activist and attorney who has lived in the Alamo Square neighborhood for more than 20 years. In 2008 he founded Tenant Together, a statewide coalition of local tenant unions fighting for safe, affordable housing in California. Tenants Together successfully fought to maintain rent control in California, defeating Proposition 98, which aimed to abolish rent control.

In 2016 Preston lost a close race (48% to 52%) to then-incumbent District 5 Supervisor London Breed. In 2018, he wrote Proposition F, a local ballot measure that gave tenants facing eviction the right to a lawyer. His win in the 2019 special election made him the first democratic socialist to be elected supervisor since Harry Britt won District 5 more than 40 years ago, according to The Chronicle.

In less than a year in office, Preston has helped place a moratorium on evictions during COVID-19, reversed Muni fare hikes and ban knee-to-neck chokeholds. Preston also wrote protections against evictions for small businesses to aid in their pandemic recovery and is currently working on legislation to authorize 10,000 affordable housing units.

Vallie Brown

Brown grew up poor in Utah, experienced homelessness and lost both of her parents by the time she was 14. After studying art at University of Utah, she moved to San Francisco in her 20s and has lived in District 5 for 26 years. 

Brown became a neighborhood activist in the district and in 2004 founded the Lower Haight Neighborhood Association. She served as a legislative aide to two District 5 supervisors, Ross Mirkarimi and London Breed, before joining the City’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development as a project manager.

During her time as supervisor, Brown co-sponsored energy legislation requiring commercial buildings 50,000 square feet or larger to transition to 100% renewable electricity by 2030, helped authorize the creation of the conservatorship program for the mentally ill (allowing the city or family members to intervene and direct someone toward drug addiction or mental health treatment via a court order) and proposed a vehicular navigation center to support people living in cars and connect them with resources.

Brown came under heat in the lead-up to the 2019 special election when SF Weekly broke news that she had evicted low-income black tenants from a Fillmore Street home she bought with friends in 1994. Brown claimed that the tenants were evicted for not paying rent and being unable to come to an agreement with the new owners, but documents later proved that Mary Packer, one of the evicted tenants, had been paying her rent on time, according to the San Francisco Examiner. Packer and other tenants said they suffered upon their evictions and were upset to be portrayed as freeloaders. They claim that they were not negotiated with prior to being asked to move out, according to Mission Local.

Two other candidates are also running for the seat: Nomvula O’Meara and Daniel Landry. None of the four candidates responded to email requests for interviews or comments for this story before publication.

Meyer Gorelick is the editor-in-chief of The Guardsman newspaper and Etc. Magazine at City College of San Francisco, works as a legal assistant at a law firm and is a frequent contributor to the Richmond Review and Sunset Beacon newspapers.

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