By Meyer Gorelick
In a historic election, that took place during a pandemic and included an all-time-high number of mail-in votes, it was unclear how long it would take for results of local races to become definitive. However, District 7’s (D-7) new supervisor, Myrna Melgar, secured her victory on Nov. 4, the day after the election, while District 5 (D-5) incumbent Dean Preston retained his seat in what was a landslide victory compared to the razor-thin margin he held to win the 2019 special election.
With D-7 up for grabs after Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee was termed out, Melgar, the former president of the San Francisco Planning Commission, faced stiff competition. Melgar, a progressive who did not receive the most first-place votes, prevailed via rank-choice voting. She believes, however, that she was the most qualified candidate and was able to appeal to the broadest coalition of D-7 voters.
Myrna Melgar will fill Norman Yee’s seat on the SF Board of Supervisors to represent District 7 after Yee was termed out. Courtesy photo.
“While I wasn’t the ultra-progressive side or the more conservative side people’s first choice, I was clearly the person who everyone could be like, ‘She’s alright!’” Melgar said. “And I had enough votes on my side as number one that it got me over the top.”
Preston, a Democratic Socialist who eked out a narrow victory over the incumbent Valle Brown by fewer than 200 votes last year to win the special D-5 election, beat Brown again by more than 4,000 votes this year. He attributes this surprisingly wide margin to his accomplishments as supervisor in addressing homelessness, eviction prevention, small business protections and public transit, as well as the negative campaign he said that Brown ran.
Dean Preston won the November election to keep his seat on the SF Board of Supervisors to represent District 5. Courtesy photo.
“We’ve been delivering on a lot of the things we talk about within a pandemic. I think that people were able to see that our office wasn’t just about big vision ideas but also about getting things done,” Preston said.
“There wasn’t really a positive vision from my opponent about how to address serious issues, especially during the pandemic. Instead, it was just hit piece after hit piece, with pictures of tents and homeless people, and trying to blame everything on homeless people and on my office, and I just think that fell flat,” he added. “And in the final week, they went really over the top with mailings that were straight up fraudulent, saying I was responsible for evicting people which were flat out lies.”
Preston and Melgar both stated the pandemic response was their top priority. Melgar emphasized the need to support small businesses in D-7, which is not a destination commercial center for people who don’t live in the area. She also would like to see the City help facilitate a safe transition to in-person learning for children.
“I think that there is a role for the city to play in supporting the school district to have a timeline that is responsive to parents, to get the kids back to school safely,” she said.
Preston, who worked as an affordable housing advocate for 20 years prior to becoming supervisor, said he will continue focusing on this cause, among others.
“My office will continue to prioritize eviction prevention work, which we’ve been taking the lead on,” he said. “We will continue addressing homelessness by getting folks into temporary shelter and then permanent supportive housing.”
Melgar, the first Latinx woman elected to the Board of Supervisors in 25 years, also has a background in affordable housing, and reflected on coming to San Francisco when she was 12 years old as an immigrant from El Salvador.
“The City was good to us,” she said. Melgar worked in retail downtown while she attended San Francisco State University. She was able to afford tuition and rent without incurring significant debt or hardship.
“Today, with the way rents are, what you earn working at a retail job, it’s not really possible and that’s not good for economic mobility, for the thing that San Francisco’s always been, a place of opportunity,” she added.
Melgar said that the solution is to build more affordable housing for young people, families and seniors.
Preston likewise advocates for the City to continue investing in affordable housing. He believes that San Francisco has allowed the interests of private developers to influence its housing policy for too long and said the pandemic has created a chance for the City to get homeless people off of the streets.
“I think we’ve got a real opportunity on a temporary basis because the federal government and the state are reimbursing almost all of our costs. We can get thousands of people off the street and into shelter-in-place hotels,” Preston said. “Ultimately we need to be exiting folks from those hotels into permanent housing. It could be a rent subsidy, it could be supportive housing, it depends on people’s needs, but it’s a real opportunity to move folks into something that’s transitional.”
Preston wants the City to look into buying hotels that can be utilized as shelters or transitional housing for people living on the streets.
Melgar and Preston will participate this coming January in the election of a new president for the Board of Supervisors as they continue their efforts to support their constituents during the COVID-19 pandemic.