Things will get a little raucous when you have your SF supervisor candidate debate at a bar serving liquor, as we learned Wednesday night at El Rio when six candidates squared off over who will take Supervisor Hillary Ronen’s seat.

After no SF elections in 2023, 2024 will be an electoral barnburner. This year we have the U.S. presidency and Dianne Feinstein’s former Senate seat up for grabs, along with the San Francisco mayorship, plus the offices of District Attorney and City Attorney. And on the SF Board of Supervisors, there’s a power vacuum looming with the terming-out of Supervisors Aaron Peskin (for the second time!), Ahsha Safai (who’s running for mayor) and Hillary Ronen.

There are six candidates running for Ronen’s District 9 supervisor seat in November (or seven, if you count Michael Petrelis). Those six showed up for Wednesday night’s District 9 supervisor candidate debate at El Rio. Yes it was at a bar, outdoors on the back patio where it was 54 degrees and chilly, but it got hot when partisan pockets of certain candidates’ supporters heckled and tried to shout down their onstage opponents.

Image: Joe Kukura, SFNews

Audience members shouted “Answer the question!”, “Liar!”, and “Bullshit!” so many times you would have thought they were Republican members of Congress at an Obama State of the Union speech. One particularly animated (intoxicated?) member of the crowd started yelling “That cop’s a pimp,” and, “I’ll tell you his name. He’s a pimp, he sells drugs.” — at which point, moderator and Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club president Jeffrey Kwong frantically changed the topic by cheerfully thanking the debate’s many co-sponsors.


But as for the District 9 candidates themselves, here’s who debated Wednesday night:


You can watch the whole one-hour, forty-minute affair above, or on the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club Instgram page (though the first ten minutes is basically just dead air, as the crowd of more than 300 was somewhat late-arriving).

Though shockingly, perhaps the most contentious issue in District 9 over the last two years did not even come up: the illegal vending scene on Mission Street, and subsequent ban on vending and increased police response to the vending. Though Jaime Gutierrez, who’s tweeted critically about the illegal vending, did say that “This city’s turning into something that I don’t recognize.”

Otherwise, candidates pushed their priorities and issues.

Image: Joe Kukura, SFNews

“If there is someone talking to you on this campaign whose priority is not solely focused on the opioid epidemic, on safe and clean streets, I want you to ask them why,” Trevor Chandler said at one point. “We cannot bring people back from death just so they can die slower. It is not kind, it is cruel.”

Jackie Fielder, meanwhile, went after the causes of retail and restaurant vacancies in the district.

“The city rolls out the red carpet for corporations,” though not small businesses, Fielder said Wednesday night. “One of the root issues of this problem is commercial landlords who do not want to rent their spaces, who exploit the off-chance that in the future they’re going to be able to sell to some tech company or luxury real estate development. So we need to crack down on them.”

Image: Joe Kukura, SFNews

Candidates were allowed to ask each other questions, and Chandler started that by pointedly asking all the others, “Do you support arresting street-level fentanyl dealers?” (Eliciting a combination of yes, no, and “that can’t be the only thing.”) He followed that with another hot-button moderate issue, asking “Do you believe that someone suffering a mental health crisis should be held without their consent at a medical facility to undergo an evaluation by psychiatric staff?”

Fielder handled that deftly, saying “This is a red herring. There’s no system to put these people into.” She also parried on the issue of police staffing in the district, saying, “They’re all in Union Square, protecting the iPhone store.”

Stephen Torres took on the drug issue from a compassion standpoint. “I work at a supervised consumption site, and that supervised consumption site is Twin Peaks Tavern. It’s a bar in the Castro,” he told the crowd. “These people that you see on the street that you’re other-ing, these could be your family. They likely are.”

Image: Joe Kukura, SFNews

Probably the most pointed exchange of the evening was when Fielder went after Chandler for his outreach work for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), whom she called “one of the most conservative, most feared lobbying organizations in Washington D.C.,” noting their work against “Squad” Congress members Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar.

“In 2022 they endorsed 109 Republicans for reelection, all of whom are anti-abortion, anti-marriage equality, pro-gun,” Fielder charged, adding those AIPAC-endorsed Republicans “decided to protect Trump and overturn the results of the 2020 election.”

Chandler responded with his own charges over the Board of Supervisors’ recent resolution calling for a Gaza ceasefire.

“When I saw outright denials of the use of sexual violence and rape, when I saw that, I would not have associated myself with that, and I would have voted against [the resolution],” he said.

Image: Joe Kukura, SFNews

Whereas Roberto Hernandez focused more on the Mission than on the Israel-Gaza situation. “For me, the most meaningful gift and blessing that I have received is that I got trained by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta at a very young age to be an organizer,” he told the crowd.

So who won the debate? Probably El Rio, who got well over 300 people packed onto their back patio on a humdrum mid-January Wednesday night.

Image: Joe Kukura, SFNews

But what we saw Wednesday indicates that this is probably a two-person race between Trevor Chandler and Jackie Fielder. Those two turned out large numbers of supporters enthusiastically waving signs. Window signs and supporter turnout are two basic blocking-and-tackling techniques that determine success in modern-day local political campaigns, and Fielder and Chandler are, at this point at least, light years ahead of their opponents in those departments.  

As for the entire SF Board of Supervisors, there are five other seats up for grabs in November. In District 1, Supervisor Connie Chan will face a rematch with her 2020 opponent Marjan Philhour, and campaign filings show someone named Jen Nossokoff is running for that seat too. Over in Sup. Aaron Peskin’s District 3, Danny Sauter is running again, this time against former SFMTA board member Sharon Lai (as well as every-week public comment character JConr Ortega, whom Peskin recently called “a horse’s ass” in a rather amusing hot mic moment).

In District 5, Sup. Dean Preston faces a reported challenge from former state Assembly candidate Bilal Mahmood (though Mahmood hasn’t formally filed to run yet). Campaign filings show District 7 Sup. Myrna Melgar has a challenger named Matt Boschetto who has filed to run. And the termed-out Sup. Ahsha Safai’s seat in District 11 has candidates Ernest “EJ” Jones and Roger Marenco who’ve both filed to run.

More candidates could still jump into any of these races, as the filing deadline to run is not until June 11, 2024.

Related: Four Candidates Already In Race For Ronen’s District 9 Seat, as She’s Termed Out Next Year [SFNews]

Images: Joe Kukura, SFNews