Fresh off a seven-year stint on the Recreation and Park Commission, David Lee is attempting to pull off something that has never been done before: beating an incumbent in a Board of Supervisors district election.
To do so, Lee must convince the voters of the Richmond neighborhood there is a need for change. But Supervisor Eric Mar is perhaps more politically polished than ever, describing himself as an “independent voice” on the board and deflecting his rival’s criticism in a thoughtful, measured style.
The two District 1 candidates sat down with The San Francisco Examiner editorial board Friday to discuss their campaigns. A third candidate, 2008 also-ran Sherman D’Silva, was invited but did not attend.
Lee, the owner of a State Farm Insurance office in the Richmond and the executive director of the Chinese-American Voters Education Committee, casts Mar as an ineffective leader who has let the district languish. Lee points to empty storefronts and even the absence of a traffic light at 22nd Avenue and Geary Boulevard to make his case.
“We need jobs and economic development in my district,” Lee said. “We have 85 empty storefronts and my focus would be on filling those storefronts.”
Lee said the supervisor needs to act as a “booster” for the neighborhood, have neighborhood maps showing the local businesses, hold street fairs and attempt to attract tech startups to fill up office space vacancies overlooking Geary. With a district that includes Golden Gate Park, Lee lamented: “There is no place to buy a basketball. There is no place to buy a mitt or a bat in the entire Richmond.”
But Mar said he has been working on the vacancy challenge. He said he passed legislation easing zoning requirements to encourage “more active and attractive storefronts,” is helping with the creation of parklets on Clement Street along with holiday parties to “make it more of a destination spot,” and is focusing on cleanup of the commercial corridors and the planting of more trees.
“I personally planted a number, from Washington High School all the way up on 32nd Avenue, all the way down to Park Presidio,” Mar said.
Mar said he is focused on pedestrian safety and continues to talk with city officials about best fixes for problem locations in the district.
Both candidates support some form of bus rapid transit for Geary Boulevard, gave high marks to Mayor Ed Lee’s performance and were critical of enforcing parking meter fees on Sundays.
San Francisco’s more left-leaning political faction is closely watching the Mar race since his defeat would be a significant blow to the progressive camp, which has suffered dwindling influence over board politics since November 2010. The group held a healthy progressive majority rule on the board for about a decade. Meanwhile, Lee’s victory would build on the moderates’ increasing political power.
“I am not bought or controlled by special interests,” Mar said. “I feel that I represent the Richmond district for people in the Richmond. My track record I think speaks for itself.”
The voters will decide Nov. 6.