by Antonio Ray Harvey, California Black Media
The week of April 18, when the final supervisorial district maps were presented and approved by the San Francisco Redistricting Task Force, Black activists got what they wanted: the few remaining areas of the City with large Black populations were drawn into the same voting district.
As the political dust settles, a number of sources, including some supporters of Shamann Walton, the only Black member and president of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors, say Mayor London Breed contributed to the chaos that ensued during the redistricting process that pitted Black and Asian voters against each other.
Those critics allege that, at one point, the mayor even supported a draft map that watered down the City’s Black vote, ultimately weakening the political power of Walton, who is a political adversary.
Every 10 years, the San Francisco Redistricting Task Force, which is made up of appointed volunteers, is charged with drawing 11 equally populated supervisorial districts. For this year, San Francisco’s Department of Elections expects to have the new redistricted map by May 2 for the November 2022 general election. Supervisorial districts 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10 are on the ballot.
Typically, the redistricting process is quiet and uneventful. But this year, it was contentious and dramatic, as evidenced when the 9-member task force presented a draft map on April 14.
But before that happy conclusion, the Golden Gate City witnessed a contentious and dramatic redistricting process marred by infighting, name calling and at least one incident when task force members walked out of a meeting.
Black activists and residents pushed back on that draft map, demanding the City’s majority Black areas remain in the same voting district. Their main concern was losing their only voice at City Hall if some District 10 neighborhoods are moved to District 9 as proposed on the April 14 draft map presented by the San Francisco Redistricting Task Force.
“We need a fair map that keeps Potrero Hill, Bayview [and] Sunnydale together,” Black community organizer Cheryl Thornton posted on April 14 on her Facebook page.
“We are a community of interest, and we will not be removed from [District 10]. We are demanding a fair map that does not dilute the Black Voting voice.”
They said it was the only way to ensure they have Black representation on the Board of Supervisors in a city where the African American population has fallen to below 6 percent.
According to sources who did not want to go on record, Breed and Walton have a frosty relationship, and Walton is likely to challenge Breed in the upcoming mayoral race.
Teresa Duque, executive director of San Francisco Community Empowerment Center (SFCEC), a non-profit community agency, said the Black and Latino communities deserve to have representation on the Board of Supervisors.
SFCEC has been in District 9 since 2006 and prefers to remain there. The agency provides referrals for affordable housing, food stamps, counseling, translation, advocacy, citizenship classes and ESL classes for adults in San Bruno and San Francisco.
“The reason they want to do this is that they want to control the Asian community in District 10 so that it will overlap the African American community in the Bayview district. That is something that I don’t want,” Duque told California Black Media (CBM).
“[The Asian community] should have a voice in District 9 and the African Americans should have a voice in District 10.”
The Asian community was split on the issue. While Duque and others want to remain in District 9, another group wants to combine Portola with the Visitacion neighborhood, which is in District 10. The two neighborhoods, with a large Asian population, have been disconnected for 20 years.
On April 14, five members voted to reject the map, including chairperson, the Rev. Arnold Townsend and members José María (Chema) Hernandez Gil, Jeremy Lee, J. Michelle Pierce and Raynell Cooper.
Vice-chair Ditka Reiner, Matthew Castillon, Lily Ho, and Chasel Lee voted in favor of the draft map.
The task force missed the April 15 deadline to submit a final plan, which carves out the new supervisorial district lines for the next 10 years.
The Board of Supervisors and the Elections Commission appointed six members of the task force while Breed, the first Black woman elected mayor in San Francisco, appointed three members, including Townsend.
On Tuesday, April 19, the redistricting controversies heated up when three people sued the task force for missing its deadline. Depending on how the lawsuit goes, it could be a judge, instead of the task force, drafting the map of the City’s supervisorial districts.
If the task force members had approved the redistricting map it rejected last week, Board President Walton would be politically vulnerable, representing a district with fewer Black voters.
Walton was born in San Francisco. He grew up in Bayview and Potrero Hill public housing projects. He has worked in District 10 neighborhoods for decades. He was first elected as the representative of the district in November 2018.
A former president and member of the San Francisco Board of Education, Walton has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Morris Brown College and a master’s degree in public administration from San Francisco State University. Walton’s challenger for his District 10 seat is Gloria Berry.
“I’ve shown up every day to lead on the tough issues … the ones that have made a real impact in San Franciscans’ lives,” Walton states on his re-election website. “I’m ready to continue fighting for our most vulnerable neighbors and working families.”
The League of Women Voters of San Francisco and Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus wrote in a letter dated April 6 that the organizations were “alarmed to see draft maps that would diminish” the voting power of low-income, immigrants, renters, LGBTQ+ and people of color communities.
“Our organizations are deeply concerned that the draft supervisor district maps created so far by the City’s Redistricting Task Force fail to adequately reflect the input shared by communities of interest, particularly those made up of the most vulnerable and least represented people in our city,” the letter states.
The Asian and Black communities in both districts have clashed during task force meetings. Outbursts at an April 11 meeting at San Francisco City Hall was a clear example of how the redistricting process has divided San Franciscans.
Drew Min, who is Korean, lashed out at Thornton and other members of the Black community. He said during public comment that his community had been called “Nazis, racists and corporate shills” for its efforts to unify Portola and Visitacion in one district.
Thornton shouted in response, denying Min’s accusations, adding that none of the Black organizers would disrespect their Asian counterparts by calling them Nazis.
Min and other activists asked the Superior Court of California in a letter to “adopt a final supervisorial map” and “hold a hearing the week of April 25” to decide the matter.
“A coordinated effort from politically toxic forces threatened and intimidated anyone who disagreed with them,” Min stated in the April 19 letter. “These bullying, antidemocratic tactics were successful in delaying the passage of the final map, illegally missing the mandated deadline.”
Duque said the task force’s failure to finalize a map could mean repercussions. “For whatever reasons, we will do whatever we can do,” Duque said, suggesting that she and others might file lawsuits.
Before the April 14 vote, Townsend, who was appointed to the task force by Breed, voted twice for the map that places Portola into District 10 and Potrero Hill into District 9.
“It’s all political. She is only working for herself and what she wants. Everyone knows about it,” Duque said of Breed.
“None of this is right. They want to limit the African American voice in District 10. We actually want to work with the African American community and stay diversified.”
On April 20, Black and Asian leaders from Little Hollywood, Sunnydale, Bayview and Potrero Hill held a “unity” rally supporting the draft map that was approved. They call it “the healing map” and hailed it for keeping the District 10 neighborhoods together.
CBM reached out to Mayor Breed for comment. We have not received a response from her office.
California Black Media, serving California’s Black press, boasts a record of ensuring that the Black viewpoint remains central to all the debates that shape life in California. Antonio Ray Harvey and other members of the CBM staff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.