Matt Dorsey opposes tolls for Treasure Islanders, supports island redevelopment, promises to fight displacement of low income and communities of color
As Matt Haney’s chief of staff, Honey Mahogany helped win a 6-year halt on tolls for Treasure Island residents, will stop evictions
by Carol Harvey
Watch Matt Dorsey’s coffee event and his campaign promises below. Click “Show More” for a transcript of each clip.
Listen to Honey Mahogany’s plan for Treasure Island as D6 Supervisor here:
Part One: Matt Dorsey
At the ungodly hour of 6:30 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, under wide blue skies, San Francisco political aficionado Lotus Fong and I sped across the Bay Bridge toward Treasure Island.
We were driving to one of Interim Supervisor Matt Dorsey’s morning coffees. I was high with anticipation. I love visiting this beautiful Island and my neighbors there. Dorsey and I agree that Treasure Island is “the best-kept secret in town” – but for entirely different reasons.
A vibrant, rosy-cheeked Dorsey, fresh from a morning run with Isis Breston, met us at the entrance to the Aracely Cafe. You could do worse for your “optics” than arrive with a beautiful young islander to your meet and greet event.
Dorsey is serving out Supervisor Matt Haney’s term. On the Nov. 8 ballot, he faces Honey Mahogany, Cherelle Jackson and Ms. Billie Cooper for supervisor of newly configured District 6, which now includes South of Market, Rincon Hill, South Beach, Mission Bay, Mid-Market and Treasure Island.
Islanders and advocates worry about Dorsey’s connections with the SFPD, the City Attorney’s Office, and the fact that Mayor London Breed, spokesperson for Willie Brown’s political machine, chose him on May 9, 2022, to be interim District 6 supervisor after he asked her “to consider me for her appointee.”
His campaign seems centered on stopping fentanyl overdose deaths in the Tenderloin. This is especially crucial in light of massive financial losses to the City as dirty San Francisco streets scare off future conventions.
Islanders are focused elsewhere – on tolls and eviction lotteries.
Fifteen people attended the coffee – Dorsey, his campaign manager Joe Sweiss and Madison Tam, his legislative aide. “Madison does work on housing and transportation,” said Dorsey. One hopes Tam presses Dorsey about tolls levied on residents, businesses and visitors along with the unanticipated new eviction lotteries tenants fear are intended to boot them off the island to make way for wealthy condo owners.
Of the island’s 1,300 to 1,800 residents, 12 people rolled out of bed to hear Dorsey’s position on these two key issues. Six island residents showed up – Isis Breston, Paulet Gaines, Kevin Kempf, Atta Pilram, Alexandria Rockett and Jeff Kline.
Five off-islanders drove in, two representing Treasure Island businesses and nonprofits. Jim Hancock, founder and director of the Treasure Island Sailing Science Center drove from Alameda, and Steve Stallone, journalist and winemaker at Treasure Island Wines, came in from the East Bay. In my role as investigative reporter and Marina District 2 resident, I arrived with Lotus Yee Fong, San Francisco political historian and former long-time Saint Francis Square, Fillmore District 5 resident.
Up to now, the interim supervisor hadn’t declared a firm position on tolls and showed little awareness that Islanders are more concerned about eviction lotteries than Tenderloin drug deaths, though they are familiar with this problem, too.
Dorsey’s Treasure Island platform develops
On July 25, 2022, Dorsey showed up to a town hall meeting in Treasure Island’s Ship Shape Building where 28 residents, off-island business owners and visitors voiced strong opposition to the tolls. Three residents protested “eviction lotteries,” pleading for Dorsey’s help to keep them in their homes. Dorsey’s response was, “I’ve got to go back, talk to my colleagues, and … get educated.”
At an Aug. 29 Zoom Q&A sponsored by Rebuild D-6, Dorsey presented no position regarding Treasure Island. Muted listeners were told there were only pre-submitted questions. The chat was disabled. An interviewer queried Dorsey on his bio and drug concerns.
By Aug. 10 at Oakland’s Strand Theater candidate debate, Dorsey’s platform for Treasure Island had progressed. Fellow journalist Steve Stallone reported that Dorsey said islanders are nearly unanimous in their opposition to the toll, which he called,”regressive,” “unfair” and “inequitable.”
Dorsey addressed today’s Coffee attendees. “This morning on the run, I was talking (to Isis) about when we had that recent heat wave, how nice it was to come to the nice cool breeze.
“I live (at Trinity Place), Mission and Eighth, right at the end of the Pride Parade. And on Pride weekend when the disco music was going all weekend long, it was like the one place I could go.
“So, Madison and I came out and spent several hours having lunch just meeting with people.”
Dorsey’s alignment with cops in a tough-on-crime enforcement approach to Tenderloin drug deaths has raised red flags for people of color and low income island residents. The popular League of Pissed Off Voters warned, “Dorsey was … the mastermind for SFPD’s “Copaganda,” a taxpayer-funded media campaign to get favorable press coverage for the cops, and he crisis-managed police murders and use of force.”
Additionally, Dorsey’s enthusiasm for a massive amount of housing construction suggested he could stand with developers who benefit from tolls and evictions. So, everyone hoped Dorsey would get to that.
Alas, he repeated his personal and professional bio. Would Dorsey’s rehash of his background and professional life provide insight into his slate?
Dorsey’s bio and political record – again!
Dorsey was born in Bristol, Conn., but his family moved to Westfield, Mass. He attended a private school, Emery College in Boston, earning a bachelor of science in speech with an emphasis on political communications in 1990.
In the early ‘90s, Dorsey began a 10-year stint as an investigator in the San Francisco DA’s Office, working part time as deputy press secretary and speechwriter for then-District Attorney Arlo Smith.
In between many positions in governance with elected officials, he worked in the private sector. The Bay Area Reporter wrote that in the early ‘90s, Dorsey operated his own political consulting firm, Koenig & Dorsey, after which he returned to the city.
In a June 16 Examiner article, reporter Al Saracevic called Dorsey a “longtime behind-the-scenes operative in city politics.”
“For 14 years, I worked in the City Attorney’s Office under Dennis Herrera, on the executive staff, communications director and senior advisor, which is where I learned a lot about City government. I don’t want to betray confidences – in part, because I do want to get the inside scoop – (but) one of the nice things about starting work at the City Attorney’s Office – that’s the office that defends all the City departments in litigation – you get to know where all the bodies are buried, as the saying goes.”
Dorsey described the benefits of his deep-level connections. “There’s a lot of people who I know whom to ask – ‘Hey, tell me what’s going on with it’ – you know, having a network of people who I can rely on.”
In 2020, “Two weeks before Covid, I joined the SFPD because I wanted to work with Chief of Police Bill Scott, who was doing some great work on 21st century police reform.” Since then, Dorsey has collaborated closely with Scott on public relations.
Fentanyl deaths in the Tenderloin
While his position on Treasure Island tolls and evictions to this point was vague, Dorsey was crystal clear on his main concern.
At the July 25 Treasure Island town hall meeting, he stated: “The number of San Franciscans we have lost to drug overdoses since the advent of Covid has now surpassed 1,700 San Franciscans, nearly twice COVID-19ʼs lethality during the same time period.”
He identifies as a recovering alcoholic and drug addict. “I have spent most of my adult life in recovery. A moment that really solidified my thinking about why I wanted to ask for this job was when Mayor Breed proposed the Tenderloin Emergency Initiative when it was getting so bad that the City had to do something.
“When I was in the police department for a little over two years – I was the highest ranking gay member of the police department command staff – there was a monthly meeting that I took part in with the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and officials from the Department of Public Health to preview the monthly report on how many people died from drug overdoses.
“Sitting in that meeting month after month, I was probably the only person who, as an addict, looks at a number, and knows that I’m one bad decision away from being back.”
Dorsey feels strongly that “the City needed to do a better job with drug overdoses, all your open-air drug scenes, and a lot of the problems that are happening in my neighborhood around the South of Market.”
Following his appointment by Breed in September, along with Supervisors Rafael Mandelman and Catherine Stefani, Dorsey announced a board resolution – a citywide strategy dubbed San Francisco Recovers – “to reduce drug overdose deaths, incentivize recovery for those struggling with substance use disorders, and end street-level drug dealing and open-air drug scenes.”
Though the 23-page San Francisco Recovers strategy has a rehabilitation component, it proposes a plan intended to use law enforcement to dry up drug street sales instantaneously.
The approach is based on the High Point Drug Market Intervention Strategy successful in New York, North Carolina and other states. This “community policing strategy … will deliberately shut the market down completely and all at once” and prevent its reemergence.
San Francisco Recovers extracts only the law enforcement component from the 2021 Report from the San Francisco Street-Level Drug Dealing Task Force, which is strong on rehabilitation: “One approach for addressing open-air markets is to pick a certain area/block, push the dealers out (e.g., using police enforcement and/or community safety organizations) and then make it clear that anyone caught dealing in that area will be prosecuted and sanctioned. Once that block is ‘flipped’ back to the community, the process is then repeated for the next block/corner, and so on. If anyone goes back to dealing on one of the flipped blocks/corners, they will be immediately arrested and prosecuted.”
Said Dorsey: “Fentanyl has changed the game – the most lethal recreational drug that we’ve ever seen.”
San Francisco Recovers states: “The amount of Fentanyl seized from [Tenderloin] drug dealers by SF cops rose from 5.4 kilos in 2020 to 25.5 kilos in 2021, a nearly 5-fold increase and enough fatal overdoses to wipe out the entire 7.75-million population of the Bay Area.”
A Treasure Island resident texted: “Damn that’s a lot of fetty. It’s true, it’s ubiquitous. I can’t walk anywhere near Civic Center without people tripping over one another trying to sell me Fentanyl.”
However, he said: “[Dorsey’s] rhetoric sounds like when George W. was gonna go into Iraq and ‘smoke ‘em out’ – cops going into the TL with guns blazing. That’s not how to fix it. There is an economic argument as to why it doesn’t work.
“If you bust the supply side, the drug becomes scarce, and the price goes up. But, because drugs are addictive, the demand is inelastic. It does not change regardless of price. So, when you bust dealers you make it more profitable. The only thing to do is address demand by rehabilitation.”
Homeless advocates worry that innocent unhoused folks in tents could once again be caught up in abusive police sweeps. Without housing, they would, like always, simply return.
Dorsey on eviction lotteries and tolls
Up to the Oct. 29 coffee event, nowhere had Dorsey stated definitively what he would or wouldn’t do about tolls or evictions and eviction lotteries, or define specific steps he would take to stop tolls or the evictions happening on Treasure Island right now.
Steve Stallone pressed Dorsey on tolls. “[You said you were] against the toll. But, then you started talking about, you may need to discuss congestion pricing at some point. Now, maybe you’re redefining congestion pricing, but that’s just a fancy bureaucratic antiseptic term for a toll.
“We’re less than two weeks out … from early voting, and people on Treasure Island want to know your position on whether there’s going to be a toll or not. And, I find you dancing around it.”
“I’m opposed to the toll,” said Dorsey. “I’m going to do everything I can to fight it because I think it’s inequitable.” But, leaving an opening, he said: “if we’re going to have a congestion scheme (tolls), I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that it is equitable; it’s not ‘regressive.’” Dorsey did not define “regressive.”
Dorsey offered hope: “Without betraying a confidence – I have heard from some of my colleagues – there’s not support for it.”
Dorsey on gentrification and displacement
Matt Dorsey is a professional wordsmith. About gentrification and displacement from housing, he offered generalized statements. “I am convinced there is a way to deal with development without making any gentrification or displacement.” But, he made no promises.
Without identifying “we” or “us”’ he tells “us” what “we” should not do.
“If you believe in housing and are behind the most ambitious and most progressive housing element in San Francisco history (the Treasure Island redevelopment project) and want to fulfill the promise of 82,000 units, and righting the wrongs of past generations, WE had better not make the mistakes that WE made in generations past of hurting communities of color, hurting low income communities. WE had better take care of everybody and not displace them.”
Exactly, who is “we”? The developers? TIDA? Campaigning politicians like himself running the City and County of San Francisco? Federal Government officials – Nancy Pelosi? HUD, the federal department that provided housing in the 50s and 60s – and made the “mistakes”? Entities that redlined people of color out of communities?
Or does he mean you and I, San Francisco citizens, including Treasure Islanders? As long as he is vague about the “we,” he is placing the responsibility on no one, anywhere – and certainly not himself.
The worried islander’s text continued: “We are screwed on all of this, the toll, the eviction lottery … Dorsey ain’t gonna do s*** to stop any of it.”
“Our choices [for district supervisor], a conservative, tough on crime, DINO, who opposes the toll (a little, kind of but not really, not whole-heartedly or even half-heartedly, hardly heartedly at all).”
Note: DINO, Democrat In Name Only, is a pejorative acronym for an elected member of the Democratic Party who allegedly governs and legislates like a Republican. The acronym DINO is opposite to RINO, Republican In Name Only.
Part Two: Honey Mahogany
“And,” the resident texted, “our other choice is a woman [Honey Mahogany] who is in favor of the toll because she has not made even the smallest effort to look into what … voters want.”
Honey Mahogany’s Treasure Island record
The exact opposite is true. This islander’s assumption is completely false. Honey Mahogany met often with island residents and business owners when she worked for D6 Supervisor, Matt Haney, as his legislative aide and chief of staff.
“During Covid,” she told me in an interview, “We helped establish the DPH [Department of Public Health] vaccine site there.” She was present on the island the first and second times they held the clinic.
She said she has driven through Treasure Island many times, as recently as two weeks ago.
“I have done door-knocking on the island and sat down and chatted with residents.” They were mostly concerned about the tolls. “They weren’t talking to me about the evictions as much.”
Honey on evictions
Asked her position on evictions, Mahogany said firmly, if she were supervisor: “I would be putting an immediate halt to the evictions because it’s clear that [residents] are not being offered comparable housing. Until that is settled and finalized and examined by the City, we have a duty to our residents to ensure both their safety and that they are provided comparable housing. That’s something I will look into starting from Day One.”
Honey on tolls
She was specific about tolls. “There is a lot of confusion and a lot of miscommunication. There is a narrative out there that folks will have to pay a toll. I heard time and again, ‘I shouldn’t have to pay a toll!’
She said emphatically: “No current TI resident will have to pay a toll. What I have to reaffirm for people is that, when I was working with Supervisor Haney, we actually did ensure that those folks who were currently living on the island wouldn’t have to pay that toll.”
Working with other aides, she did some of the research and coordination of the meetings on talking points in preparation for the proposal to the supervisors that they exempt current residents from tolls. Haney passed a proposal in the Board of Supervisors for a 6-year toll exemption for current residents.
After six years, the toll exemption “should be renewed,” she said. But, she believes that, whether before or after this renewal, low income residents and people of color driving cars or using any form of transportation should never have to pay tolls.
“We should make public transit on and off the island as easy as possible” and “free for all residents.”
Mahogany also told me she is against tolling visiting helpers.
“There were concerns about caregivers or family members – especially some of the elderly folks that I talked to. They were concerned that the toll was going to impact their ability to receive care or support. I had a discussion with them about how we could have potential exemptions for family members and those folks.”
What about small businesses on which residents rely? “I’m a small business owner myself.” Mahogany owns a bar in the South of Market district over which she would be supervisor.
“As a bar owner in the district, I understand how hard it is for small businesses, and that’s not something that I take lightly. I do want to ensure that these businesses don’t get their costs of doing business raised.” It’s important to her “to have a thriving small business economy.”
Small business owners have huge concerns that if they, their workers or clients incur the expense of a toll, the businesses could dry up.
Mahogany said, “I do think it’s important. That’s a valid concern – small businesses having exemptions for their employees. We certainly don’t want to raise their costs of doing business on the island.”
Businesses are worried that off-island clients won’t want to pay entrance and exit tolls. “I definitely hear the concern [but] many of the people who are going to the island already are going there to have an experience and will pay the toll.
“I also think that there is a tradeoff. We will be getting 20,000 new residents on Treasure Island who will be built-in customers and are going to be a huge boon and a business boom to the small businesses. It stands to reason that business will actually increase for those businesses on the island.
“The people who are most likely to visit those places are people who actually live there and want to go to their neighborhood restaurant, or bar, or winery that’s near where they live. They don’t have to take a car and pay a toll. They’ll want to do it right there.
“So, again, I think there’s a bit of a tradeoff. The 20,000 new residents should more than offset any negative impact to those small businesses from the toll.”
Once she is in office, she is “open to exploring” new ideas and various ways of doing things, such as wealthy Yerba Buena Island residents or developers taking responsibility. “I am happy to fight for a more equitable way to pay for the infrastructure.”
Mahogany is in favor of tolling visitors, but is also willing to take a closer look at state law to determine the rights of visitors, windsurfers and boaters to have free access to tidelands like Treasure Island.
She may lack necessary information. The Navy, TIDA and developers who don’t want the public to know how toxic the island is erected a news blockade years ago. People generally don’t understand a lot of what’s going on there, including some high-level officials and politicians.
Mahogany assured me that she would look into the 2014 Agreement between the State Lands Commission and the Treasure Island Development Authority (TIDA), which explicitly states that San Francisco received clear title to allow residential development on Treasure Island in exchange for commitments to enhance public access to the state’s public trust lands.
This linked 48 Hills interview with Honey Mahogany by Steve Stallone covers her take on tolls, redevelopment and fleshes out TIDA’S agreement with Tidelands trust on guaranteed free access to the Island.
This means visitors to Treasure Island, especially those engaged in recreation and sports like sailing and windsurfing won’t be tolled. The Tidelands Trust holds with British common law that the public owns and has unfettered access to all tidelands, of which Treasure Island is one.
The League of Pissed Off Voters has positive things to say about the other two candidates, Cherelle Jackson and Ms. Billie Cooper, but we were unable to reach them for comment.
Part Three will cover attempts by attendees at Dorsey’s Coffee Meet and Greet to reach out to Supervisor Dorsey about San Francisco corruption. That oughta be fun.
Part Three: Addendum
Comparison of Mahogany and Matt Dorsey on a Mahogany campaign flier
HONEY MAHOGANY: 20+ years as a social worker – fighting against drugs
DORSEY: 20+ years as a paid publicist covering for politicians
HONEY MAHOGANY: Masters in Social Work from UC Berkeley
DORSEY: Bachelors in Political Science
HONEY MAHOGANY: Chief of Staff for Supervisor Matt Haney
DORSEY: Head of PR for the Police Department
HONEY MAHOGANY: Trained to get people with addiction clean, sober and off the streets
DORSEY: In recovery himself, but not trained to help others get sober
HONEY MAHOGANY: Real-life experience holding people who commit crimes accountable and changing their lives
DORSEY: Got current position on the Board of Supervisors by political appointment
HONEY MAHOGANY: Fights to end street crime and to hold the police accountable for abuse
DORSEY: Worked to excuse police abuses during Black Lives Matter movement
HONEY MAHOGANY: TOUGH LOVE
DORSEY: POLITICAL SPIN
League of Pissed Off Voters endorsements
“Wow! Another race against an incumbent appointed by the mayor–this time in the form of D6 supervisor Matt Dorsey, a professional spin doctor and former ‘strategic communications’ mouthpiece for the SFPD.
“The League wants to acknowledge Dorsey’s representation of the gay and recovery communities (which London Breed brings up at every possible opportunity). We actually endorsed Dorsey back in June 2012 as part of the progressive slate for the DCCC, back when he was the spokesperson for the city attorney’s office.
“He didn’t fully align with our positions, but at the time he was reasonable and an ally. It seems like something changed when Dorsey became a private-sector comms consultant (translation: communications consultant) and his PR work for the SFPD is downright shameful.
“So we say ‘no thank you,’ in fact, ‘no fucking way,’ to his loathsome pro-cop, pro-developer, pro-machine politics.
“After Pride asked police not to come armed and uniformed to the parade, and the cops stomped off in a snit, Dorsey stood in solidarity with the ‘service and sacrifice’ of police and sheriffs against ‘exclusionary discrimination.’
“Dorsey was also the mastermind for SFPD’s ‘copaganda,’ a taxpayer-funded media campaign to get favorable press coverage for the cops, and he crisis-managed police murders and use of force. It was Dorsey’s idea for the mayor to stage a photo op at Louis Vuitton because that is where the ‘rule of law needs to make its stand.’ He literally said that.
“Due to ranked choice voting, the League has endorsed two D6 hopefuls. Honey Mahogany is our first pick! She has solid experience in D6 and at City Hall as chief of staff for recently departed Supervisor Matt Haney, helped found the first Transgender District, and is one of the highest-ranking transgender officials in the country.
“Mahogany is a social worker who spent two decades working directly with unhoused people with mental illness and drug addiction. Mahogany says she believes in alternatives to policing ‘whenever possible,’ which is a little vague, but better than the insatiable ‘more cops please’ of her opponent. On a couple issues she may be trying to stay ‘moderate’ enough for the newly redistricted and wealthier D6, but she knows the needs of ordinary constituents, and we hope to see her lead progressively if elected.
“Our #2 pick is Cherelle Jackson. The League likes that she’s a longtime community activist who worked tirelessly for a non-corrupt redistricting plan. Jackson is a CA Assembly District 17 ADEM (Assembly District Election Meetings) member and the co-chair of the Workers with Disabilities committee of SEIU 1021. Is she a rising star in the SF political scene? We want to give Cherelle props, recognize all her hard work, and see where she lands!”
Carol Harvey is a San Francisco political journalist specializing in human rights and civil rights. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.