Rafael Mandelman is preparing to take office as Glen Park’s new District 8 representative on the Board of Supervisors after he won the recent election in a landslide with 60 percent of the vote, besting incumbent Supervisor Jeff Sheehy.
Mandelman is expected to take the oath of office in July, once results of the June 5 election are officially certified. His win means that Glen Park will lose one of its own on the Board of Supervisors, with the departure of Sheehy, who lives with his husband and middleschool daughter a short walk from downtown Glen Park.
One of Sheehy’s first acts as supervisor was to address a problem he saw firsthand every day: the traffic mess at the busy Bosworth-Diamond intersection. He convinced the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to assign traffic control officers to help tame the commute-hour chaos in the area.
Mandelman, who lives near 25th and Valencia streets, vowed to keep the needs of Glen Park in sharp focus, concerning the citywide challenges of affordable housing and homelessness as they affect the neighborhood or the more mundane concerns of potholes and stop signs.
“You want my attention, you have it,” Mandelman said in a recent Sunday morning interview with the Glen Park News at the Bello Coffee & Tea café. “If there are events or meetings in Glen Park that folks want me to be there, they should please let me know.”
After all, he said, supervisors are “judged first by their constituent response.”
Mandelman, an attorney specializing in housing and development, spent a lot of time in Glen Park on the campaign trail, knocking on doors and greeting commuters at the BART station. He may not have the same intimate familiarity with the neighborhood that Sheehy has, but he has done his homework.
One topic: the potential development of the BART parking lot across Bosworth Street from the station. While there are no formal proposals to build on the parcel, the idea has been raised over the years by BART and housing advocates. But any development there would be sure to spark fierce debate, for the site could support dozens of units, which could change the character of the low-key neighborhood.
“Given San Francisco’s housing crisis, I think it gets hard to preserve surface parking lots, particularly right near mass transit,” Mandelman said. But he fell short of a full-throttled endorsement. “I’m open to thinking about the use of a surface parking lot for housing.”
He also said there may be ways to reduce the impacts that bringing in a large influx of new residents could have on existing neighbors. One possibility would be to prevent the new residents from obtaining residential parking permits in order to reduce the demand for street parking. “That’s potentially a reasonable accommodation.”
Mandelman, a 44-year-old homeowner and past president of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, graduated from Lick-Wilmerding High School and earned degrees from Yale, Harvard and UC Berkeley. He was born in Laguna Beach and moved to San Francisco as an 11-year-old. He first ran for District 8 supervisor in 2010, but lost to Scott Wiener. He then successfully ran for a citywide seat on the Community College Board in 2012 and won re-election four years later.
Wiener, meanwhile, was elected to the state Senate seat and left the Board of Supervisors before the end of his term. Then-Mayor Ed Lee tapped Sheehy to fill the vacancy in January 2017. Under the City’s election rules, Sheehy had to run for election in June 2018 to retain his seat. Mandelman decided to challenge him, and now must face election again for a full term this November. Sheehy has said he will not run.
In the June race to fill out the last few months of Wiener’s term, Sheehy was cast as the moderate candidate and Mandelman had the backing of the city’s progressive flank. His win could give the progressives a 6-to-5 edge on the Board of Supervisors, but Mandelman cautions against pigeonholing him.
“I am going to work really hard to build good relations with all of them,” he said of his new colleagues. “Coming from this district, it’s going to be important to not be too aligned with any of them.”
In District 8, Glen Park, Diamond Heights and Noe Valley tend to skew a little more moderate than the Castro and the eastern edge of the district. But this being San Francisco, the ideological differences between progressives and moderates are not vast.
While campaigning, Mandelman heard from a lot of people across the district about their growing concerns over homelessness and mental illness and drug use fueling uncivil behavior on the streets.
Mandelman’s mother suffered from severe mental illness and was unable to take care of him. She ended up homeless at one point and Mandelman, whose parents were divorced, bounced around, living with relatives, a foster family, the family of a classmate and a high school teacher. That experience, he said, helped shape who he is.
He favors expanding the system of conservatorship to better care for people who can’t take care of themselves, increasing the capacity for residential mental health treatment, opening regulated safe injection sites for intravenous drug users, and removing tent encampments. He also wants to see more police officers walking beats.
“In terms of getting scary and sick people off the street, we’re getting an F and we need to do better,” he said. “I will work really hard to help make that happen.”