Tensions Run High at State Senate Debate held at USF

Brain Healy

Staff Writer

Only a day after the second presidential debate, USF held its own debate for candidates vying for a position in public office, albeit a more localized role. The Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good hosted the event, welcoming voters to a debate between San Francisco Supervisors Jane Kim and Scott Wiener. Both candidates are running campaigns in hopes of becoming the next member of California’s State Senate representing District 11, which includes San Francisco and Daly City.

The debate began with little fanfare, and candidates were quickly introduced to the crowd so they could give their opening remarks and introduce themselves. While Kim made her opening statement, a member from the audience and a staunch opponent of Kim’s policies made their voice heard. “You didn’t fight for us Jane,” shouted the heckler from her seat in the crowd, although she was quickly shut down by the moderator of the evening, Dr. James Taylor, a professor and the director of the African-American Studies program. After Kim resumed her introduction, the heckler interrupted her again. “You’ve made me homeless Jane, you’ve made me homeless and a hundred other people in my community,” said Betty Mackey, who walked out of the auditorium on her own free will after being asked again to leave. Mackey has been a vocal advocate for affordable housing units on Yerba Buena Island through the Save Yerba Buena Island Movement.

It seems that Mackey’s antagonism towards Kim stems from last year’s eviction of Yerba Buena Island residents to make room for newly developed condos, a hotel, and a ferry. The San Francisco Chronicle reported back in August 2015 that around 100 people in 40 households were given the option to either move into another apartment on Treasure Island, or accept a cash offer from the city to leave. If residents, like Mackey, wanted to return to the island after development, the affordability rate would have plummeted, with only 5 percent of the 300 units being deemed “affordable.”

“They gave us priority on market-rate housing, but who can afford a million-dollar condo? Not us. And the affordable housing? We would have to enter into a lottery to get it. The whole thing is completely unconscionable,” said Mackey in an interview with the Chronicle last year. In an interview with The Foghorn, Kim responded, “She was a Yerba Buena island resident and we moved her to Treasure Island. It was part of her leasing that we were going to demolish all of the sufficient homes built on the new development. That was going to be 27 percent affordable housing. She didn’t want to move, she called it an eviction. It wasn’t. She was housed on Treasure Island today,” said Kim, who claims that she was not thrown off her game after the disruption.

During the debate, the candidates became heated over many issues facing San Francisco including housing availability, the soda tax, the annexation of Brisbane, the impact Super Bowl 50 had on San Francisco, and many more. As the conversation progressed, the crowd seemed to be swaying in Kim’s direction with every applause coming in louder for Kim than for Wiener. With the election date soon approaching, the candidates and close coworkers on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors both said nothing was personal when arguing up on stage. “Jane and I get along personally; we just now interacted and chatted backstage,” said Weiner.

Wiener is endorsed by the Democratic Party and Senator Mark Leno (who is the current member in the CA Senate representing district 11), while Kim is endorsed by Senator Bernie Sanders and Senator Cory Booker.

Wiener advocates issues on housing, transportation, environment, health and family, and public education. Meanwhile, Kim has fought to expand access to affordable housing, protect renters, improve public schools and close the income gap.

The McCarthy Center was excited to host the debate, but it’s not something they would have been able to pull off without the help of co-sponsors San Francisco Urban Agriculture Alliance (SFUAA), and The Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA). “Initially we had proposed to the candidates that we wanted to do a food-focused forum entirely, which we had done a couple of years ago with [California] State Assembly candidates David Campos and David Chiu,” said Julie Cummins, the director of education for CUESA. “So we wanted to do it for the Senate race but [the candidates] were like ‘We’ve got too many debates’,” she added. They eventually came to the resolution that CUESA, SFUAA, and the McCarthy Center, who all wanted to host their own debates, got the opportunity to collaborate on the one that we saw come to fruition on Monday, Oct. 9.

Director of the McCarthy Center, David Donahue, said this was something they had been working on since classes let out last May. “We were thinking over the summer what things we wanted to do with elections coming up to help people make informed decisions, and we knew that this would probably be the most important race locally in the city […] so this seemed like an important debate and an important discussion to have on campus,” said Donahue.


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