SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) – San Francisco District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey has made no secret of his own struggles with alcoholism and drug use.

“This will never be the issue of the month for me,” Dorsey said. “This is the objective of my survival.”

A former communications director for San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera and for the San Francisco Police Department, Dorsey told KRON4 News he offered himself to be appointed to represent his South of Market neighborhood on the city’s board of supervisors earlier this year by Mayor London Breed so he could help solve the city’s epidemic of drug overdoses, which have claimed 1,817 lives in San Francisco since Jan. 2020.

“If I can’t get it done at the Board of Supervisors, I’ll go to the voters and I can get a lot accomplished there,” he said.

Dorsey’s main rival for the position is Honey Mahogany, a legislative aide to Dorsey’s predecessor Matt Haney, who’d been District 6 supervisor until his election to represent San Francisco’s eastside in the state Assembly earlier this year. (Haney is also up for election to a full, two-year term Tuesday. His nominal opponent, former Democratic chair David Campos, is not contesting the race, having lost to him in the special election earlier this year.)

Mahogany, who replaced Campos as chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party Central Committee (which runs the city’s Democratic Party and endorses candidates), is running a historic campaign to be San Francisco’s first transgender supervisor.

‘It’s a political failure’: Dorsey

Concerns about the confluence between open-air drug scenes, mental health crises, addiction and street homelessness have been behind much anxiety in recent years; these joined other forces in propelling the recall of District Attorney Chesa Boudin, and the appointment of Brooke Jenkins to replace him over the summer.

San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins speaks during her swearing in ceremony at City Hall in San Francisco, Calif., on July 8, 2022. (Rebecca Smith/Bay City News)

Dorsey said that he wants to address the issues together with his San Francisco Recovers plan.

“I would say we all knew safety would be a top issue,” Dorsey said. “Even by my standards of expectations, it is more persistent than I expected. … A lot of D6 safety has to do with open-air drug dealing.”

Mahogany agrees that these are top issues.

“I think it’s really clear to everyone public safety is one of our biggest issues in the downtown area,” Mahogany told KRON4 News. “People are overwhelmed by street activity with regard to drug dealing and feeling unsafe walking around at night, residents and visitors.”

Salesforce Tower is seen from above in downtown San Francisco, California on February 6, 2019. – San Francisco, once home to flower power, hippies and dope, has changed dramatically: these days, it is all about Facebook, Twitter and Google, the multi-billion dollar tech giants who have turned it into one of the world’s most expensive cities to live in. Average monthly rent for a two-room apartment in the city by the bay now runs to $3,700, the highest in the United States. And a household of four with annual earnings of less than $117,400 is officially officially considered “low income.” “We see now a kind of homelessness that did not occur before, people who work, that is new, said Cary McClelland, author of the 2018 book “Silicon City” which examines how the city has changed. (Photo by Josh Edelson / AFP) (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images)

District 6, which comprises South of Market, is also home to more drug overdose deaths than any neighborhood except the Tenderloin. City data from 2020 and 2021 showed 18% of the city’s drug deaths were there, in the same district that’s home to the Salesforce and Millennium towers, the headquarters of some of the world’s foremost tech corporations, and the San Francisco Giants baseball club.

Dorsey said that “my sense of what’s going on in city government is that it’s a political failure rather than a resources failure.”

“We are as wealthy a city as any in the world,” Dorsey said. “They’re looking for City Hall for leadership. I think the mayor is doing her best to lead. Let’s start the debate at the Board of Supervisors and I think if we can get on the same page, the city will be with us.”

He said his own experience in city departments has taught him sometimes city supervisors think they know better than those on the ground, and he wants feedback from department heads about what they need to tackle persistent issues.

“I’ve spent most of my career on the other side of the Board of Supervisors,” Dorsey said. “I’ve seen things happen on the other end — supervisors who think they know how to run a department better than those actually running a city department. My assurance to department heads is that I’d never be that kind of supervisor.”

Thus, Dorsey’s San Francisco Recovers plan begins with the opening salvo of asking the heads of 21 city departments and six commissions to report to the Board of Supervisors what they need so that a comprehensive strategy can be implemented “to reverse the city’s crisis in accidental drug overdose deaths, to incentivize and support recovery from drug addiction, and to end overt drug markets, open-air drug scenes and associated public nuisances and harms to the community,” according to the San Francisco Recovers resolution.

Dorsey’s office states there will be five main focuses of the San Francisco Recovers program:

  1. Public health objectives and programs
  2. Criminal justice objectives and programs
  3. “Right to Recovery” programs
  4. “Sober New Deal” programs
  5. Enhanced transparency objectives and programs

‘We already know what we need to do’: Mahogany

Mahogany characterized Dorsey’s plan as asking department heads to come up with a plan.

“There are proven strategies that work,” Mahogany said. “When I was working in the D6 office we championed working with both police and community ambassadors — both those the community benefit district utilizes and Urban Alchemy.”

Mahogany said that targeting specific neighborhoods often doesn’t work because it “displaces that behavior to someone else’s block, and that’s what we’ve seen in the last year or so,” since Breed announced a crackdown on street conditions in the Tenderloin.

“I think the interesting part of the recovery plan is the majority of the plan is directing the departments to come up with a plan,” Mahogany said. “We already know what we need to do to solve this crisis, it’s just the political will and the re-allocation of funds. I don’t think we need a study on how much money we are losing by not addressing the problem.”

When asked what would work, Mahogany said that city leaders already have the tools they need to address street conditions and that over-policing the problem would backfire.

Police vehicles are stationed at Union Square following recent robberies in San Francisco, Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

“The mayor is already able to direct the police,” Mahogany said. “That already happened in the downtown-Union Square area.

“The right to recover is not just about policing, it’s about getting people into recovery,” Mahogany added. “From the title, it seems that should be the focus.”

Mahogany said that the city needs more public health professionals and social workers.

“We haven’t hired enough public health workers and staffers to staff enough of these projects,” Mahogany said.

Mahogany has also pledged to help “build and streamline housing at all levels,” according to her campaign website, where she touts her work in Haney’s office where she was “head of land use … building 9,000 units of housing in 4 years – more than all other districts combined.”

Mahogany has also garnered the support of many in the neighborhood’s prominent nightlife community. The former “RuPaul Drag Race” contestant was a co-op owner of The Stud, an LGBTQ bar which closed its District 6 bar in 2020.

Mahogany helped take the initiative in founding the Transgender District in the city’s Tenderloin neighborhood, the first officially-recognized transgender cultural district in the world.

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Dorsey is also a member of the LGBTQ community. A gay man, he and District 8 (Castro) Supervisor Rafael Mandelman helped take the lead on the board’s response to the summer’s monkeypox outbreak, which primarily affected men who have sex with men. He is the second person in the board’s history to be openly HIV-positive.

Both also tout their Roman Catholic faith; Mahogany went to St. Ignatius College Prep, Dorsey attends mass weekly.

Mahogany earned the endorsements of the Democratic central committee, the San Francisco Chronicle, Haney, the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club (which she used to chair), and Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza.

Dorsey earned the endorsements of Breed, State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), Mandelman, Jenkins, the Alice B. Toklas LGBTQ Democratic Club (which endorsed Mahogany as a No. 2 option), and the San Francisco Examiner.