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Politics & Policy

Will Joel Engardio change the balance of power in SF politics?

District 4 Supervisor-elect Joel Engardio makes his first public appearance at the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association in San Francisco on Sunday, Nov. 26, 2022. | Han Li/The Standard

November’s election brought just one newcomer to San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors, but he could create a significant political shift that diverges from his mostly progressive colleagues. 

Joel Engardio, a moderate-backed candidate who unseated incumbent Gordon Mar of the Sunset District (District 4), is expected to be an ally for Mayor London Breed on many city issues, including the police budget.

In his first public appearance since winning, Engardio went to Chinatown to outline his policy proposals and thank Chinese American voters who helped in his historic victory—Engardio is the first candidate to beat an elected incumbent since districts were created in 2000.

“The majority of District 4 residents want safer streets, better schools, merit-based admission at Lowell High School, more middle-income housing for families and vibrant small businesses,” Engardio said. “These are my priorities.”

He also emphasized the importance of funding law enforcement, as police need more resources “to do their job at the highest standard.”

Engardio was an outspoken supporter of the school board and district attorney recalls, which has usually been the position taken by most moderates in the city, but he said his stances on the issues won’t be defined by any labels.

“I wouldn’t characterize it as moderate or progressive,” Engardio told The Standard. “My voice on the board would be what’s in the best interests of Sunset residents and San Francisco.”

At the Chinatown event, Engardio also announced his first legislative aide hire: Kit Lam, another recall campaign activist and public school parent.

Engardio won’t have direct power to decide whether merit-based admissions remain in place at Lowell. But he said he will use his platform to educate voters about school board candidates and district issues so they can weigh in more on city funding to the school district.

Count the Votes

David Ho, a political consultant who ran Mar’s campaign, predicted that Engardio’s addition to the board will lead to a contentious vote on who should serve as board president. Engardio will also strengthen Mayor Breed’s veto power, Ho said, as she could now have four solid moderate allies: supervisors Catherine Stefani, Matt Dorsey, Ahsha Safaí and Engardio.

However, Ho said progressive supervisors still have five solid votes: Connie Chan, Aaron Peskin, Dean Preston, Hillary Ronen and current Board President Shamann Walton. He added that supervisors Rafael Mandelman and Myrna Melgar could play the role of swing votes but are considered friendly to Breed.

Ho said that Mar’s defeat was not a referendum on the progressive agenda, but rather an “ideological correction” for the Sunset, as the supervisor seat in this district has long been held by moderate politicians.

“If anything, it’s a loss for the Chinese community representation,” Ho said. 

The Sunset had elected six straight Chinese American supervisors over two decades until Engardio’s victory.

Breed, who did not endorse Engardio but revealed her informal support for him in multiple public events and interviews with Chinese media, issued a statement saying she looks forward to working with Supervisor-elect Engardio on public safety, housing, transportation and other issues to “serve the residents in the Westside neighborhoods.”

Engardio will be sworn in early next year. It’s unclear which committees he will join and who he will support for board president.