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Politics & Policy

San Francisco’s only Democratic Socialist lawmaker now has a challenger

Rene Colorado, the head of the Tenderloin Merchants Association, poses for a photograph on Willow Street in San Francisco on May 16, 2022. | Nick Otto | Source: Nick Otto for The Standard

Rene Colorado, executive director of the Tenderloin Merchants and Property Owners Association, informed The Standard that he plans to run for District 5 Supervisor in a bid to represent the embattled Tenderloin neighborhood on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. 

Colorado, who was formerly homeless and assumed the role of executive director in 2019, said as supervisor, he would aim to increase accountability of city-funded nonprofits, facilitate relationships between police and social service workers, and boost funding for ambassador programs. 

Colorado will likely be running against incumbent supervisor Dean Preston, who found himself responsible for the Tenderloin after a highly politicized redistricting process in April 2022 placed the neighborhood in his district. District 5 also includes the Haight Ashbury, Hayes Valley, Japantown and Western Addition neighborhoods.

“If you want to fix San Francisco, you have to fix the Tenderloin,” Colorado said. “Dean got thrust into the Tenderloin out of nowhere. … He’s been very supportive. … But nothing has happened.” 

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The Tenderloin, a dense neighborhood near Downtown, has long suffered from social and economic ills. The district is home to many unhoused residents and drug activity; 18% of the city’s fatal overdoses this year occurred in the Tenderloin, according to preliminary data from the Chief Medical Examiner's Office. Residents and business owners petitioned the city in 2021 to tackle what they called crisis levels of crime and violence. 

Often highlighted in national headlines as an epicenter of San Francisco’s problems, the neighborhood has consistently found itself in the middle of political fights and campaign promises. 

In April, Gov. Gavin Newsom visited the neighborhood and announced that the National Guard and California Highway Patrol would assist local police in combating open-air drug-dealing in the city. Mayor London Breed has also made vows to solve the neighborhood’s issues over the past two years. 

Preston, an ardent critic of the police, has pushed for the implementation of facilities—known as safe-consumption sites—where people can use drugs out of public view and under the supervision of people trained to perform overdose reversals. 

The Board of Supervisors and the Mayor’s Office passed a budget last week that includes funding set aside for "wellness hubs," which may host supervised consumption services that aren’t funded by taxpayer dollars. 

Preston also attempted to pass a $10 million budget supplemental to fund more ambassador programs for the neighborhood, but the ordinance hasn’t made it in front of the full Board of Supervisors.

Supervisor Dean Preston speaks at a board meeting at San Francisco City Hall on May 16, 2023. | Justin Katigbak for The Standard.

Colorado, whose organization employs a group of ambassadors who assist with street conditions, said that he hopes to work with police to find solutions for the neighborhood. 

In June, the Tenderloin Business Coalition published a letter accusing Preston of dismissing its view that law enforcement should be part of the neighborhood’s strategy to close open-air drug markets. 

“We asked you for alternative strategies and you provided none,” the letter reads. 

Preston didn’t respond to a request for an interview by the time this story was published. But Del Seymour, who is sometimes referred to as the unofficial mayor of the Tenderloin, said he would support Preston in the election. 

Seymour said Preston has been a strong leader for the neighborhood, applauding his advocacy for non-police-related solutions to public safety issues. 

Seymour accused the business coalition of touting views that aren’t backed by Tenderloin residents and criticized Colorado for outfitting his Tenderloin Merchants Ambassadors in intimidating attire that creates a barrier between them and the community. 

“How are ambassadors going to look like a SWAT team? That’s completely ridiculous,” Seymour said. “I am backing Dean 100%. He has fought City Hall for our community.” 

Rene Colorado, left, the head of the Tenderloin Merchants Association, and his colleague Malik Ali are seen chatting with someone in front of the Phoenix Hotel on the corner of Larkin and Eddy streets in San Francisco on May 16, 2022. | Nick Otto | Source: Nick Otto for The Standard

Neither Colorado nor Preston have filed their paperwork to run, and the election doesn’t take place until November 2024.

Colorado said he believes that his relationship with local businesses and his presence on the neighborhood’s streets would make him an effective leader for the neighborhood. 

“In the Tenderloin, we really need an elected official who spends time on the ground,” Colorado said. “As corny as it sounds, I think it's my responsibility to run.”

David Sjostedt can be reached at