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Politics & Policy

Why next year’s race for a relatively sleepy San Francisco district is heating up fast

A composite image shows Ernest “EJ” Jones, left, and Roger Marenco, right, who have declared their candidacy for the District 11 supervisor race in 2024. | Source: The Standard

In a collection of relatively sleepy locales, including the Outer Mission, Ingleside and Excelsior neighborhoods, next year’s race for supervisor is already taking shape, with two markedly different candidates already declared and the possibility of more hopefuls waiting in the wings.

With District 11 incumbent Ahsha Safaí running for mayor, more attention than ever before could be focused on the district, which some say gets the short end of the stick when it comes to city resources. The two declared candidates, Ernest “EJ” Jones and Roger Marenco, have distinct vibes, with the former leaning more toward a new establishment approach and the latter—who rails against “drug addicts” and “looting”—cultivating a more insurgent populist approach. 

The boundaries of the district today are roughly the same as the one that in 1977 elected arch-conservative supervisor Dan White, a former policeman and firefighter who ran as a “defender of the home, the family and religious life against homosexuals, pot smokers and cynics,” according to the New York Times. A year later, White would murder Castro Supervisor Harvey Milk, along with then-Mayor George Moscone.

That event sometimes still looms over District 11, which maintains the atmosphere of old, working-class San Francisco alongside the contributions of newer immigrant communities. 

While District 11 reliably elected progressive supervisors in more recent years, with the election of Ahsha Safaí in 2016, it moved more toward the center, but with labor support. 

Here’s a look at the two candidates who are running—with the caveat that it is still early days.

The Heir Apparent

Ernest “EJ” Jones stands for a portrait on Byxbee Street in Ingleside in San Francisco on Wednesday. Jones has declared for next year’s District 11 Supervisor race. | Source: Jeremy Chen/The Standard

Ernest “EJ” Jones is about as “Native San Franciscan” as you can get—born at St. Luke’s Hospital and raised in the Lakeview/Ingleside neighborhoods, he went to St. Ignatius prep school and got his master’s in public administration at the University of San Francisco. 

“I’ve lived in the district my entire life,” Jones told The Standard. “I’m invested. I’m rooted here. I don’t plan on leaving.” 

Endorsed by incumbent Safaí, Jones looks to continue a pragmatic “labor moderate” approach to government, with an emphasis on consensus.

He started his career assisting the director of equity at the San Francisco Unified School District, moving on to the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center, where he shepherded tenants of Alemany Apartments public housing through the remodeling of its units via a federal program. 

“I understand how important it is to have 100% affordable housing. But I also realize that there’s a need for other types of housing, and I’m supportive of projects that make sense,” Jones said, adding that he’s “very cognizant” of the city’s goal of adding over 80,000 new homes in eight years.

Jones told The Standard that business challenges, public safety and affordability are all key issues in District 11, as mirrored in other districts. 

But what differentiates the district from the rest of the city is how it’s often on the short end of investment, Jones said. For instance, one of two libraries in the district is the city’s smallest. 

“There’s a plan for one of the largest neighborhood libraries currently in place for Orizaba Avenue at Brotherhood Way,” Jones said. “It’s just been kind of a slow, slow roll. Having that library is really important. It would show that there’s investment into our neighborhood.” 

Most recently, the candidate was a legislative aide for Safaí. “He spent two years in my office learning what it takes to be a supervisor,” Safaí told The Standard. ”He’s ready for the job [on] day one and has my full confidence.” 

The Maverick 

Roger Marenco poses for a portrait on Don Chee Way and Steuart Street in San Francisco on Tuesday. Marenco has declared for next year’s District 11 supervisor race. | Source: Isaac Ceja/The Standard

Roger Marenco has been involved in the city’s politics since he was 19 years old and his family was facing eviction from their Mission District apartment. He got involved with People Organizing to Demand Environmental and Economic Justice (PODER), a Latino advocacy group, and the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition, organizing against gentrification in the Mission during the first dot-com gold rush. 

“How did I start organizing? I don’t know,” Marenco told The Standard. “I just started speaking to people, telling them what was going on, that we had to fight, that we had to organize and that we should not lay down and have this happen to us in our neighborhood.”

He then interned with progressive Supervisor Tom Ammiano, who was renowned for his advocacy of LGBTQ+ rights and economic justice, for two years. 

Now, Marenco is a working Muni operator for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, a job where he’s seen the worst of San Francisco’s street crime, homelessness and drug abuse problems. His views on what to do about those problems might raise a few eyebrows with progressives. 

“My son had a pair of new Cocomelon shoes on. We’re walking outside the front door, and he steps on a pile of shit. Brand new shoes. Hadn’t even worn them for 30 minutes. And I said, ‘You know what? This is bullshit, literally bullshit,’” Marenco told The Standard about one incident that inspired his run. “I just cleaned up yesterday, and now my boy walks out, and the first step that he takes on the sidewalk is a pile of shit. And I said, ‘You know what? I am done with this.’”

Marenco was the controversial president of the Muni operators’ union for five years. He says he had to fight tooth and nail with a hidebound old guard who worked to block his leadership multiple times, despite being elected in a 3-to-1 vote and getting new contract wins for union members. 

Marenco was barred from running for reelection last year by the union’s executive board after being accused of using “racially derogatory language” against board members—a charge he denies. 

“Out of the five times that I’ve been suspended (by the union board), I overturned all of my suspensions when I appealed them, so much so to the point at which the International Union in Washington, D.C., had to come in and kick everybody out of office for an entire year,” he said.

Marenco’s experience fighting evictions in the dot-com era Mission clearly shaped his view of San Francisco’s housing problems. 

“We need housing for a person that does not make $200,000 a year, that makes a teacher’s salary, a bus driver’s salary or a janitor or the people that clean the hotels or cook; these are the types of people for which we need to build housing for,” Marenco told The Standard. “These are the people that have families, not a single 23-year-old who works for Facebook.”

Marenco also wants the city to do more for care workers and other “miscellaneous employees” who don’t get the same level of benefits as more visible categories. 

Some of Marenco’s other views, however, will differentiate him from most progressives, particularly on the highly visible issues involving crime, drug abuse and street conditions. 

“I am sick and tired of seeing the homelessness, the drug addicts, the looting, the stealing, the assaults that are occurring on a daily basis,” Marenco said. “It’s been migrating down towards District 11, and unless we put a stop to it, it’s going to continue.”

“I think that if somebody takes a dump in front of your house, that should be illegal. But certain politicians in City Hall don’t see it that way,” he added. “I am not a defund-the-police person because when I need help, the first number that I’m dialing is 911.”

Neither candidate has reported any fundraising activity, unlike the early race for donations currently going on in nearby District 9. Both say they are still in outreach mode, talking with neighbors and neighborhood groups. 

John Avalos—Safaí’s progressive predecessor who challenged him in 2020—told The Standard that he won’t be running this time. 

Another oft-mentioned candidate, Chris Corgas, a deputy director of the city’s economic development agency who recently worked with Safaí to bring a Community Benefit District to the Excelsior, told The Standard he’s “flattered by the interest, but I’m keeping my options open.” 

Barring bigger players jumping in later, voters already have two distinct choices for District 11’s future.

Correction: A previous version of this story inaccurately named the neighborhoods where Ernest Jones was raised.