Bilal Mahmood, an entrepreneur, scientist and former policy analyst, is not a conventional candidate for state assembly: he’s spent much of his career in the technology sector, working in product development and analytics roles at startups. More recently, he created a fund that studies and donates money to social causes in the Bay Area, such as combating anti-Asian violence and income support for restaurant workers. He also served a stint as a national policy advisor for the U.S. Department of Commerce under President Obama, but has never held political office.
Mahmood has earned the endorsements of the South West Asian North African (SWANA) SF Democratic Club, the moderate-leaning political action group Grow SF, as well as parent activists Meredith Willa-Dodson, Matt Brezina and Robin Pham, prosecutor Nancy Tung, and others.
Asked about his lack of political experience compared to competitors, Mahmood argued that career politicians in San Francisco haven’t shown results and that it is time for a new approach. He linked the city’s issues—from a floundering school district to housing and transit—to politicians using local offices as a stepping stone for higher positions rather than long-term problem solving.
“Over the last five to 10 years, inequality is up. The number of people who are unhoused is up. The number of people with opioid overdoses is up. The housing prices have gone up,” Mahmood said. “So if that’s what political leadership gets us today, then I think something is fundamentally off.”
Mahmood points to his experience as a son of Pakistani immigrants as inspiration for his political aspirations. Like many other immigrant families, his parents raised children in a small, multigenerational apartment in the Bay Area and worked to achieve the American Dream. The region’s high costs and difficult conditions for working families have threatened that pathway to the middle class, he said.
On housing, Mahmood said he supports the state taking a heavier hand in local housing development goals and ensuring that city governments don’t improperly block projects in the name of lengthy environmental reviews. Crediting former Assemblyman David Chiu’s and State Senator Scott Wiener’s work on housing legislation, he praised streamlining efforts such as SB-35 and suggested setting time targets as a way to eliminate undue delays.
“If we set median targets and time to build, it’ll put pressure on counties and municipalities to reform,” he said. “The state can’t go and eliminate every permit in every county…but it can set top-down, outcomes-level legislation, that then gives local control on how to decide how [cities] should best implement towards those targets.”
Mahmood supports the recall of three members of the San Francisco school board, citing a need for greater accountability and better administrative oversight of the district, which is facing a $125 million budget shortfall and waning enrollment. He pushed back on what he views as “lowering the standards” in the district, citing a de-emphasis on accelerated math and a lottery system that presents unpredictability for local families.
A resident of District 6, Mahmood pointed to a lack of positive outcomes in the Tenderloin and surrounding areas, which have seen a spike in overdose deaths, small business closures, and violence linked to the drug trade. He supports interventions such as safe injection sites, as well as stricter charges for fentanyl dealers and increased funding for enforcement of international trafficking rings.
On homelessness, Mahmood expressed support for Built for Zero, a program in more than 80 cities and counties that seeks to end homelessness through a combination of gathering data and matching individuals with housing solutions.
On the economy, Mahmood said he supports a guaranteed income program for Californians. He proposed expanding the California Earned Income Tax Credit ceiling to $75,000, which would ensure $500 per month for eligible families, to be funded through some combination of carbon and wealth taxes.
Read more about Mahmood’s campaign here.
Annie Gaus can be reached at [email protected]