It isn’t uncommon to see campaign advertisements for both candidates for California’s Assembly District 17, Matt Haney and David Campos, displayed in the window of a small business in the Tenderloin neighborhood.
The ads are often within arm’s reach of each other. But when it comes to the Tenderloin—a neighborhood at the center of debates about drugs, homelessness and public safety—the two candidates are far apart, at least when it comes to campaign rhetoric.
The neighborhood has emerged as a flashpoint in the Assembly election, with Campos calling attention to Haney’s role as supervisor of the Tenderloin—which saw nearly a quarter of the city’s overdoses in 2021.
“What’s happening [in the Tenderloin] is a travesty and it illustrates a failure of leadership,” Campos said in a recent interview.
Haney was elected as District 6 supervisor in 2018, with Campos’s support, on a promise to prioritize public safety. And many Tenderloin residents and business owners told The Standard that conditions have worsened since Haney took office.
Overdoses have more than doubled since 2018 thanks to the proliferation of fentanyl, and Tenderloin locals have been sounding the alarm on shootings, assaults and other violent incidents in the dense, diverse neighborhood. Alongside Haney, Mayor London Breed responded to those pleas by declaring a state of emergency in December in an effort to improve conditions in the neighborhood.
Haney acknowledged at a recent Board of Supervisors meeting that the emergency declaration hasn’t yet produced meaningful results for the neighborhood, and has described its problems as long-entrenched. In a text, Haney pointed the finger at Campos’s inaction as chief of staff for District Attorney Chesa Boudin. (Campos is currently on leave from that position.)
“He’s the chief of staff for the DA, many of the challenges we face relate to public safety and drug dealing, he’s done absolutely nothing to be helpful and never even showed any interest,” Haney said. “Yes this neighborhood has challenges, and it has for many decades.”
A recent Campos campaign ad described Haney as “Tenderloin Supervisor” in an effort to link him to the neighborhood’s drug and safety crisis, but the message backfired among some in the neighborhood. In response to the ad, a group of Tenderloin residents and organizations wrote a letter to Campos asking him to take it down and accusing him of “ostracizing a community” for political gain.
“To use the Tenderloin to further your campaign, that’s when we had to step in…We were trying largely to stay neutral,” said Rene Colorado, executive director of the Tenderloin Merchants Association. Colorado said that Campos didn’t reach out to the merchants’ association until after they tagged him in a post on Twitter.
Fang Homcheun, owner of Sweet Glory cafe on Larkin Street, added that although the conditions of the neighborhood have gotten worse, she at least saw Matt Haney in and around the area.
“I’ve never seen Campos, and the first time I heard his name was only when he was complaining about Matt Haney’s work in the Tenderloin,” Fang said. “Matt Haney, he’s always been in the Tenderloin.”
Mohammed Hejab, the owner of Bread and Butter market on O’Farrell Street, said that representatives from both campaigns came to his store and hung up ads, but he took them down because he felt their promises would ultimately fall short of helping the neighborhood.
“How does Matt Haney going to the state Assembly affect me?” Hejab said. “I’m more interested in what’s going on here in my neighborhood.”
Others with Haney and Campos signs in their windows said that they were put there by representatives of each campaign, but that said they knew little of the election.
“It’s always the case with the state Assembly; it’s a tough race to generate excitement for,” said Jim Ross, a longtime political consultant in San Francisco. “But every campaign comes down to creating contrast, and Campos needed to find an issue to contrast himself with Matt Haney.”
David Sjostedt can be reached at [email protected]