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Sup. Matt Dorsey Walks a Tightrope in SoMa as November Election Looms

Written by David SjostedtPublished Jun. 14, 2022 • 6:30am
District Six Supervisor Matt Dorsey walks out of a store in San Francisco, Calif., on May 31, 2022. | Benjamin Fanjoy/The Standard

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Tony Jodeh spends the better part of a dozen hours a day behind the shop counter at his business, Tony Baloney’s Deli on the corner of Seventh and Howard streets in SoMa, peering through two layers of metal bars he installed over the front window.

Day in and day out, Jodeh says he lives in fear of the next time he may fall victim to thieves or vandals. Last June, a man burglarized Jodeh’s deli and assaulted his wife before stabbing a nearby business owner, Mark E. Sackett, when he rushed over to help. 

Since the attack, Jodeh said he feels imprisoned by his increasingly fortified storefront. Sackett, meanwhile, told The Standard he may have permanent nerve damage from the knife wounds. 

“It shouldn’t be like this, I feel like I’m in jail…I can’t even open the windows,” Jodeh said. “We need lots of help in this neighborhood.”

Jodeh was one of several small business owners who aired concerns with newly crowned Supervisor Matt Dorsey during a recent walk around one of the neighborhoods under his purview: SoMa. Over the course of the one-hour tour, it became clear that the District 6 representative’s new role comes freighted with expectations.

For years, District Attorney Chesa Boudin shouldered much of the blame for residents’ concerns over public safety. But with Boudin recalled and on his way out, SoMa residents—who voted decisively to recall the progressive prosecutor—have their sights set on other City Hall targets.  

For his part, Sackett said he was “pretty agnostic” about Boudin and even commended the way the DA’s office handled the prosecution of his attacker. But he’s slighted by what he sees as a lack of action from City Hall—and Mayor London Breed.

“Especially from the mayor,” Sackett said. “She just talks a good game.”

Just about a month ago, Breed appointed Dorsey to lead District 6, which spans SoMa, Mission Bay, South Beach and Treasure Island. But residents who spoke to The Standard on the SoMa tour made it clear that the new supervisor has plenty to prove ahead of the November election. In November, Dorsey will have to compete for a full term in a field that includes Honey Mahogany, a former aide to newly minted Assemblymember Matt Haney who held the seat before Dorsey.

“I think people will want to hold their district supervisor accountable,” Dorsey said. “But I think they have realistic expectations.”

Public safety concerns played a significant role in Breed’s appointment of Dorsey, a former spokesperson for the San Francisco Police Department and longtime political strategist in the city. 

At a June 8 press conference, Breed told reporters that Boudin’s recall doesn’t mean setbacks for criminal justice reform, but rather a renewed focus on “accountability.”

“To be clear, sometimes accountability means rehab. Sometimes accountability means community service,” said Breed. “It’s about accountability when those lines are crossed and coming to a reasonable conclusion around justice.” 

In SoMa, much of the neighborhood’s public safety challenges are related to an open-air drug market on Sixth and Seventh streets—two blocks that are connected by an alleyway on Minna Street, where a 16-year-old girl died of an overdose earlier this year.

Rudy Corpuz Jr. of United Playaz speaks at a vigil honoring lives lost to addiction on Minna Street in SoMa district of San Francisco on May 23, 2022. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

The neighborhood’s problems, though longstanding, may have been exacerbated by Breed’s December emergency declaration that called for increased deployment of SFPD officers and community ambassadors into the Tenderloin neighborhood. Some residents speculated that the declaration merely shifted the problems into other areas of the city.

SoMa residents noted a marked increase in shootings in the weeks following Breed’s announcement. And while the number of homeless encampments in the Tenderloin has decreased, a city dashboard noted an uptick in tents and structures citywide between November 2021 and March 2022. 

“When it comes to public safety issues, you’re often managing problems,” Dorsey said. “That doesn’t mean they’re necessarily going to go away, but we can do a better job than we’re doing.”

At last Wednesday’s Police Commission meeting, Chief of Police Bill Scott said that SFPD is increasing narcotics enforcement in the SoMa area to account for an influx of drug dealers from the Tenderloin. 

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Ramping up police in the neighborhood would likely be met with some scrutiny. On May 19, police officers responding to an assault shot and killed two men who were fighting over a knife beneath a freeway overpass near the edge of Dorsey’s district in Dogpatch. 

“I’m sure that people are probably thinking, ‘Oh man [Dorsey] worked with the police.’ But you’ve got to give him a chance,” said Rudy Corpuz Jr., executive director of SoMa-based nonprofit United Playaz. “If he doesn’t execute what he said he would do, then we have to get somebody who’s a supervisor that would qualify for the position.”

Dorsey said he isn’t leaning entirely on a law-and-order approach, particularly in handling the neighborhood’s drug crisis. 

He said he wants to create “right to recovery” blocks, where people can receive treatment for substance abuse disorders without being exposed to open drug use and dealing. 

Dorsey also said that he would “absolutely” feel comfortable scrutinizing the actions of his former employer, the police department. At the time of the interview, however, Dorsey said he hadn’t yet reviewed the video of the Dogpatch police shooting.

In response to the neighborhood’s issues, SoMa residents and neighborhood leaders are organizing to make progress on drugs and the threat of gun violence. In early May, Dorsey and Corpuz joined a slew of other politicians, activists and residents to honor the 641 lives lost last year due to overdoses. And in the aftermath of the Uvalde shooting, Corpuz spoke out about the ever-present threat of gun violence in low-income neighborhoods.

Corpuz told The Standard that he’s hopeful Dorsey’s appointment will lead to change in the neighborhood, but he hopes to see the right kind of change. 

“He needs to have the right people who will share with him what works and what doesn’t,” Corpuz said. “They say we need more police. Well, we do need more police, but we need the right police.”

English

David Sjostedt can be reached at [email protected]


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