The battle for District 6

A suddenly hot election could determine the balance of power on the next Board of Supervisors
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tredmond@sfbg.com

The race to replace Chris Daly — the always progressive, sometimes hotheaded supervisor who has dominated District 6 politics for almost a decade — is becoming one of the most important battles of 2010, with the balance of power on the board potentially in play.

Through whatever accident of politics and geography, San Francisco's even-numbered districts — five of which will be up for election next fall — haven't tended to fall in the progressive column. Districts 2 (Marina-Pacific Heights) and 4 (Outer Sunset) are home to the city's more conservative supervisors, Michela Alioto-Pier and Carmen Chu. District 8 (the Castro) has elected the moderate-centrist Bevan Dufty, and District 10 is represented by Sophie Maxwell, who sometimes sides with the progressives but isn't considered a solid left vote.

District 6 is different. The South of Market area is among the most liberal-voting parts of San Francisco, and since 2000, Daly has made his mark as a stalwart of the board's left flank. And while progressive are hoping for victories in districts 8 and 10 — and will be pouring considerable effort and organizing energy into those areas — Daly's district (like District 5, the Haight/Western Addition; and District 9, Mission/Bernal Heights) ought to be almost a gimme.

But the prospect of three progressive candidates fighting each other for votes — along with the high-profile entry of Human Rights Commission director Theresa Sparks, who is more moderate politically — has a lot of observers scratching their heads.

Is it possible that the progressives, who have only minor disagreements on the major issues, will beat each other up and split the votes enough that one of the city's more liberal districts could shift from the progressive to the moderate column?

A FORMIDABLE CANDIDATE

A few months ago, District 6 was Debra Walker's to lose. The Building Inspection Commission member, who has lived in the district for 25 years, has a long history on anti-gentrification issues and strong support in the LGBT community.

Jim Meko, who also has more than a quarter century in the district and chaired the Western SOMA planning task force, was also a progressive candidate but lacked Walker's name recognition and all-star list of endorsements.

Then rumors began to fly that school board member Jane Kim — who moved into the district a few months ago — was interested in running. Kim has been a leading progressive voice on the school board and has proven she can win a citywide race. She told me she's thinking seriously about running, but hasn't decided yet.

Having Kim in the race might not have been a huge issue — in District 9 last year, three strong progressives competed and it was clear that one would be the ultimate winner. But over the past two weeks, Theresa Sparks has emerged as a likely contender — and if she runs, which seems more than likely at this point, she will be a serious candidate.

Sparks picked up the kind of press most potential candidates would die for: a front-page story in SF Weekly and a long, flattering profile in San Francisco magazine, which called her "San Francisco's most electrifying candidate since Harvey Milk." Sparks does have a compelling personal tale: a transgender woman who began her transition in middle age, survived appalling levels of discrimination, became a civil rights activist and now is seeking to be the first trans person elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

She has experience in business and politics, served on the Police Commission, and was named a Woman of the Year by the California State Assembly (thanks to her friend Sen.