What Does Matt Dorsey's Appointment to the SF Board of Supervisors Mean for District 6?

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A man wearing a business suit stands outside a building
Matt Dorsey, San Francisco's new city supervisor, was sworn in at Delancey Street on the Embarcadero on May 9, 2022. (Scott Shafer/KQED)

San Francisco Mayor London Breed on Monday swore in Matt Dorsey as the newest member of the city's Board of Supervisors, filling the District 6 seat left vacant after Matt Haney was elected to the state Assembly last month.

Dorsey has worked for years as director of strategic communications for the San Francisco Police Department and, before that, served as press secretary for then-City Attorney Dennis Herrera.

In choosing Dorsey, who is considered a relative moderate, Breed will likely get a more reliable ally on the board than she had in Haney, who often criticized her management of the city. But she also risks alienating some of her constituents who are likely to consider Dorsey's police affiliation a liability.

The location of the swearing-in ceremony — the Delancey Street Foundation, a nonprofit that provides rehabilitation services and vocational training programs for formerly incarcerated people and those recovering from substance use disorder — was chosen to acknowledge Dorsey's own recovery experience, and as a symbol of his intent to address the city's overdose crisis.

Breed's appointment of Dorsey also sets the stage for a battle over the seat in November, when Haney's preferred choice, and his former chief of staff, Honey Mahogany, is expected to run for the seat.

KQED's Natalia Navarro sat down with KQED Politics and Government Editor Scott Shafer, who attended Monday’s swearing-in ceremony, to discuss what Dorsey's appointment means for San Francisco's District 6.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

NATALIA NAVARRO: Scott, the swearing-in took place at Delancey Street on the Embarcadero, which is well known as a substance abuse recovery program for people who leave prison. Why did Mayor London Breed choose that location?

SCOTT SHAFER: Delancey Street has very strong ties to the Democratic establishment in the city. Nancy Pelosi, Kamala Harris, John Burton — you could go on and on about all the people who have held press conferences there on Election Night. And it's also very symbolic. Matt Dorsey, who is the new supervisor, has struggled with addiction. He calls himself a three-time graduate of recovery programs, and he's had lapses as recently as a couple of years ago. And he talked about that. One other thing about Dorsey is he's openly gay, he's HIV-positive. And I think those are kind of real-life experiences that may have appealed to the mayor.

I mentioned that Dorsey is transitioning now from director of strategic communications for the Police Department to becoming a city supervisor, which is bringing a lot of criticism from progressives. Is that right?

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Yeah, just recently, Supervisor Dean Preston held an oversight hearing looking into the kind of miscommunications that the Police Department's been putting out, some allegations that maybe it wasn't always forthright or honest. You know, in fairness, that's what PR departments do in agencies.

There are other aspects to Dorsey's experience. He worked 14 years in the City Attorney's Office as communications head. So I think he does know the city well. He's an operative in government and politics and campaigns. But yeah, that Police Department role does rub some people the wrong way for sure.

Should we expect crime and policing to play a bigger role in the upcoming election for the seat?

Yeah, it is already a big issue everywhere in the city. We have the recall of the district attorney, Chesa Boudin, on the ballot in June. I talked to Mayor Breed about that and why she chose Matt Dorsey. And she said she had talked to a lot of people who live in District 6. Dorsey will be on the ballot in November, where he'll face the voters for the first time.

How does this appointment change the dynamics on the board and how it gets along with Mayor Breed?

It doesn't much. He is replacing Matt Haney. Haney was a sometimes-ally of the mayor. Dorsey's a little more conservative by San Francisco standards, but it really doesn't change that. I mean, the mayor does not have a great relationship with the board. She does not have a majority of votes, and I don't think that will change with this appointment.

Many people were hoping that Breed would appoint Honey Mahogany, a Black transgender woman who served as Matt Haney's political aide. And she's now expected to run against Dorsey in the next election. Why do you think Breed opted for Dorsey over Mahogany?

I think because Dorsey will be a more reliable ally on the board than Honey Mahogany will be. She's, I think, much more independent. I talked to Mahogany earlier today. She was disappointed. But you can tell she's already getting her campaign for the fall ready. She is going to run.

How do you expect that race between them to stack up?

Mahogany's very charismatic. There will be a historic aspect to her candidacy, being Black and transgender. We also don't know who's going to jump in to the race, so it may not just be the two of them. And then, of course, it is also a ranked-choice election. So we don't know yet what the dynamics are going to be, but it'll be lively.

District 6 has changed as a result of recent redistricting, and it no longer includes the Tenderloin. How is that likely to change the district in one political direction or another?

The new district includes South of Market, South Beach, Rincon Hill, the mid-Market area, but no longer includes the Tenderloin. There are a lot of very young professionals living there, I would say a lot of small businesses, a lot of people who bought their first homes and condos in that neighborhood. So I think it'll tilt a little more conservative than it did under Matt Haney, the old District 6. But like everywhere, people there are going to care about the streets, quality of life, crime, homelessness and so on.