Meet the new supervisor

How will Christina Olague balance loyalty to Mayor Lee with the needs of the city's most progressive district?

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resident Christina Olague was appointed by Mayor Ed Lee
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY STEVEN T. JONES

Christina Olague, the newest member of the Board of Supervisors, faces a difficult balancing act. She was appointed by Mayor Ed Lee, whom she supported as co-chair of the controversial "Run Ed Run" campaign, to fill the vacancy in District 5, an ultra-progressive district whose voters rejected Lee in favor of John Avalos by a 2-1 margin.

So now Olague faces the challenge of keeping her district happy while staying on good terms with the Mayor's Office, all while running in her first campaign for elected office against what could be a large field of challengers scrutinizing her every vote and statement.

Olague has strong progressive activist credentials, from working with the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition to protect low-income renters during the last dot-com boom to her more recent community organizing for the Senior Action Network. She co-chaired the 2003 campaign that established the city's minimum wage and has been actively involved in such progressive organizations as the Milk Club, Transit Riders Union, and the short-lived San Francisco People's Organization.

"One of the reasons many of us are so supportive of Christina is she is grounded in the issues of low-income San Franciscans," said Gabriel Haaland, who works with SEIU Local 1021 and accompanied Olague to a recent interview at the Guardian office.

She also served two terms on the Planning Commission — appointed by Board of Supervisors then-President Matt Gonzalez in 2004 and reappointed by then-President Aaron Peskin in 2008 — where she was known for doing her homework on complicated land use issues and usually landing on the progressive side of divided votes.

"Coming from the Planning Commission, she can do a lot of good," said Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City and a supporter who has worked with Olague for 15 years. "We lost a lot of collective memory on land use issues," he said, citing the expertise of Chris Daly and Aaron Peskin. "We do need that on the board. There is so much at stake in land use."

Olague disappointed many progressives by co-chairing Progress for All, which was created by Chinatown power broker Rose Pak to push the deceptive "Run Ed Run" campaign that was widely criticized for its secrecy and other ethical violations. At the time, Olague told us she appreciated how Lee was willing to consider community input and she thought it was important for progressives to support him to maintain that open door policy.

In announcing his appointment of Olague, Lee said, "This is not about counting votes, it's about what's best for San Francisco and her district." Olague also sounded that post-partisan theme, telling the crowd at her swearing-in, "I think this is an incredible time for our city and a time when we are coming together and moving past old political pigeonholes."

With some big projects coming to the board and the working class being rapidly driven out of the city, progressives are hoping Olague will be a committed ally. There's some concern, though, about her connections to Progress For All campaign's secretive political consultant, Enrique Pearce.

Pearce has become a bit of a pariah in progressive circles for his shady campaign tactics on behalf of powerful players. In 2010, his Left Coast Communications got caught running an independent expenditure campaign partly funded by Willie Brown out of Pearce's office, even though Sup. Jane Kim was both its beneficiary and his client — and that level of coordination is illegal. Last year, Pearce was hired by Pak to create the "Run Ed Run" campaign and write the hagiographic book, The Ed Lee Story, which also seemed to have some connections with Lee's campaign. The Ethics Commission hasn't fined Pearce for either incident, and he didn't return a Guardian call for comment.