How will Christina Olague balance loyalty to Mayor Lee with the needs of the city's most progressive district?
Olague told us not to worry. "He's a friend...and I think it's an exaggerated concern," she said, confirming but minimizing his role so far. Yet she hired one of Pearce's former employees, Jen Low, as one of her board aide. Olague's other aides are Chris Durazo from South of Market Community Action Network (SOMCAN) and Dominica Henderson, formerly of the SF Housing Authority.
Debra Walker, a progressive activist who served on the Building Inspection Commission and has worked with Olague for decades, said she's a reliable ally: "She's from the progressive community and I have no equivocation about that."
Olague makes no apologies for her alliances, saying that she is both independent and progressive and that she should be judged by her actions as a supervisor. "People will have to decide who I am based on how I vote," she said, later adding, "I support the mayor and I'm not going to apologize for that."
Olague was born in Merced in 1961 to a Mexican immigrant father who fixed farming equipment and a stay-at-home mother. She went to high school in Fresno and moved to the Bay Area in 1982. She attended San Francisco State University but had to drop out to help support her family, working at various stock brokerage firms in the Financial District. She later got a degree in liberal studies from California Institute of Integral Studies.
In 1992, Olague's mother was in serious car accident that left her a quadriplegic, so Olague spent the next seven years caring for her. After her mother died, Olague left the financial services industry and became a community organizer for the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition, battling the forces of gentrification and then-Mayor Brown and becoming an active player in the ascendant progressive movement.
But Olague never abided progressive orthodoxy. She backed Mark Leno over the more progressive Harry Britt in their 2002 Assembly race and backed Leno again in 2007 when he ran for state Senate against Carole Migden. She also voted for the Home Depot project on Bayshore Boulevard despite a progressive campaign against the project.
Olague worked with then-Sup. Chris Daly to win more community benefits and other concessions from developers of the Trinity Plaza and Rincon Tower projects, but now she is critical of Daly's confrontational tactics. "Daly's style isn't what I agree with anymore," Olague said, criticizing the deals that were cut on those projects to approve them with larger than required community benefits packages. "I think we romanticized what we got."
So how does Olague plan to approach big development proposals, and is she willing to practice the brinksmanship that many progressives believe is necessary to win concessions? While she says her approach will be more conciliatory than Daly's, she says the answer is still yes. "You push back, you make demands, and if you don't think it's going to benefit the city holistically, you just fucking say no," Olague said.
Walker said Olague has proven she can stand up to pressure. "I think she'll do as well as she did on the Planning Commission. She served as president and there is an enormous amount of pressure that is applied behind the scenes," Walker said. "She's already stood up to mayoral pressure on some issues."
Yet even some of Olague's strongest supporters say her dual — and perhaps dueling — loyalties to the Mayor's Office and her progressive district are likely to be tested this year.
"It'll be challenging for her to navigate," Radulovich said. "The Mayor's Office is going to say I want you to do X and Y, and it won't always be progressive stuff, so it'll be interesting to see how that plays out."