BART Director James Fang is San Francisco's only elected official who is a registered Republican, yet over the last 24 years, he has somehow managed to easily win election after election in a city dominated by the Democratic Party, often with the endorsements of top Democrats.
But this year, Fang is facing a strong and well-funded challenge from investor and former solar company entrepreneur Nicholas Josefowitz, a Harvard graduate in his early 30s. Thanks in part to support from the tech community — Lyft cofounder Logan Green is one of several prominent figures in tech to host fundraisers for him, according to Re/Code — Josefowitz has managed to amass a campaign war chest of about $150,000.
Josefowitz has also secured some key political endorsements, including from Sups. John Avalos, Eric Mar, and Scott Wiener, BART Director Tom Radulovich, former SF Mayor Art Agnos, and the Sierra Club.
After Josefowitz sold his solar company, RenGen, almost two years ago, "I got more and more involved in sustainable community advocacy," he told us. "Then the BART strike happened and I was like, wow, this shouldn't be happening."
Josefowitz cited BART's history of worker safety violations, last year's unnecessarily divisive labor contract negotiations, the district's massive deferred maintenance budget, property devoted to parking lots that could be put to better uses (he sees potential there for real-estate development), corrupt cronyism in its contracting, and lack of cooperation with other transit agencies as problems that urgently need correcting.
Fang is being challenged by well-funded Democratic newcomer Nicholas Josefowitz.
"BART does a terrible job at coordinating with other transit agencies," Josefowitz told us, arguing the transit connections should be timed and seamless. "James has been there for 24 years, and if he was going to be the right guy to fix it, then he would have done it by now."
But perhaps Josefowitz's strongest argument is that as a Republican in liberal San Francisco, Fang's values are out-of-step with those of voters. "Why is someone still a Republican today? ... He's a Republican and he's a Republican in 2014, with everything that means," Josefowitz told us. "He hasn't been looking out for San Francisco and he's out of touch with San Francisco values."
We asked Fang why he's a Republican. After saying it shouldn't matter as far as the nonpartisan BART board race is concerned, he told us that when he was in college, he and his friends registered Republican so they could vote for John Anderson in the primary election.
"Some people feel the expedient thing for me to is switch parties," Fang said, but "I think it's a loyalty thing. If you keep changing ... what kind of message does that send to people?"
Fang said he thought the focus ought to be on his track record, not his political affiliation. It shouldn't matter "if it's a black cat or a white cat, as long as it catches mice," he said. He pointed to programs such as seismic upgrades, completing the BART to the airport project, and instituting a small-business preference for BART contractors as evidence of his strong track record. "I'm a native San Franciscan — I've gone through all the public schools," Fang added. "It's very important to get people from a San Francisco perspective and San Francisco values."
Josefowitz supporters say he has perhaps the best shot ever at defeating Fang, largely because of his prodigious fundraising and aggressive outreach efforts on the campaign trail. "He is doing all the things that someone should do to win the race," Radulovich, San Francisco's other longtime elected representative on the BART board, told us. "There's a lot of unhappiness with BART these days."