San Francisco Mayor London Breed picked SFPD Communications Director Matt Dorsey to fill in an open Board of Supervisors slot on Monday, replacing Matt Haney, who was elected to the state Assembly last month.
Since graduating from Emerson College in Boston in 1989, Dorsey has been all over the political spectrum, almost exclusively in San Fran Francisco. Dorsey began as a research analyst, having former Senators Barbara Boxer (CA), Geraldine Ferraro (NY), and Ben Nighthorse Campbell (CO) among his clientele. He also served as Deputy press secretary for then-San Francisco DA Arlo Smith’s unsuccessful Senate run in 1990, and as his campaign manager for his successful election in 1991. Throughout the 90’s, he worked in research or press capacity for the SF District Attorney’s office, the Democratic National Committee, and for a PR company in San Francisco during the dot-com bubble, as well as for his own consulting firm.
In 2002, he then embarked on a 14-year stint as Deputy Press Secretary for the San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, becoming widely known as one of the people pushing forward then San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s gay marriage laws in the city until it was legalized nationally in the mid 2010’s. After leaving, he began a three year stint at another PR firm and got embroiled in several issues in the city, including with the tenants of the Millennium Tower during the tilting building scandal. Following another brief stint working as the Communications Director for the No on Prop C campaign during the 2019 election, he became the Communications Director for the SFPD in January 2020. Since then, he has had to be one of the main people dealing with the media on everything from police reform initiatives, to the SFPDs response to the George Floyd protests and riots to the current crime wave in the city.
However, Dorsey has also had several problems over the years. He has had issues with drug addiction and alcohol in the past several decades and has also faced many health issues, including being HIV positive.
Through all of this, Dorsey has also managed to keep close ties with Democratic politicians in the city, as well as with the San Francisco Democratic Party. In 2012, he even scored his first, and only, election victory to the Democratic County Central Committee, serving until 2016. With such close ties, and wanting someone who can enter the position knowing not only the city and how it works, but also having close experience with the issues in the city, including continuing concerns about crime, the police, and rampant drug usage.
Mayor Breed selects Dorsey
“As a longtime public servant, Matt Dorsey knows how the city works, and as a member of the recovery community, he can bring new energy and commitment to the crisis of addiction that is fueling our overdose crisis and impacting neighborhoods throughout this city,” said Mayor London Breed on Monday.
Dorsey has come out in saying that he would accept the position on Monday, defending his role with the SFPD and acknowledging many issues of his past.
“It is a better police department than people think it is,” noted Dorsey. “They were making a lot of the same sacrifices that nurses and firefighters and EMTs and others were — just not being appreciated.
“I’ve been open about being in recovery before, but I never thought to be this open about it. But at this moment with the public health crisis that we have, I hope I can make a difference.”
Dorsey’s selection polarized many in San Francisco on Monday. Some, such as Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), noted that Dorsey would be a good replacement for Haney because of his prior experience in the City Attorney’s office and being involved with every department in the city.
“He’s a rock-solid choice for Supervisor,” said Wiener on Monday. “I can say that being in the City Attorney’s Office, you see how city government works and how it’s not working. You’re involved in every aspect of city government, and you truly see the good, the bad and the ugly. So Matt is not going to need a huge education in terms of how the different departments are functioning and what needs to be done better.”
Concerns about Dorsey’s appointment
However, Dorsey’s appointment was alarming for others. This included Honey Mahogany, Haney’s Chief of Staff. Haney had hoped the Mayor would pick Mahogany as his replacement to keep a progressive voice on the Board. After being passed over on Monday, Mahogany reiterated that she would be running in November and that the District needs someone with actual experience.
“I do understand why she would want to appoint someone maybe that was closer to her,” explained Mahogany. “But I think that the residents of District 6 actually need someone who knows what they’re doing, who has experience. I think that the voters are going to definitely see the depth of my experience. And you know, I think they’ll make the right decision in November.”
Political experts also added that Dorsey is seen by many as an insider and too close to the police for many in the city for such a powerful position.
“This is San Francisco. You didn’t think the insider would get it?,” noted San Francisco-based policy advisor Sharon Burke to the Globe on Monday. “Things are changing, as we’ve seen with the school board recall in February and most likely with [DA Chesa] Boudin’s recall next month. People are mad about crime, mad about drug use going on seemingly everywhere, mad about all these companies packing up and leaving, mad about high rent costs, mad about high costs, and the list goes on. The last thing people wanted was another connected person in there with a track record of defending city institutions and saying everything is fine when it really isn’t. And look who got in.
“Dorsey does have the experience, but some people here know his name. But the latter isn’t good. When the average Joe on the street can remember the name of a press secretary or a communications person who wasn’t on The West Wing, especially in local government, it means they either are the main go-to during a gigantic issue or they know them for something negative.”
“Those on the left, and this is San Francisco left mind you, really don’t like how close he is with the police, especially with police reforms and defunding now hitting the brakes. And those in the center and right aren’t thrilled about yet another person with close ties to the Mayor and party being handed such a prominent position. His views on a lot of things are troubling to them too, but the big thing to many is how it all seems like a big loop. Like, with Dorsey. His boss while with the City Attorney’s office was the City Attorney himself Herrera. Well, Herrera moved up to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission General Manager late last year, appointed by Breed. Who replaced him as City Attorney? David Chiu, who was in the Assembly, also picked by Breed. Who was elected into Chiu’s Assembly District in a special election with virtually every top lawmaker in the city backing him? Haney. And today, the replacement? Herrera’s close old friend Dorsey. This is why so many are upset.”
Dorsey is expected to be formally elevated to the Board this week.