Marlene Tran's success shows strength of Asian voters

Before she became supervisor-elect in District 6, School Board president Jane Kim was the subject of an SF Weekly cover story in which we noted that Asian voters, and Chinese voters in particular, are key to winning elected office in San Francisco.

This lesson was not lost on Kim or her handlers, who masterminded her strategy in the city's most diverse district, which includes the Tenderloin and South of Market. She fared the best among absentee voters (Asians are most likely to vote absentee, according to David Lee of the Chinese American Voter Education Committee), and she swept precincts in SOMA thanks to a massive grassroots volunteer effort that was predominantly Asian.

But the strength of the city's Asian vote was arguably most evident in District 10 (Potrero Hill, Bayview-Hunters Point, Portola, and Visitacion Valley). That's where Asian voters came out to the polls in droves to support Marlene Tran, a neighborhood activist unknown outside of her district. (She pulled the same surprise act in 1998, when she won a seat on the Democratic County Central Committee.) Barring a miracle, Tran won't be the winner after all the votes are counted, but it's amazing how close she came.

Tran, a retired teacher, had no campaign manager and only a handful of volunteers, and was barely mentioned in mainstream media. Yet, as of this writing, she actually received the most first-place votes (1,964); as of the most recent ranked-choice voting results, she was poised to come in third behind anointed progressive candidate Tony Kelly and projected winner Malia Cohen. That'd be a better finish than higher-profile candidates like BART board member Lynette Sweet and Potrero View publisher Steve Moss, both of whom significantly outspent Tran.

The Asian voters who supported Tran didn't materialize out of thin air, Lee notes. District 10, long the city district with the largest African-American population, is now mostly Asian, with 8,000 registered Chinese voters on the rolls, out of a total of 39,796. Only a few of the 21 candidates seriously attempted to win those votes: Kelly and Tran campaigned in tandem toward the end of October, and Moss bought airtime on Chinese-language TV station KTSF. Sweet and Cohen did little, if anything, to reach out to Chinese voters. But Cohen, an African American who grew up in the Chinese part of Portola, appears to have done just enough to bridge all the gaps.

“Had Marlene run a real campaign and reached out beyond the Chinese community, she could have won,” Lee says.

View Comments