Race for BART Board Seat Takes a Turn

Kanishka Karunaratne Cheng has dropped out of the race, just as Janice Li steps up to the plate.


Kanishka Karunaratne Cheng is a familiar face around City Hall. A former aide for Mark Farrell and current project manager at the San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development, she’s joined the forces for Women’s March, campaigned for candidates, and was — until this morning — running what appeared to be a successful campaign for the District 8 BART Board seat, which will be vacated by Nick Josefowitz as he runs for supervisor this fall. She won the endorsements of Farrell, and Supervisors Katy Tang, Malia Cohen, and Ahsha Safai.

But politics are nothing if not unpredictable, and on Thursday morning, Karunaratne Cheng announced the end of her campaign. 

“I will be ending my campaign for BART Board, but I will be starting in a new role through which I will be able to positively affect our city’s future,” she wrote on Facebook. That new role has yet to be revealed.

Coinciding — though not related — with Karunaratne Cheng‘s abandonment of the race is the emergence of a new candidate: Janice Li, who is the current advocacy director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. She filed her paperwork Thursday morning, and already has a powerful list of endorsers, including Supervisor Jane Kim, BART Director Bevan Dufty, and Assemblymember Phil Ting. 

”Janice Li is part of a new generation of smart progressive leaders who are committed to public service with an equity focus,” says Kim. “Together we have fought for Vision Zero implementation and to ensure SFMTA adopted a Transit Equity Policy. I am excited to support another Asian-American woman for elected office, and I know she will advocate for our community.”

Li tells SF Weekly that she’s not just filing for the seat for District 8 — which encompasses a huge swath of western San Francisco — because it’s open, but because she wants to work for the people it represents. “As an immigrant myself, as a queer woman of color, as the only person currently running who is all of those things, I have the drive to represent the west side, and learn from my constituents,” she says.

Chief among Li’s priorities are increasing oversight of the billions of dollars being spent on delayed projects, fighting for higher rates of nearby affordable housing, creating low-income and free fare systems, and ending the “absurd and racist” fare evasion fine system which costs BART $62,000 each month. 

“We need oversight at BART. We’ve seen what happened with Muni — the SFMTA just laid down three miles of the wrong track, the central subway is still not serving Chinatown residents, and Van Ness’s improvement continues to move so slowly,” she says. “It’s outrageous, and as BART director I would push for the hardest amount of oversight because they must deliver on time. Our region depends on it.”

As for her campaign slogan, she’s keeping it simple: Run Bart, Run.

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