Bilal Mahmood ’09 runs for AD17 to recover a “light of hope”

Under a green awning in the net is a portal to Pakistan. It’s the 1990s and eight-year-old Bilal Mahmood ’09 eagerly awaits his weekly trip with his family from their home in Palo Alto to San Francisco, where they stop at Shalimar, a restaurant in the Tenderloin.

There are only about ten tables inside Shalmar, but three of them are almost always full. As the four-person staff prepare a taste of home for the Pakistani taxi driver in the dining room – separated from the kitchen by only a counter – Mahmood and his family enter the establishment for more than a bite to eat. For them and those who join them, Shalimar offers a taste of Pakistan, where Mahmood’s parents immigrated almost two decades ago.

Now, after nearly three decades of microcrediting him in the Obama administration, Mahmood is running to represent California Assembly District 17. The district represents eastern San Francisco and includes the Tenderloin, his childhood destination. beloved.

Mahmood is hoping to fill a vacancy that emerged after San Francisco Mayor London Breed appointed former District 17 assembly member David Chiu as San Francisco City Attorney in September. A special election held in early 2022 will determine who holds the seat until next fall’s regular electoral cycle.

Mahmood, who has never held public office, is running against three fellow Democrats: San Francisco supervisor Matt Haney MA ’11; chief of staff of the district attorney and former supervisor David Campos; and Thea Selby, former administrator of San Francisco City College.

While Haney and Campos’ campaigns are bolstered by their political careers, Mahmood’s track record as a neuroscientist, Stanford researcher, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and political analyst in the Obama administration uniquely positions him to solve the problems San Francisco is confronted, he said. Mahmood said incumbent politicians cannot solve the problems they are supposed to solve because they lack the education or training necessary for the job.

“If you look at the challenges our city and state face – pandemic, healthcare, climate change – these are all science, technology and policy issues,” Mahmood said. “And my experience is actually perfectly suited to address that. This is the experience we need, and it is clear that it is not addressed to the problems.

Still, political scientist and San Francisco State University professor Jason McDaniel said Mahmood faces the same challenges anyone has never run for public office before, including underfunding and lack of recognition. of his name. According to California Secretary of State’s Website, so far, Mahmood’s only contribution to the campaign is his own donation of $ 50,000.

“It’s hard for newcomers because they just aren’t so well known [and] money is not enough, ”McDaniel said. “I’m not giving him much, if any chance of winning this race.”

Realizing the challenges he faces, Mahmood traveled to the North Beach Farmers Market on October 23 to campaign at the base. In an on-site strategy meeting around 9 a.m., Mahmood and three of his volunteers discussed the best opening line to gain the interest of coffee-hungry morning pedestrians.

“Hello, my name is Bilal Mahmood and I am a candidate for the State Assembly,” he said. The volunteers joked and tried other phrases, before settling for Erica Johnson’s suggestion: “Hello, my friend over there is running for the State Assembly. “

Bilal Mahmood (left) chats with campaign volunteer John Jersin at the North Beach Farmers Market in San Francisco on October 23, 2021 (Photo: NIKOLAS LIEPINS / The Stanford Daily)

Although the group agreed on a plan to get attendees to talk with strangers about a little-known candidate, another challenge soon emerged: Most market visitors didn’t even know that the special election was taking place. Conversations with voters quickly became half an explanation for the election and half an argument for Mahmood.

Many approached Mahmood, who wore white Nike shoes with dirty laces and blue jeans, to voice their concerns in the hope of hearing solutions that go beyond the usual promises of politicians.

“Everyone likes to complain about it, but no one ever wants to attend meetings or do anything about it,” a market visitor told Mahmood.

This inaction, Mahmood said, is the reason he is running for the state assembly.

Yellow sign with blue text that says Bilal Mahmood for State Assembly
Mahmood campaign volunteer Erica Johnson holds a campaign sign at a farmers market in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco on October 23, 2021 (Photo: NIKOLAS LIEPINS / The Stanford Daily)

“I think a lot of the problems in San Francisco are [sic] that people take the job they think is the stepping stone for what they want, ”said Mahmood. “They’re always optimizing for the next job they want, a job they are qualified for or should be doing today.”

Representing a neighborhood that includes North Beach, the Mission, Chinatown and the Financial District, among others, is not easy, McDaniel said. There is no uniform constituency and various neighborhoods have their own priorities. Mahmood therefore finds himself selling solutions to multiple problems.

Jason Shen ’08 MS ’09 said the campaign has helped his friend and philanthropic partner Mahmood “adjust to both this kind of very focused problem solving and broader aspects, like ‘how to move forward a whole city, a whole state? “”

Chinatown is a large segment of District 17 and a major part of the Mahmood Platform. Mahmood referred to a slight increase in anti-AAPI harassment – 832 reported cases in California between March and June 2020. It offers a Hate Crimes Fund, which would provide financial assistance to individuals and small businesses who are victims of anti-AAPI hate crimes and establish community-based violence prevention programs, according to Mahmood Campaign Site.

According to McDaniel, it is essential for Mahmood to connect with the AAPI community because “there is no city where the American population of Chinese and Asian descent in particular is more important to the [election] results. “

Farmer's Market in the middle of the Farmer's Market with people looking down a street
Bilal Mahmood (right, white hat) chats with campaign volunteer John Jersin and a boss at the North Beach Farmers Market (purple shoes) in San Francisco on October 23, 2021. (Photo: NIKOLAS LIEPINS / The Stanford Daily

Mahmood’s platform also addresses homelessness, which plagues the net. His proposals would extend the moratorium on COVID-19 evictions, create a public-private task force that would provide an advisor for every homeless person, and ban exclusion zoning to allow construction of multi-family housing.

Mahmood drew similarities between Tenderloin and Pakistan, where he finished his high school years after his family left the United States during the post 9/11 Islamophobia epidemic. In Pakistan, he witnessed widespread inequalities which highlighted the “strong relationship between inequality and non-functioning of government,” he said. Mahmood continued: “The more wealth is concentrated in the power of a few, the more they control the government and it acts in their interest”.

As Mahmood walks the Tenderloin today, he says he can’t help but think of the Pakistan he experienced in the 2000s. The place he once visited with childlike excitement every weekend has become a community battered by humanitarian crises.

“It’s very sad, but I see a lot of similarities [to Pakistan] when I walk around the net, ”said Mahmood.

But Mahmood hasn’t lost sight of the taste of home he says the Tenderloin offers so many immigrant families: “I think the Tenderloin is the silver lining. [San Francisco] used to represent and what I would like to help recover.

Coit tower in the background behind buildings
San Francisco’s Coit Tower seen from North Beach on October 23, 2021 (Photo: NIKOLAS LIEPINS / The Stanford Daily)
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