Taking a look at two candidates, David Campos and Bilal Mahmood, who are running for California State Assembly in the special District 17 Election

Sahana Narayan

Staff Writer

     In the coming months, District 17, the district right next door to us in East San Francisco, will be electing their California State Assembly representative. David Campos, Matt Haney, Bilal Mahmood, and Thea Selby are the four candidates running. 

     The District 17 election is quite literally a special one. With the resignation of David Chiu, who was the former District 17 representative, a new spot in the state assembly opened up. California fills vacancies by holding special elections which have to be called by the governor within 14 days of the vacancy. 

     This San Francisco election is also quite special because of its candidates, each hailing from a unique background, with different goals and experiences they hope to bring with them as a representative of District 17. 

      Here is an in-depth look at two of the four candidates: David Campos and Bilal Mahmood.

David Campos

     In 2014, David Campos lost the California State Assembly election to David Chiu. Now, it’s 2022, and he’s back. In an interview with Campos, he says he is now more “aggressive,” his campaign is “corporate free,” and most importantly, he’s “unafraid.” These three qualities that he uses to describe his candidacy have a great deal to do with his background and prior experiences.

     When Campos was fourteen, he and his family crossed the border fleeing from his home country, Guatemala. Looking back on his experiences there, he shares, “I came from a country where politics was a dirty word, where getting involved in politics was dangerous. I think that having the freedom to do that in the US really made [politics] more of an interest for me.”

     Campos and his family ended up settling in Los Angeles in Southern California. He was a strong student, and from high school, attended Stanford University, all the while still being an undocumented immigrant. 

     From this experience as a first generation immigrant going to top schools, Campos realized something that would become essential to his campaign and work experience later on. “Even though I was going to these prestigious universities, my experience and the way that I went through it instilled in me a special connection to the underdog, to those who are struggling, those who feel disconnected, those who are outcasts,” he shares. “That’s why I’m always fighting for the poor, for the working class, for people that are struggling.”

    Applying this realization of his, Campos went on to attend Harvard Law School, officially became a citizen, and then moved to the city of San Francisco. He describes his connection to the city, saying, “When I was at Stanford, I would come a couple of times to visit San Francisco and I just remember falling in love with the city, and so I knew in my heart that I was gonna come back to it. I felt like this was a place where I could come and be myself, and for so many members of the LGBTQ community like me, that’s what has made San Francisco so appealing.”  

     Campos also mentions the challenges that he saw the city face. “There is tremendous inequality in San Francisco. We have some really wealthy people in San Francisco, but we also have people who are really struggling, and that’s why I think it’s important to send to Sacramento someone who understands the importance of providing opportunity so that all San Franciscans can continue to live here, whether it’s affordable housing, jobs that pay a living wage, or health care.”

     These challenges would shape his work in San Francisco for the next decade. He was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors where he introduced legislation to protect undocumented youth. He also initiated the Campos’s Health Care Access Buffer Zone legislation which would enforce a 25 foot harassment free zone around all healthcare clinics in the city. Campos worked to provide more clean energy to the city’s residents, and fought against homelessness and corporations. 

     When Campos lost the state assembly election in 2014, it gave him perspective on who he was as a candidate and as a person. Campos shares, “If you look at that race, it was a very close race that we lost by about 1%. But in retrospect, I’m glad I did what I did. It’s important to be honest and be true to what you believe.”

     Campos adds, “I’m a much stronger candidate now because in addition to the legislative experience I had in 2014, I have a couple of additional experiences, which I think are really critical. One is the experience of being an administrator and having helped run a much larger County, the county of Santa Clara, as deputy county executive. The second thing is my work as the chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party, and now the vice chair of the state party. It really gave me an opportunity to work with people from all sides of the spectrum and bring people together in a way that I think will make me more effective in Sacramento.” 

     Campos’s goals for Sacramento are to continue his legislative work in healthcare and the environment. “Having legislation that creates Medicare for all is a top priority for me. Passing the Green New Deal is also a big priority for me. I want to be a big proponent for strengthening 

our safety net so that low income people have the resources they need to be successful,” he states. 

     Campos comments, “I think that this is a very important seat because this seat is arguably the most progressive seat in the State Assembly. So in Sacramento, you have to have someone from this seat pushing those changes. Because if someone from the most progressive seat is not pushing for those changes, who will?” 

Bilal Mahmood: 

     “The immigrant story is San Francisco’s story. It’s whether you’re a migrant in your own country or the child of immigrants or an actual immigrant yourself. It’s meant to be a beacon of hope,” says Bilal Mahmood.

     Mahmood’s parents first immigrated to San Francisco in the mid 1980s. He comments, “[My parents] left Pakistan during dictatorship to come here to the Bay Area. It was three generations of us in a single bedroom apartment when we started, and my mom took public transit every day to get the best public schools. It was really the affordable housing, the schools, and the transit that my parents were able to leverage to move into the middle class.” 

     Mahmood and his family would eventually move back to Pakistan in fear of the Islamophobia that followed after 9/11. In Pakistan, Mahmood saw the environment around him was not entirely different from the one he grew up in. “One thing I took away from [Pakistan] was just this stark correlation between inequality and corruption. And I think now looking at America, we’re having worsening inequality. And if we don’t act on it now, we get further and further corrupt systems.” This realization would propel him in his community work later on, specifically in his government and non profit work. 

     From Pakistan, Mahmood then attended Stanford University, and geared his focus toward biology and economic justice, concentrating on the intersections between science and the fight towards equality. He reflects on his science background, saying, “A lot of the problem with large corporate companies and the government is how they try the same thing over and over again. So many of the issues that we face, from climate change to the pandemic to healthcare—it’s very difficult to have governance on those issues,” Mahmood adds. 

     Mahmood would learn to apply his science background in the government when working for the Obama Administration as a policy analyst. “Being a legislator there was one of those components that helped me grow as a candidate. I [learnt] that one of the critical things in the decade ahead is that the challenges that we face are going to require partnerships between the public and the private sector, and the nature of the work that we’re doing is in the office of innovation and entrepreneurship.”

     Zeroing down on this relationship between the public and private sector, Mahmood returned to his home, San Francisco, and built a startup called ClearBrain which worked to democratize technology. He also co-led a foundation that invested in local nonprofits and businesses. 

     “During the pandemic, small businesses were closing, and Anti-Asian violence was rising. A lot of workers are suffering, and I realized that policy, especially local policy, was necessary to effect the changes of today,” he adds.

     These harsh conditions during the pandemic, especially for immigrant workers, would motivate Mahmood to launch his campaign for the California State Assembly. He comments, “I’m running today because I think we need a different set of experiences to address [these issues]. If you think about issues like housing, healthcare, and climate, these are science, technology, and policy problems.”

     Mahmood’s goals for Sacramento include combating the housing crisis, strengthening public education, and fighting climate change. 

     “I feel that in the critical period of time that we have left, the state presents to us the best ability to actually have change happen on those actions, and that’s why I’m running.”

Their Advice

     Although both individuals offer different experiences and backgrounds, they particularly encourage high school students to take action in their own communities and get involved in their local politics. Mahmood comments, “If you’re interested in being engaged, get involved with your local Democratic Club, get involved with the different commissions in the city, maybe intern for your city mayor or your elected local official. It’s a great way to get a gateway into politics and get exposed.” 

     Campos adds to his advice, saying, “When people get disenchanted about the political system, they need to know that if you are unhappy with the system as it is, the only thing you can do and you must do is to change it. You have to change it by getting involved. I hope that the young people get involved because they can really make a difference.” 

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