mandelman and temprano
Rafael Mandelman (left) and fellow CCSF trustee Tom Temprano at a rally to save the Affordable Care Act (Courtesy/Rafael Mandelman)

Q&A: A City College champion who won the good fight

Name: Rafael Mandelman
Age: 43
City: San Francisco
Position: Trustee, City College of San Francisco

J.: Mazel tov to you and fellow board members on the reaccreditation of CCSF on Jan. 13! You were elected to the board in 2012, and soon thereafter the college was thrown into a state of turmoil. The accrediting body cited administrative and fiscal deficiencies and mismanagement, and CCSF’s accreditation was revoked. The board had a limited amount of time to turn the school around. In the middle of all this, you served two terms as board president. How did you do it?

Rafael Mandelman: Thank you. The fact that the same commission that threatened us with loss of accreditation just granted it to us for seven years is big news. During the time when we almost lost accreditation, the Board of Trustees at CCSF created a culture that is healthy and respectful. We now have a new board that will not break down and become acrimonious. Collegiality and civility are undervalued until you don’t have them.

The college is now on a path to fiscal solvency. San Francisco voters approved an increase in the parcel tax to fund City College, and [former] state Sen. Mark Leno helped get through special funding to grow enrollment. The board and I have lobbied our congressional and legislative leaders and talked to many other members of the community [about the importance of CCSF]. We are the college’s champions.

What challenges remain?

There was a distressing decline in enrollment during the accreditation crisis — we are now at 65,000 [from 90,000] — and the manner in which the state triages its use of dollars has come at the expense of funding community college education. There have been difficult choices around eliminating classes and schedules. There is still something of a morale problem, as well. But the Trump presidency is where anxiety is most acute. There is anxiety about what it means for federal financial aid. We are also going to do our very best to resist any request for information about undocumented students. We have passed a number of resolutions to that effect.

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Rafael Mandelman campaigning at the Castro Muni station (Courtesy/Rafael Mandelman)

You are also a deputy city attorney in Oakland, an elected member of the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee and the board co-chair of the San Francisco LGBT Community Center, plus you’ve been involved with the JCRC and the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club. How do you balance it all?

It is very challenging. I don’t have a personal life. I am not married, although I have been seeing someone for about a year. But there’s always a meeting or an action or a rally I should be at … and then there’s work.

What were the origins of your involvement in public service?

I have been interested in politics for as long as I can remember. I had opinions about the Carter-Reagan election at 7 years old. I supported [third party candidate] John Anderson.

When I was 11, living with my mother in Southern California, where she was battling mental health issues, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. It brought all of her issues to a head. I ended up coming up to San Francisco, initially living with my paternal grandmother, a Holocaust survivor. But then I ended up going from home to home, living with friends’ families, the head of Brandeis School in San Francisco, where I’d been a student, and then with one of my high school teachers from Lick-Wilmerding and her family.

From an early age, I clearly benefited from this community, which took care of me. At the same time, there was an insecurity over my status in these households. It made me independent early on, a survivor, a get-through-it kind of person. I had access to privilege and excellent schools, but I was also aware that had I been an African American in the Bayview who had experienced similar family challenges, my story would have been very different.

How do you stay involved in Jewish life?

In addition to the Jewish Community Relations Council, I’m on the New Generations board of the New Israel Fund, and I’m a member of Congregation Sha’ar Zahav. I’m definitely proud of the Jewish progressive tradition. I think my social justice work is pretty informed by my Jewish background and by my grandmother’s having been a Holocaust survivor. We are obligated to work to preserve peace and justice.

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Robert Nagler Miller
Robert Nagler Miller

Robert Nagler Miller received his master's degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. For more than 25 years, he worked as a writer, editor, publications manager, communications manager and public relations director at a variety of nonprofit institutions in the Los Angeles and Bay Areas. In 2016, relocated to Chicago. He and his husband love staying in touch with their many good friends on the West Coast, particularly in San Francisco.