By Tim Redmond
AUGUST 25, 2014 — Some of the biggest and most loyal campaign donors to Sup. Malia Cohen have been involved in Ellis Act evictions, an analysis of the campaign donations shows.
Cohen’s re-election campaign has received the maximum $500 from Barbara Kaufman, Ron Kaufman, Mel Murphy, and Neveo Mosser, all of whom appear on the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project’s list of Ellis evictors, records on file with the Ethics Commission show.
Cohen also received $100 for her 2012 election to the Democratic County Central Committee from Denise Ledbetter, a lawyer who has been involved in at least eight Ellis evictions, according to the Mapping Project.
There’s no law against taking money from landlords who evict tenants under the Ellis Act, and lawyers have every right to represent the clients of their choice.
But in a city under this level of pressure, where thousands of rent-paying tenants are forced out through no fault of their own to make way for landlords to flip the buildings or sell them as tenancies in common, Ellis evictors are not politically popular people.
And while the $3,000 or so that she’s received from the Ellis Bad Guys is only a fraction of the money she’s raised, it sends a signal that the landlords who are getting rich off the misery of others think Cohen is doing a fine job as supervisor.
The Anti-Eviction Mapping Project has a pledge that the activists ask people seeking a place to live to sign, certifying that they won’t move into a place where there’s been an Ellis eviction; 283 people have signed so far.
But since the demand for housing in the city is almost limitless, landlords have no problem filling or selling their buildings after they’ve tossed longterm tenants onto the streets.
So there’s an argument to be made that people running for office – particularly from working-class districts like the one Cohen represents – shouldn’t take money from the people who are destroying the social fabric of the city.
Cohen is running in what appears to be the only seriously contested race for supervisor this fall. (I don’t want to get into yet another fight with Michael Petrelis, but I don’t think his campaign in D8 has incumbent Scott Weiner all that worried.) Her opponent, Tony Kelly, hasn’t taken any money from developers or Ellis evictors.
“In the past few years, the Ellis Act has become the most abused tool for landlords to evict tenants,” Kelly told me. “I think the fact that I’ve refused to take money from the evictors is a reason I just got the sole endorsement of the San Francisco Tenants Union.”
I called Cohen and sent texts and emails but haven’t heard back from her.
UPDATE: Nichole Derse, who works on Cohen’s campaign, called me to say that the campaign tries very hard and puts a lot of work into screening donors, and that Cohen has no intention of taking or keeping money from Ellis Act evictors. She asked me how I knew these folks had used the Ellis Act, and I said I got my information from the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project.
I agree that when you raise a lot of money, it’s hard not to let as few questionable folks slip through. And there isn’t a serious candidate for office in San Francisco has hasn’t taken money from people who have done things that candidate disagrees with. And while it’s not possible to raise large sums of money in SF without taking real-estate donations, people who use the Ellis Act are about as bad as anyone can be in this city today.
It’s also hard to believe that anyone screening donations wouldn’t have red-flagged Mel Murphy, the Kaufmans, and Leadbetter for a closer look.