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Thursday, July 25, 2024

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Home Featured The sleaze reaches high tide in SF election

The sleaze reaches high tide in SF election

The big-money lies are staggering. Don't believe the hype

This "parents" ad is paid for almost entirely by real-estate interests, including key foes of Ellis Act reform

The level of sleaze in the local elections has reached the level where it’s threatening to swamp us all; some of the district supe races are positively choking on a sea of political garbage.

We knew this would happen when the vast sums of outside money, mostly from the real estate and tech industry (and some equally sleazy characters like Republican museum honcho Dede Wilsey) started pouring in to the districts in an effort to make sure that the allies of Mayor Ed Lee control the board next year.

And now we are seeing the results.

This is a fake slate card trying to mimic the Bernal Heights Democratic Club, which endorsed Ronen not Arce
This is a fake slate card trying to mimic the Bernal Heights Democratic Club, which endorsed Ronen not Arce

Most of what really annoys me about this river of sewage is that it’s aimed at allowing candidates to pretend they are different than they really are. For the record, the allies of the mayor, the people who want to continue the direction the city has taken under Lee — those folks are backing these candidates:

Marjan Philhour in D1

London Breed in D5

Joel Engardio in D7

Josh Arce in D9

Ahsha Safai in D11

Scott Wiener for state Senate

That’s the tech-money and real-estate-money slate.

And now we are seeing the supporters of some of those candidates engage in what is at the very least pretty dubious stuff. To wit:

Wiener is pretending he has the support of the Bay Guardian, which he does not.

Josh Arce, who is full of misrepresentation, is the beneficiary of a new flier that’s been dropped on doors in Bernal Heights. It’s a classic example of fakery: The Bernal Heights Democratic Club, a legit, chartered organization with real members and meetings, endorsed Hillary Ronen. And club members are handing out slate cards with that endorsement; nothing unusual about that.

But now there’s a “Bernal Heights Voter Guide” featuring Hillary Clinton and Arce – and, oddly, the San Francisco Chronicle’s endorsements. I don’t think anyone takes the Chron endorsements seriously – and in D9, that’s not a real positive.

Still: In a high-turnout election with a lot of occasional voters who don’t typically pay attention to local issues, a fake Democratic Club card might have an impact.

The flier says it’s paid for by “The District 9 Tenants Association,” which I have never heard of. It’s not a registered PAC. For all I know, it doesn’t exist except on paper. The San Francisco Tenants Union has endorsed Ronen; so has the Affordable Housing Alliance.

Like Scott Wiener’s sleaze, this is just dishonest.



In District 1, it appeared for a while that Marjan Philhour was in trouble: She had spent most of her money and was short in the crucial pre-election weeks. But that’s when a huge amount of independent expenditure money kicked in.

Of course, IEs and official campaigns aren’t allowed to coordinate, not even a tiny bit. And a District 1 activist, Dalia Rubiano Yedidia has filed a complaint with the Ethics Commission pointing out some awfully close connections between the IE (funded by Big Tech and real estate) and her campaign operation.

Philhour has been a political consultant, a professional fundraiser, which means she must know all the rules. But in this case, records show that a person who was her employee then worked on her DCCC campaign is now working for an IE that is supporting her.

Chad Houston was an employee of Philhour and Associates from 2014 to Feb, 2016, Ethics Commission records show. For the next two months, he worked for the Philhour for DCCC campaign.

No problems there.

But since April of this year, Ethics records show, Houston has been working for A San Franciscans for a City That Works, a big IE supporting the more conservative candidates.

Philhour has been running for supervisor for more than two years, and sent out a press release Feb. 9, 2016, announcing that she had raised $115,000. At the point when she started, Houston was her employee.

Now he’s working for an IE that legally can’t coordinate with her campaign, and somehow, her campaign felt confident enough to spend all its money early – and stop spending just when the IE started to kick in.

I talked to Philhour about it, and she told me that she spent her money early to get her name out in a year when there would be a lot on the ballot. She said Houston did mostly clerical work for her, and that since he left the firm, she had no idea where he had gone and was completely unaware that he is now working for that IE and has had no contact with him.

It’s a small town. Coincidences happen. I suppose. But this is just another example of the serious problem of outside money coming into these races.


Then we go to District 11, where Ahsha Safai has been touting his remarkable connections to a project that would create new, rent-controlled housing in the district. It sounds great – right before an election, a developer who is a pal of Safai’s just happened to be having a conversation with him and just happened to decide to do this deal.

Which, of course, gave Safai the opportunity to get quoted in the Chron about his support for middle-class housing.

Now: There is no actual project at this point, just a concept. But the interesting question that Sup. John Avalos raised in an Ethics Commission complaint is:

What role did Safai play in this whole venture? Was he using his connections with Mayor Ed Lee, whose office is already supporting the project (and de facto supporting him), to get the preliminary nod?

The developer of the project is SST Investments. Safai has  been a paid consultant to SST Investments.Safai “brokered the deal with the Mayor’s Office,” the Ex reports. And if so, that would seem to make him a lobbyist. But he’s not registered as a lobbyist.

The whole thing is a bit fishy to me.

More: The whole episode reinforces the fact that Safai is a real-estate guy and a house-flipper. That might not be so popular in D11.

This "parents" ad is paid for almost entirely by real-estate interests, including key foes of Ellis Act reform
This “parents” ad is paid for almost entirely by real-estate interests, including key foes of Ellis Act reform

Back to Wiener: There are so many IEs I can barely keep track, but the latest is all over Facebook, and it’s a bit odd: it’s called “Parents PAC,” and the group is running ads saying that Wiener is good on family leave. Sure. For the record, neither Wiener nor Kim is a parent, although Kim served two terms on the School Board.

Here’s what’s interesting: Parents PAC is almost entirely financed by the real-estate industry. Russ Flynn, one of the biggest landlords in San Francisco, put up $10,000. The two committees that are almost entirely funded by the California Association of Realtors (which opposes almost any tenant rights and killed Ellis Act reform) put up $5,000. Trinity Properties, a huge local landlord and developer, put up $7,500. That’s the bulk of the $27,000 that the group has raised as of the last filing deadline.

What do the big landlords have to do with parent issues? Nothing. In fact, the California Association of Realtors is working hard to make it harder for working families to live in San Francisco by undermining the city’s affordable housing policies. State Sen. Mark Leno, who has endorsed Wiener and has worked hard to Ellis Act reform, has told me that the state Realtors are among the worst anti-tenant groups in Sacramento.

These are the folks who are pushing for Wiener in the final days.

More odd: The “treasurer” of Parents PAC, according to the group’s literature, is Todd David. He’s also on the payroll of the Wiener campaign. IE’s are supposed to be entirely independent.

It never ends.


Then there’s an ethics complaint in D9 – and it’s bizarre. An ally of Josh Arce says that Hillary Ronen is improperly using her name to say “vote for both Hillarys.” A Democratic candidate for supervisor can’t encourage people to vote for her – and the Democratic candidate for president, who Arce also supports? Even if he has a picture of Clinton on the fake Bernal Heights flier? Please.

The big money is flowing so fast and so furious that I can only offer one piece of advice: Don’t believe anything you see on TV. Throw out all the campaign mail. Find slates you trust, read the measures and consider the candidates for yourself – and keep in mind that almost everything arriving in your mailbox may be paid for by some of the worst players in local politics.


  1. The national sleaze is oozing into local campaigns. Fortunately this
    part of the nightmare will soon be over and we can get back to the
    predictable day-to-day incompetence in government that we live with now-
    the homeless tents, car break-ins, rising rents and tempers as local
    governments coast along on empty, balancing precariously on a sea of red
    ink, and journalists sharpen their pencils in anticipation of the next
    juicy leak.

  2. It’s very easy to pick and choose content to suit your own opinion/agenda. As a D9 resident, I’ve seen far more (in volume) negative and false mailings from Ronen’s camp. Ronen worked for a guy who did pretty much nothing for D9 for 8 years, so my level of confidence in her is not high. I, too, am sick of the reams of waste crowding my mailbox, but I won’t stoop to blame it on one party or movement. The shit flows every which way…

  3. Making regulations easier for smaller producers is one of the things I’d like to see the legislature tackle. But if it doesn’t pass, there won’t be anything to even work with for years.

  4. i just make it a policy to vote against any new taxes.
    and what is the difference between this and the candy tax that was passed and then rescinded years ago

  5. it will corporatize the industry. not perfect? wait until the same corporations that have addicted millions on cigs get their hands on the product
    its a bad bill

  6. sleaze or politics as usual
    the supervisor by district has again backfired allowing more pac and independent expenditures to be made by focusing on one or two candidates
    most pac money has been held till the final weeks of the campaign, so i dont think you can read anything into how it has been spent on the d1 campaign
    i will note that should marjan win, she will be indebted to a lot of people.

  7. Yes, agreed, Pelosi’s problem is that she compromises with conservatives and gets legislation like the Affordable Care Act passed. Maybe that’s why the Guardian endorsed her. Compromise is BAD! BAD! Bernie has betrayed his own revolution. Who knew that would happen?

  8. Thanks for checking out our guide, Porfirio666!

    FYI Preston lives in North Beach, is a San Francisco resident, and works as a school teacher in Marin County. Maybe you’re thinking of Nancy Pelosi, who owns a 16 acre estate in St. Helena in addition to her mansion in Paific Heights, her multimillion-dollar condo in DC, and her 4 other Norcal investment properties

    Preston is a Berniecrat who stands against corruption in government, government spying and thinks we have to tackle wealth inequality pronto. He’s a great vote for those of us who cherish real San Francisco Values and have had enough of Pelosi (herself a member of the 0.1%) representing not us, but the 1%.

  9. Although the league endorses Preston Picus instead of Nancy Pelosi for D12.

    It’d be nice to have a Marin Country resident and private-school teacher in Congress. Preston gets it! Go Preston! Let’s Go Pic!

  10. Surprising that no one has turned some of Weiner’s tactics of innuendo and misdirection back on him; e.g. I guess nobody is sleazy enough to say something like “Scott Weiner, wasn’t he the guy that got nailed for sexting ?”.

  11. Not a word about the ultra-sleazy tactics being deployed by the sugar-water conglomerates, mendaciously calling Prop V a “grocery tax” and falsely invoking the holy name of Saint Bernard of Burlington and cynically pandering to San Franciscans’ weariness at high rents?

  12. As a member of the Bernal Heights Democratic Club, I’m especially offended by the new flier. It should have an FPPC number, which would give clues as to source and funding. The true Bernal Heights Democratic Club flier contains this information and more.

    If it’s being handed out door-to-door it may be able to skate past some of the legal requirements that are applied to slate card mailers. In any event, it’s a sleazy move designed to promote Arce and other interests. 48 Hills should call Arce to see if he had anything to do with it.

  13. Best elevator pitch I’ve yet heard for the No side. Well done. That said, I’m still voting yes. It’s not perfect, but we need to legalize it for all users, not just medical. What clinches it for me is that the proposition has a built in clause that allows the legislature to make changes, so that which is not perfect can be changed. If “No” wins, it will set us back for many years.

  14. I am an SF parent and I do not support Scott Wiener. I know a lot of parents and none of them has admitted to liking the dick.

  15. I throw all of those ‘slate cards’ into the recycle bin without looking at them. I encourage everyone to do the same.

    I do consult web content before voting, but that’s about it.

  16. No on 64. Already decriminalized since 2011 Scam proposition adds in new criminal charges and jail time for 18-21 and anyone sharing it smoking with them. Takes away your current medical license. New ones hard to get and takes away right to grow your own.

  17. A major culprit is our very own Trump, Ron Conway, who recently dumped $70,000 into an anti-Kim PAC. Of course this isn’t intended to benefit the #1 sleaze from D8.

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