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News + PoliticsTask Force members say Mayor's Office was calling the shots on redistricting

Task Force members say Mayor’s Office was calling the shots on redistricting

The mapping was wired from the start, members say—'I wish you could have been honest.'

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Shortly before the Redistricting Task Force meeting Monday, approximately 150 protesters gathered outside City Hall, saying that the Task Force is under political influence and has ignored concerns aired by members of the public during prior meetings.

Their concerns reflect the very public statements of some Task Force members, who say the mapping process has been secretly driven by the Mayor’s Office.

A large crowd complained about the new district lines. Photo by Garrett Leahy

Jeffrey Kwong, vice president of events and fundraising at the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club, said that this redistricting process is the most politicized he has seen during his time involved in San Francisco politics.

“I’ve been campaigning in district elections since 2000. This is the first ever that we have gone through such a politicized, inside backroom-dealing process ever, in the 20-plus years that we introduced district elections in San Francisco. This cannot stand,” said Kwong.

Jeffery Kwong, Harvey Milk Club vice president, decried a “politicized back room-dealing process.” Photo by Garrett Leahy

Allegations of political influence come as indications of willful political organizing behind the current redistricting arise.

Reporting by 48Hills uncovered an email written by real-estate developer Nick Podell that said that an organization called ConnectedSF “is leading the Redistricting drive to capture moderate majorities in Supervisor Districts which will ensure moderate centrist candidates are elected in the future.” The email went on to mention a “one-click email” endorsing an earlier version of the final map to send to task force members to “give cover to the Task Force to do the right thing and follow the rule of law, instead of politics.”

And early Sunday morning, April 10, when the Task Force moved forward with its draft final map, Member Jeremy Lee, who had just walked out in protest, called in to public comment.

“You all disgust me,” he said, calling his colleagues “spineless.”

Then, in a crude and gross reference for which he later apologized, he named the people who he said the Task Force was listening to behind the scenes: Marjan Philhour, a mayoral staffer and former candidate for supervisor who narrowly lost to Sup. Connie Chan in what is now a gerrymandered District 1; Byron Philhour, her husband; Mary Jung, the head lobbyist for the Board of Realtors; Mayor London Breed; and Sean Elsbernd, the mayor’s chief of staff.

Many sources close to the process have told us that the Breed, Phihour, and Elsbernd have been driving the direction of the mapping, seeking to create new lines that would make it easier to elect people allied with her and harder for progressives to win a board majority.

Member Michelle Pierce also called in, and with remarks for which she hasn’t apologized and still stands by, she said that the process was clearly wired from the start.

The mapping, she said “was bought and paid for by a petty grudge of someone who is not in the room,” a clear reference to Breed, who has been openly angry at the progressive supervisors.

“You cost me the last six months of my life on something you knew was already done,” Pierce said. “I wish you could have been honest. I thought that I respected you, but I don’t know who you are.”

Jupiter Peraza, a director at Te Transgender District, said the map separates the Tenderloin and Soma. Photo by Garrett Leahy

Jupiter Peraza, director of social justice and empowerment initiatives at The Transgender District, said that the final draft map will have a negative impact on the transgender community by bisecting the Transgender Cultural District and separating the Tenderloin and Soma.

“The Transgender District is the smallest district in San Francisco and it is severed in half by this map that was proposed. This will profoundly impact the manner and the capacity in which we advocate for the trans community,” Peraza said.

Under the final draft map as currently drawn, the Tenderloin will move from District 6 to District 5. Peraza said that shifting District 5 to include the Tenderloin will hurt Tenderloin residents, whose needs are different from the Haight and Western Addition, which are more affluent than the Tenderloin.

“Integrating the Tenderloin into District 5 when it’s been in District 6 for the past few decades, it will definitely erase the voices of Tenderloin residents,” Peraza said. “You’re placing the Tenderloin with folks in the Haight and parts of the Western Addition, there aren’t any similarities in the needs and the social issues that folks in the Tenderloin face and the folks in District 5.”

The map moves Potrero Hill out of District 10 and into District 9, moves District 4 more west and south, and adds the white, conservative, rich area of Seacliff into District 1.

Former District 9 supervisor David Campos, who is currently running for State Assembly, suggested that if the map as currently drawn is passed opponents may challenge the map in court and even propose a ballot measure to create an alternative district map to be approved or rejected by voters.

“I think that there are a number of avenues that have to be explored,” Campos said. “You’re talking about dividing the African American community, the API community, the Latino community…any map that diminishes the political and voting power of these communities of color could be subject to a legal constitutional challenge.”

Additional reporting by Tim Redmond

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

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