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News + PoliticsThere was never anything resembling an 'independent' Redistricting Task Force

There was never anything resembling an ‘independent’ Redistricting Task Force

The evidence is now abundantly clear: The Mayor's Office was running the show, and the final lines were drawn to please Breed and her allies.

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We’ve been reporting for weeks now that the Redistricting Task Force was being driven by the Mayor’s Office to approve maps that would hurt her political foes. I have heard people say there is no evidence of that, that I was engaging in speculation—although numerous sources confirmed to me that what the Task Force was drawing was the “mayor’s map.”

Conor, an advisor to the mayor, said we were wrong. Look at the evidence.

There is, as this point, there is very little doubt remaining: A majority of the members of the Task Force, including the chair, Arnold Townsend, have expressed regret at the lines they say they have been pressured to draw. Pressured, as member Michelle Pierce said in public, because the process “was bought and paid for by a petty grudge of someone who is not in the room.”

Now MissionLocal reports that Townsend told other members of the commission and community activists that he “had no choice” but to vote for maps that would dilute the voting power of the Black community:

“I had a conversation on Saturday with the chair where he discussed the pressure he is feeling around the Potrero Hill and Portola vote,” said task force member Raynell Cooper. “He suggested that pressure was due to a longstanding friendship and relationship with the mayor. … Townsend allegedly mentioned that Mayor London Breed does not get along with District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton.”

That would be what one could call “a petty grudge.”

I don’t think the idea of creating a district that Walton will have trouble winning is going to work. He’s really popular, has a strong record, and will have widespread support in the city.

But in the long term, it will absolutely make it less likely that a Black person will continue to represent D10 (as has been the case since 1978).

Townsend, who started off the mapping process by saying how important it was to promote Black representation, has admitted, in public, in meetings, that this was the wrong way to go.

So why did he do it? And why did the other Task Force members who voted with him go along?

Townsend has told friends, according to Mission Local, that he basically did what the mayor wanted. That’s what several sources have told me—that Breed convinced Townsend to serve as Task Force chair, promised him she cold deliver five votes for her agenda, and he agreed.

Ditka Reiner, who first voted against moving Potrero Hill out of D10 than flipped her vote after a recess, was seen talking on the phone as she walked out of the meeting.

I have no idea who called her or what happened. But the Mayor’s Office in the past has called and texted commissioners in the middle of meetings to try to get them to change their votes—as Reiner did here.

I have filed a public records request with the Mayor’s Office for all emails or text messages between Breed and her top lieutenants and anyone on the Task Force over the past month; the Mayor’s Office says no such records exist.

Direct phone calls from cell phones wouldn’t show up on that request, and in the past, the City Attorney’s Office has allowed public officials to redact the numbers they are calling and the incoming call numbers from their cell phones.

No matter: Nobody from the Mayor’s Office has denied playing a role in this process. Almost nobody on the Task Force has denied that the lines are deeply flawed and that there was outside pressure. A group led by developers has openly said that it sought to create new lines that would hurt progressives.

When the Elections Commission met and decided not to take any action around its appointees to the Task Force, the commissioners all talked about the importance of the “independence” of the Task Force.

The mayor, State Sen. Scott Wiener, and Sup. Matt Haney, who is running for state Assembly, all put out high-minded statements saying that nobody should interfered with that “independence.”

It’s now abundantly clear that the critics (and 48hills) were right from the start: There was no “independence.” This was a sham. And the four Task Force members who walked out and called out the process were the only ones with any integrity. Let’s all give them credit for that.

It’s interesting to note that Townsend, who is a minister, also describes himself on Linked in as an “independent real-estate professional.” He is a partner in a nonprofit community development corporation that is working on at least one major project in the Western Addition.

But on his Form 700, which all city officials and commissioners have to file every year to disclose economic interests, he shows “no reportable interests—which means no income at all.

Maybe he’s working on the development project as a volunteer. But an anonymous complaint filed with the Ethics Commission alleges that he must have income from this arrangement, and “I believe that his failure to disclose this in his Form 700 is alarming and a clear violation of his ethics requirements.”

Townsend couldn’t be reached for comment, which is not surprising: He has not been talking to the news media.

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

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.
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