Mayoral Fund-Race Off to Early Start

by Paul Hogarth on February 14, 2011

Early fundraising totals for the 2011 Mayor’s race are in from the Ethics Commission, and three candidates (City Attorney Dennis Herrera, State Senator Leland Yee, venture capitalist Joanna Rees) have over $100,000 on hand – with Supervisor Bevan Dufty and Assessor Phil Ting lagging behind. Yesterday’s Chronicle attacked Herrera, who has raised the most at $265,805, for receiving contributions from 70 employees – but it’s a non-issue. There are many politicos who work in the City Attorney’s Office and are used to writing campaign checks, and one would hope that lawyers who choose to work for a politician would support their boss for Mayor. Better to ask Herrera and the rest of the field about their other contributors, some of whom may have other agendas. Leland Yee had the second-highest haul with $164,465, and his contribution list includes many Chinese donors. Unlike Herrera, whose employees make him an “easy target” for anyone who reads the fundraising list, understanding Yee’s donor base requires a basic knowledge of Chinatown politics. Yee’s support is from conservative business leaders in the Chinese community, many of whom don’t live in San Francisco. Meanwhile, Joanne Rees is fast building a reputation as the “Meg Whitman” of San Francisco.

Herrera Donation Controversy: Much Ado About Nothing

I had to laugh when I read the Chronicle’s hit-piece on Herrera yesterday for taking money from lawyers in the City Attorney’s Office. When your boss runs for Mayor, it’s not unusual to support him by writing a campaign check. For example, Boe Hayward – who was a City Hall aide for Supervisor Bevan Dufty – has contributed $100 to Dufty’s mayoral campaign.

The difference, of course, is that legislators have a much smaller staff – so it’s a lot less obvious on the donor list. The City Attorney’s Office has over 200 employees. As the Chronicle reported, roughly a quarter have given to Herrera’s mayoral campaign – and there’s absolutely no proof that any of them were coerced into making a donation.

And if you know who works for the City Attorney, it’s clear that these donors genuinely support Herrera for Mayor. It’s a political place – two former Deputy City Attorneys now serve on the Board of Supervisors (David Campos and Scott Wiener), and many of the staff are involved outside of work in groups like the Harvey Milk Democratic Club. These are not the employees who need “pressure” to donate to political causes.

In fact, a Beyond Chron survey of all 70 Herrera employees who donated to his campaign found that nearly half of them gave to at least one other San Francisco candidate in the past five years. These are folks who wrote checks to David Chiu, Scott Wiener, Debra Walker, Rebecca Prozan, David Campos, etc. – so why not give to your employer’s campaign for higher office?

A more legitimate issue about Herrera’s campaign donations (or anyone else running for Mayor, for that matter) is what kind of money they are getting from business interests, landlord associations or groups with a stake in city government. Herrera donations so far include $500 donations from both the Firefighters Union and the Police Officers.

But the biggest concern on Herrera’s list is a $500 donation from landlord attorney Andrew Zacks (who is notorious for having done Ellis Act evictions), and another $500 from his law partner Paul Utrecht. In past elections, some candidates for local public office have returned unsolicited donations from Zacks – believing that it would “taint” their campaign.

Herrera defended these two donations. “Andrew Zacks has given to each and every one of my prior campaigns,” he said. “I have gotten money from a variety of people across the political spectrum (including Zacks and Paul Utrecht), and my record on landlord-tenant issues as the City Attorney is above reproach.” And from code enforcement to fighting for the right of SRO tenants to have mailboxes, Herrera has a proud record.

In fact, Herrera explained, he has even litigated against Zacks and Utrecht – like the San Remo Hotel case (which went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court), where a landlord challenged the Hotel Conversion Ordinance. “I don’t think my representation of the San Remo Hotel was compromised by a donation from Andrew Zacks,” he said.

Yee Donation List Not What it Appears

Leland Yee, who at $164,465 has the second-largest fundraising total, also got a $500 contribution from the SF Firefighters Union. Other Yee donations in this period include OPEIU Local 3, and real estate developer Tom Rocca of the controversial project at 3400 Cesar Chavez. These donors often give to many local campaigns.

A large number of Yee’s donors are Chinese names not familiar to the mostly white journalists who cover local politics. Herrera was an easy target for the Chronicle, because anyone can see how many employees in the City Attorney’s Office contributed to his campaign. Understanding Yee’s donor base requires a knowledge of Chinatown politics, in order to idenfity who on his list is a “political player” in that community.

Leland Yee is hoping to become the City’s first elected Chinese-American Mayor, and his campaign would love reporters to view his donor list and presume he has a “lock” on the city’s growing Chinese community. But Yee’s donor base does not represent all of that community. First, note how many of his Chinese donors live in Hillsborough.

Second, the Yee donors who are “players” in the City’s Chinese community represent its more conservative elements. Arnold Lee (who gave him $500), is past chair of the Chinese Six Companies. He endorsed Joe Alioto Jr. for District 3 when David Chiu was trying to be the neighborhood’s first Chinese Supervisor, and lives in Millbrae. Nelson Lum is a fervent advocate for JROTC – and campaigned in 2008 against Eric Mar over this issue. Business owner C.C. Yin also gave $500 – he owns a McDonalds (and lives in Vacaville), and lobbied against Mar’s Happy Meal legislation.

Of course, Yee will be a formidable candidate. But his support in the Chinese-American community is far from monolithic, and includes conservative business owners who have often fought against the City’s progressive Chinese Supervisors. It will be a tough race.

Will Rees Be the “Meg Whitman” of San Francisco?

Venture capitalist Joanne Rees may not have self-financed her campaign yet, but she is clearly capable of doing so – and has already raised $154,320 (the third-largest haul so far.) As others have noted, most of her donations come from outside San Francisco – and in many cases, outside California. Her Chicago contributors include the C.E.O. of the Hyatt Global Corporation, and Thomas Pritzker – the company’s Chairman of the Board.

Many of Rees’ donors list their occupation as “C.E.O.” (such as the C.E.O. of Linkedin, or the C.E.O. of Salesforce.com), and practically everyone gave the legal maximum of $500. Notable contributors include Hilary Newsom (i.e., Gavin’s sister), film director Francis Ford Coppolla, ex-Supervisor Barbara Kaufmann, Pier 39 Limited Partnership, Craig Newmark, ex-49ers coach Steve Mariucci, and the publisher of Chronicle Books.

So why is Joanne Rees the Meg Whitman of San Francisco? Besides being the clear favorite of the rich and powerful, her campaign already projects a sheltered candidate who is planning to spend lavishly. At a campaign event, she refused to take questions from the press – only the “community.” And while it’s only February, her campaign is doing robocalls. When she starts spending her own money, it will be official.

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