rock supe races
by Matthew S. Bajko
Sexual misconduct accusations and a bizarre ad some are calling homophobic have rocked two San Francisco supervisor races in recent days, upending what had been a relatively quiet campaign season.
The back-to-back October surprises come less than three weeks before Election Day Tuesday, November 6. In the case of the contested race for the District 5 seat on the Board of Supervisors, the campaign of nonprofit executive Julian Davis is in tumult.
The SF Weekly broke the news Monday, October 15 that two women claim Davis inappropriately groped them six years ago. Davis has denied the accusations, though he admitted to the paper that he was "too forward" with the women and had apologized.
According to the report, Kay Vasilyeva decided to go public after progressive leaders ignored her concerns about Davis and the candidate sent her a cease-and-desist letter last week threatening to sue her for defamation.
The fallout has been swift. Both Supervisors John Avalos and David Campos rescinded their endorsements of Davis. And on Wednesday the Bay Guardian not only withdrew its backing of Davis but called for him to drop out of the race.
In a press release sent Tuesday, Davis questioned the timing of the article. The statement, which included a photo of Vasilyeva with Mayor Ed Lee and described her as a "longtime political insider who works for" the mayor, claimed that she has ties to both District 5 Supervisor Christina Olague and candidate London Breed.
"The allegation is untrue," said Davis. "I know politics can be dirty business, and I have faith in the voters of District 5 to see through this October Surprise."
Olague described Vasilyeva as an acquaintance from past campaigns they worked on but said "I don't know her" and that she "hasn't volunteered at all on my campaign."
As for Davis, she criticized him for "pointing fingers at everybody else when it was their decision to go with the cease and desist letter. That is what seems to be why people went back and began asking questions."
Breed also refuted suggestions her campaign had something to do with the story.
"We don't have time to focus our efforts on taking down another candidate. I don't operate that way," said Breed. "It is very unfortunate. I don't take pleasure in the misery of others."
On Wednesday, following the Guardian 's decision, Davis vowed to remain in the race and again questioned the timing of the story.
"I have met with my campaign team, and we remain confident that we can win this race, and serve the people of District 5 with honor and distinction," stated Davis. "The city faces critical issues that need to be addressed. I believe, as others have stated, I have by far the best grasp on the policies that most affect people here."
It is the second incident where inappropriate behavior has been at issue in the race for the Haight and Western Addition seat. Last week Olague generated praise and rebukes after she joined with three of her board colleagues, including Avalos and Campos, to reinstate former District 5 Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi as sheriff.
Earlier this year Lee had suspended Mirkarimi without pay on grounds of official misconduct. The decision came after Mirkarimi pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge stemming from an argument with his wife that left a bruise on her arm.
The political drama that convulsed City Hall for months also shone a spotlight on the issue of domestic violence. The heated public debate sparked by Mirkarimi's arrest has now cast a shadow over the charges Davis is facing.
He addressed the contention some have made that the supervisors' decision in the Mirkarimi case impacted their withdrawing their support of his candidacy in an email Davis sent to supporters.
"No one can deny that there is presently a particular sensitivity around domestic violence issues, and this may have been a contributing factor in their decision in this instance," wrote Davis. "I want to emphasize that I respect this heightened sensitivity and I will not criticize those allies of mine that have chosen to withdraw support."
(Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland)
Bizarre ad triggers complaints
In the race for the District 1 supervisor seat in the Richmond, where incumbent Eric Mar is facing a strong challenge from David Lee, who with his wife operates a State Farm insurance business, a bizarre ad paid for by the San Francisco Association of Realtors has come under fire.
Critics have called the ad homophobic due to a sequence that shows three men in a hot tub. It is a reference to a comment Mar made where he invited his board colleagues to join him in the steam room at the YMCA.
Others accused the Realtors' ad of being racist for having children, seen walking through the streets banging pots and pans, chant "Send Mar back to Mars." They contend the phrase implies that Mar, who is Asian American, is an illegal alien or an illegal immigrant in the country.
Linda Bianchi, listed as the Realtor group's interim chief executive officer, did not respond to the B.A.R.'s request for comment. But several gay and lesbian members of the group criticized the association for producing the ad.
"Personally, I am not a fan of a negative campaign strategy, and I do not like this ad in particular," wrote Linda C. Harrison, an agent with Sotheby's International Realty who resigned from the SFAR board late last month, in an emailed response.
Matt Fuller, with Zephyr Real Estate and a former member of SFAR's governance affairs committee, criticized the ad against Mar in a post on his blog. While he stopped short of calling it homophobic, Fuller did label it "inflammatory, ridiculous, and a silly distraction."
In an interview he said he wasn't convinced that the ad is meant to trigger anti-gay animus.
"I can honestly say I don't think the San Francisco Association of Realtors would ever spend money intentionally or purposefully make something homophobic. That has not be been my experience," said Fuller. "It does seem amateurish."
The San Francisco League of Pissed Off Voters filed a complaint about the ad with the Ethics Commission, asking the city agency to investigate if there was "potential illegal coordination" between the Lee campaign and the Realtors' group.
It is against city laws for a candidate to have anything to do with an independent expenditure committee that is supporting them in their race. The ad's inclusion of footage of Lee canvassing the district and talking with voters is the basis for the ethics complaint.
"That is something that needs to be addressed. If the David Lee campaign had cooperated with them by providing them with that footage that is a violation of the law," said Fabiana Ochoa, a steering committee member with the league.
Thomas Li, a spokesman for Lee's campaign, said the candidate disavows the ad and "wish they would take it down." He called accusations that the campaign had anything to do with the ad "completely out of line."
"We do not coordinate with third party groups," said Li. "We host weekend rallies open to the public and anyone can walk in with their camera and walk along with David."
Backers of Mar's campaign held a spirited rally outside the Realtor group's offices Monday night. The crowd of 100 people brought their own pots and pans to bang.
"The whole thing is creepy and one of the worst ads I have ever seen," said Gabriel Haaland, a transgender activist and labor leader, who was at the protest. "This is not about property rights, this is about Lee's backers who really want to repeal rent control."
Mar told the B.A.R. that the ad "pulls us off of the day-to-day issues that people care about." He added that he is "doing my best to run a positive campaign."