Record-breaking spending floods District 1 with political propaganda

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Political hit pieces have filled the mailboxes of Richmond District voters.
Steven T. Jones

District 1 supervisorial candidate David Lee and independent expenditure campaigns supporting him have spent nearly $800,000 – shattering previous spending records for a district election – bombarding Richmond District voters with a barrage of mailers and other media pushing a variety of claims and criticisms about incumbent Sup. Eric Mar that sometimes stretch credulity and relevance.

But is it working? Or is the avalanche of arguments – much of it funded by “big money from Realtors, Landlords, and Downtown Special Interests,” as a recent Mar mailer correctly notes – feeding speculation that Lee would do the bidding of these powerful players on the Board of Supervisors?

Mar campaign manager Nicole Derse thinks that's the case, arguing the Lee campaign would have leaked internal polls to the media if they were favorable, and it wouldn't be escalating its attacks on so many fronts hoping for traction, such as yesterday's press conference hitting Mar on the issue of neighborhood schools.

“They're pretty desperate at this point and throwing anything out there that they can,” Derse told us, later adding, “I feel good, but we really have to keep the fire up.”

Mar and the independent groups supporting him, mostly supported by the San Francisco Labor Council, have together spent about $400,000. Most of the mailers have been positive, but many have highlighted Lee's political inexperience and his connections to big-money interests, raising questions about his claims to support tenants and rent control.

Lee campaign manager Thomas Li, who has been unwilling to answer our questions throughout the campaign, did take down some Guardian questions this time and said he'd get us answers, but we haven't heard back. On the issue of why the Realtors and other groups who seek to weaken tenant protections were supporting Lee, Li simply said, “Our position has been steadfast on protecting rent control and strengthening tenant protections.”

The Lee campaign has repeated that on several mailers – possibly indicating it is worried about that issue and the perception that Lee's election would give landlords another vote on the board, as tenant and other progressive groups have argued – but most of its mailers recently have attacked Mar on a few issues where they must believe he is vulnerable, even when they distort his record.

Several mailers have noted Mar's support for a city budget that included funding for a third board aide for each of the 11 supervisors – a budget the board unanimously approved – as well as his support for public campaign financing, despite the fact that Lee's campaign has taken more than $150,000 in public financing in this election, 30 percent more than Mar's. They have also criticized Mar for supporting the 8 Washington high-end condo project, even though Lee also voted for the project as a member of the Recreation and Parks Commission.

As this Ethics Commission graphic shows, Lee has been by far the biggest recipient of independent expenditures in this election cycle, with hundreds of thousands of dollars coming from the downtown-funded Alliance for Jobs and Sustainable Growth and the Realtor-created Citizens for Responsible Growth.

Mar and his allies have hit back with mailers noting that most of the funding for the Chinese American Voter Education Project, Lee's main political and communications vehicle in recent years, has simply gone to pay his $90,000-plus annual salary, which he didn't fully report on financial disclosure forms required of city commissioners. They have also hit Lee for his support for the Recreation and Parks Department's closure of recreation centers and other cuts while he “consistently supported privatization of our parks.”

At this point, it's hard to know how this flood of information and back-and-forth attacks will influence District 1 voters, but we're now days away from finding out.