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Sources: Mayor Lee and Ron Conway Pressured Donors into Not Supporting Aaron Peskin for Supervisor

September 22, 2015

By Joe Eskenazi : modernluxury – excerpt

And then things got weird.

In the no-good-deed-goes-unpunished world of politics, reliable donors are hit up for donations constantly—that’s how the game works. And that’s what around two dozen invitees likely thought they were in for when they were summoned via an email from Mayor Ed Lee’s campaign to the Hanson Bridgett law firm for an April 7 gathering. But it was soon obvious that this was no good-natured shakedown. They found the mayor flanked by his chief of staff, Steve Kawa, and top adviser, Tony Winnicker, with the “godfather of Silicon Valley”—and influential mayoral financier—Ron Conway positioned next to Winnicker.

“They were all sitting there at the head of the table, glaring at everybody,” recalls one attendee. “So it wasn’t lost on any of us what the message was.” That message: Any attendee who aids and abets Aaron Peskin in his District 3 race against Lee appointee Julie Christensen will be given “close attention”—and could face blowback when conducting future business in the city. “I was being threatened,” sums up another attendee. 

Once Kawa and the mayor had made that point, Lee departed, and things “got weird.” Per witnesses, Conway said, “Well, I think we heard it pretty clear from the mayor. We’d better not have anybody here give to Aaron Peskin, or there’ll be problems with Ed Lee.” Conway then purportedly confided that he had contributed heavily to swamp David Campos’s 2014 assembly run, but feared that if he did the same for Christensen, it would bounce back on both of them. Conway then allegedly informed the assembled movers and shakers that they must pony up for Christensen. He would in turn make them whole by giving to their preferred causes.

Legal experts are unsure whether such a scheme would contravene the law—though the Political Reform Act forbids contributions “on behalf of another, or while acting as the intermediary or agent of another.” In any event, multiple attendees confirm that they’ve recounted these events to city attorney investigators. The City Attorney’s Office has refused to comment on the status of its investigation. Conway’s lobbyist, Alex Tourk, who was in attendance, declined to speak to San Francisco, as did Conway. But according to sources, Conway’s brazen offer made even Tourk squeamish. “You could tell that Alex was uncomfortable,” recalls a fellow attendee. “He had a look on his face like, ‘Please shut up, boss.’”… (more)

READ MORE: Joe Eskenazi on the nasty, brutish fight for District 3

How the brutish supervisor race between Julie Christensen and Aaron Peskin is a taste of what’s to come in 2016’s citywide election…

As election season shifts into high gear, the infrastructure to deliver more of these large hits against Peskin is being assembled. Mayor Ed Lee, who appointed Christensen to her seat in January over the vociferous objections of influential figures in the district—most notably, Lee’s erstwhile Chinatown ally Rose Pak—is applying pressure wherever possible. Ample reservoirs of third-party cash are being amassed. Lines are being drawn and favors called in. For residents of District 3, the feeling in the streets, which are glutted with “We Need Aaron!” and “Julie Christensen Gets Things Done” placards, is of a gathering storm.

And yet, this is a peculiarly insular storm. Perhaps only one in three registered voters in District 3 will end up filling out a ballot in November’s off-year election. But those few who do—and it may require only 6,000 votes to win—will have an outsize say in the direction that the city takes in the coming year. At stake is control of an increasingly polarized Board of Supervisors, which currently leans six votes to five in favor of Lee’s moderate faction. Should Peskin be reinstalled on the board, it would mean the return of the often-rudderless progressive caucus’s savviest leader—and with him, the potential to significantly disrupt the second-term agenda of the mayor and his powerful backers.

With Peskin again working legislative magic and calling progressive shots, Lee and his allies could run into any number of difficulties as they pursue their platform of steady economic growth, widespread development, and jobs, jobs, jobs. A Peskin victory over Christensen could also augur a progressive insurgency leading up to the much more heavily contested 2016 elections, when city voters will choose supervisors in six districts. The potential exists for a political sea change in San Francisco that harks back to the Progressive Revolution of 2000….

For Mayor Lee and his inner circle, a Peskin victory would be akin to Victor Laszlo boarding the plane and soaring away at the end of Casablanca. They would have failed in their overriding objective despite their fervent—even overbearing—efforts, enabling their ablest critic to reach a far more influential place. Peskin would have five steady votes behind him. But his impact could go deeper. If Peskin once again cultivates those on the other side of the ideological spectrum, he could not only block Lee’s agenda but begin implementing one of his own.

That is the nightmare that will keep the mayor and members of his City Family up nights until November 2016. And it is the dream that Peskin and his progressive brethren will be working toward until the battle is finally over… (more)

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