Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 12 / 22 March 2018

Mailers in SF mayor's race irk LGBT voters


The Alice Club's billboard in support of Dennis Herrera has drawn fire from some board members who say it minimizes the club's second-choice endorsement. (Photo: Rick Gerharter)
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Campaign literature focused on San Francisco's mayoral race that two gay political groups produced has sparked a backlash among LGBT leaders.

The first is a hit piece against City Attorney Dennis Herrera that features a fish hook made out of money and criticizes him for accepting campaign contributions from donors who "have reeled in some really big city contracts." The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which is supporting openly gay candidate Bevan Dufty for mayor, paid for the mailer.

The second is a letter labeled "From the Desk of Supervisor Scott Wiener" in which the gay politician writes about why he is supporting Herrera, his former boss, for mayor. The Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club paid for the mailing sent to voters in Wiener's District 8, which includes the Castro.

Backers of Dufty and interim Mayor Ed Lee on the club's board are furious about the letter, which they contend downplays the moderate LGBT political group's second-choice and third-choice endorsements of Dufty and Lee, respectively, in the race. They have also questioned why Alice paid for several billboards that prominently feature Herrera and not its other two mayoral endorsees.

Both mailings are causing major headaches for the two political organizations. And in the case of the national Victory Fund, whose main mission is to elect out LGBT people to elected office, it has sparked condemnation from both Herrera and Dufty for launching a negative attack in the race.

Dufty told the Bay Area Reporter that as soon as he learned last week about the fund's mailing against Herrera he called CEO Chuck Wolfe and left him a message asking the group to desist.

"I left a message for Chuck reminding him I've always campaigned on a positive basis and I don't see this helping me to be negative against anyone in this race," said Dufty. "My druthers are they not send anything else out that is negative. It is not who I am."

 Herrera, long considered a strong ally of the LGBT community, even prior to his legal work for marriage equality, said he thinks it is "perfectly appropriate" for the fund to work to elect Dufty and has no qualms with them paying for two other mailers that highlight why Dufty should be mayor.

Nonetheless, Herrera said he was disappointed to see them launch the attack against him.

"I was a little bit surprised they took the extra step to send out a negative piece on a straight ally. I don't think that is particularly necessary," said Herrera.

Wolfe did not respond to a request for an interview. Victory Fund spokesman Denis Dison told the B.A.R. that the mailers are how political campaigns are waged.

"The reality is we fight hard for our endorsed candidates and we make no apologies for that," said Dison, who refused to say if this was the first time the group had paid for a negative mailer. "I won't comment on that and will just say this is a tactic not unknown to anybody who works in politics with any regularity."

The Victory Fund mailers have upset LGBT voters supporting both candidates in the race. Adoption lawyer Charles Spiegel, a Dufty backer, was so incensed he added Herrera campaign signs to his windows.

"I don't think it is responsible for a community-based organization like they are to do attack ads on our strong allies," he said. 

Longtime gay activist Cleve Jones said he is "furious" over the mailer and, in a letter he distributed last week, told Wolfe "you really screwed up."

"It would be one thing if they gave money to Bevan Dufty and Bevan had the balls to put out that attack under his name. But for the attack against Dennis Herrera to go out under the name of the Victory Fund is outrageous," Jones, who is backing Herrera in the race, told the B.A.R. "It is a terribly stupid move one their part."

In his letter Jones called for local political consultant Joyce Newstat, an out lesbian who is working for Dufty, to resign from the fund's Gay and Lesbian Leadership Institute's board of directors.

Newstat told the B.A.R. in an emailed response she had nothing to apologize for and had nothing to do with any of the fund's independent expenditures.

"I will never apologize for working or volunteering to elect LGBT people to office here in San Francisco or around the country," wrote Newstat. "Cleve Jones is certainly within his rights to support the straight candidate over the qualified gay candidate – but he has no right to attack me for whom I work and choose to support."

Alice board in heated dispute

Heated exchanges have also erupted amongst members of Alice's board over its independent expenditures in the mayor's race.

In a letter and emails leaked to the B.A.R. and other news outlets the club's co-chairs Bentrish Satarzadeh and Reese Aaron Isbell have come under fire for how Alice is backing Herrera's bid to be mayor. They are accused of misappropriating "substantial funds" to promote Herrera while downplaying the club's other two endorsed candidates for mayor, Dufty and Lee.

"While our club may not have been used to attack other Democrats, our club is being used to pick and choose among our approved endorsements who and/or what is to [be] supported through our campaign mailers," wrote Kevin Cheng, a co-chair of the club's political action committee, in one email. "That is wrong. Alice is better than that. And I expect our leadership to be held to a higher standard."

Cheng is one of 16 board members who signed a letter criticizing the mail piece signed by Wiener sent to voters in District 8. They have called on the club to send out another letter highlighting all three mayoral candidates and to apologize to Dufty and Lee.

Among the signatories are former Dufty staffers Alex Randolph and Rebecca Prozan; Pride board President Lisa Williams; Lee spokesman Francis Tsang; and Andrea Shorter, formerly with Equality California.

Satarzadeh and Isbell told the B.A.R. that the charges in the board members' letter are inaccurate and that they followed rules the club voted to adopt earlier this year. A slate card committee comprised of themselves and representatives from all three of the endorsed mayoral campaigns oversaw the production of the mailer and billboards.

"All we are going to say is that the committee was formed according to our bylaws and the club's precedent. We did exactly what we have done historically," said Satarzadeh.

Isbell added that "all elections involve passion" and that the mayor's race this year is no exception.

Dufty and Herrera both declined to discuss the Alice Club infighting.

Wiener told the B.A.R. he takes exception to characterizations that Alice's full endorsement slate are mere "footnotes" in the letter he signed. The third paragraph's last sentence lays out the club's three ranked-choice candidates, and they are listed again on the backside of the letter along with Alice's entire endorsement slate.

"My response is they are wrong. It accurately reflects the ranked-choice voting," he said. "Dennis Herrera is the number one endorsee of the club. It is completely appropriate to accentuate your number one more so than number two and three. I understand folks in Alice are fighting very hard for their candidate, but this letter was accurate and appropriate."

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