Anatomy of an Earned Media Hit: The Phantom (Check) Menace in San Francisco

We’re about 90 days out from Election Day, and elections in San Francisco are starting to catch some attention. Thanks to “Ranked Choice Voting” (or IRV, or whatever the cool kids are calling it these days), incumbents, such as Supervisors Chris Daly and Michela Alioto-Pier will not be in any serious danger of losing their jobs.
However, in the case of the Board of Supervisor’s race in District 4, there is an open seat, as incumbent Fiona Ma won the Democratic Primary for Supervisor, so quite a few people are running for this seat. According to the SF Usual Suspects website there are at least 8 running so far, with two – current Ma aide Jaynry Mak and Douglas Chan considered front runners.
Here’s where things get a bit strange. I knew of Jaynry Mak’s campaign before anyone had said anything, simply because in my day to day travel in the Sunset, I’ve seen a LOT of Mak signs in Sunset businesses and homes that went up in what seemed like minutes after Fiona Ma’s election was certified. All of them promiently displayed Ma’s endorsement of Mak, so I figured that she had it cinched. Besides it is not cheap or easy to get that many signs up that fast for a first time candidate. So she must be doing something right, right?
Well, not according to the powers that be, including her boss, Supervisor Ma. If you opened up today’s Chronicle, you were treated to this semi-insightful, semi-Incendiary tome on Mak’s fundraising. Now, Mak has out-raised all of her opponents by a significant amount in a very short time – usually something that is seen as an advantage by campaign observers.
So, someone had to throw water on this party, and do so fast. The task of carrying out the hit came to Wade Randlett, of SFSOS, a group that bills itself as a voice of reason (but often sends out very angry emails to its subscribers). The hit was well played – suspicion (but of course no proof of wrongdoing) was laid heavily on the fact that some of her donors don’t have white collar jobs, but gave money anyway. “”In my 20 years of raising money for elected officials, I’ve never seen anything so hard to believe,” Randlett said.” in the article.

Hmm. “Hard to believe.” I think I hear this right. It’s “hard to believe” that relatives of a candidate for office who are “Asian” and not “white collar” could get involved at the levels he and his colleagues do. Ok, perhaps that’s unfair. But I find it “hard to believe” this was done out of some sort of civic do-goodness, especially without some real proof. If there’s evidence, show me and I’ll be the first to broadcast it. No proof? Then how about real issues, instead?
Even the San Francisco Sentinel joined in the chorus repeating the charges on their site. A well coordinated attack!
You can see where this is going. No one can prove this campaign has done anything wrong, so a cynical attempt is made to slur Mak and her supporters by insinuation of wrongdoing, but no proof of wrongdoing.
Now someone can print up a nice little independent expenditure hate mail piece, and by the time we’re able to prove or not prove a thing, the election will be over and the damage is done. And best of all, her chief rival, Doug Chan, or any of her rivals, didn’t have to get their hands dirty.
It is time once and for all for ethics agencies at all levels to stop letting themselves get played by politickers in these situations. It is of no help for some agency to audit someone and find them innocent 2 years after the election is over. We need better assessments of who is doing what right now so we, as voters can make an informed choice. If someone’s breaking the law, I wanna know now. If someone’s telling fibs, I wanna know now, also.
And yet you never hear The People Who Know Best talk about this – they are too busy trying to game the system with some wacky voting scheme to help fringe candidates. Meanwhile, you and I spend our time deciphering spin and gimmickry. The candidates and their allies don’t spend any time listening to you, either. But at least someone gets some cash out of the deal – the consultants who come up with these ideas. Yay for them.
However, there is something else that smells bad here, and it is not checks from waiters. It’s how a boss treats a loyal subordinate, in this case how Fiona Ma is treating her aide. Now I can let the dual endorsement go because elected officials sometimes have to do such things, even if it does make it confusing to the voters. Hey, things happen.
What is more striking is how SFSOS took the lead in this attack, given that Ms. Ma was a keynote speaker at their annual lunch gala, (where she extolled the virtues of Supervisorial staff such as Daly challenger Rob Black), not to mention the fact that her entire campaign team was given to candidate Douglas Chan as well.
Given that it’s clear there’s a preference for Mr. Chan over Ms. Mak, my question is – why even bother endorsing her at all, if Ms. Ma and her allies clearly prefer another candidate.
All I can say is that I would strongly suggest anyone following Ms. Ma up to Sacramento note this for future reference, should they need a job reference once they leave her office. It might not be as forthcoming as they would like, regardless of how hard they worked.
PS: I finally had the chance to see the pilot for Sucker Free City that was directed by Spike Lee. It is really a testament to how stupid Showtime is that they didn’t pick this up.
Since it’s a pilot, it leaves a lot of things that wre to be resolved in future episodes. Not only was it a great concept, it was notable in that most of it was actually shot in San Francisco, and not Vancouver or Silverlake.
Which, no doubt, made the cost of filming a show like that much more expensive than, say, some boring TV series about boomer pot smokers, but whatever. Check it out and see what could have been – an honest urban drama about SF that doesn’t focus on superficial extremes, and was actually filmed here. Think of the jobs that might have been created, and won’t be as a result. Oh, and those tax breaks won’t do squat – someone needs to build a decent soundstage up here to lure this kind of ongoing business to our City.

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