Block Party

Rose Tsai, Julie Lee, and the Neighbors' Association are set to tuck into a heaping helping of Willie Brown's majority

Shaw's article in the left-leaning publication unleashed a host of unsubstantiated allegations that link Lee and Tsai to virtually everything except the Kennedy assassination -- even claims that the two are agents of the Christian Right and the Taiwanese government.

But Lee and Tsai don't seem terribly bothered by these or any other allegations.

"They say what they like. We don't care," Lee says lightly.

The San Francisco Neighbors' Association's long-term impact remains to be seen. Rose Tsai is not as popular as the SFNA would have you believe -- even though, for the past several weeks, Lee has been telling reporters that a recent survey by the Committee on Jobs showed Tsai was twice as popular as Super-visor Mabel Teng in the Asian-American community.

But according to a survey on a number of public policy issues by the San Francisco business community at the beginning of this year, 71 percent of the Asian-Americans polled had never even heard of Rose Tsai.

Tsai is deliberately vague about the SFNA's specific plans for the coming year. She says the group is taking a rest, recuperating from the Prop. H campaign and trying to recover its campaign debt.

"I think this year we want to focus more on voter registration and getting out the vote," says Tsai.

Though Tsai is running for the County Democratic Central Committee, she says she's weighing whether she would be more effective inside City Hall or as an outside agitator. She says the SFNA's main objective is to get the mayor to listen to the concerns of the west side.

Meanwhile, Brown spokeswoman Kandace Bender dismisses the SFNA's claims that the mayor has ignored the Richmond and Sunset districts.

"The mayor pays attention to the whole city," says Bender.

The Neighbors' Association's real chance to seize power will come in 2000, when the introduction of district elections will allow voters to elect candidates directly from their neighborhoods. The SFNA hopes to elect three candidates to the Board of Supervisors who are pro-west side and pro-Chinese-American. And they want a mayor who's "responsive" to the Chinese-American community.

Supervisor Leland Yee is one possible candidate who fits the SFNA's description. Yee himself politely declines to say if he is considering a bid for mayor. He will only say that he would support Rose Tsai for supervisor.

But the increasingly close relationship between Yee and the SFNA suggests that the former school board member and the neighborhood organization have definite plans for the future.

As the next election approaches, Yee is making a decided effort to define who and what he represents. The supervisor has made himself much more visible in recent months, writing op-ed pieces in the daily papers and even launching his own Web site complete with color head shots and discussion groups.

And the issues he's chosen to taken on are the very concerns that are dear to the SFNA -- neighborhood, taxpayer, and property owner issues.

Courting the Chinese-American vote is a wise move for Yee and any other politician with an eye on the next city election. Chinese-Americans currently account for 18 percent of the city's 411,000 registered voters, and pollsters expect that percentage to grow significantly in the next two years -- particularly on the west side.

It will be impossible for the next mayor of San Francisco to ignore the city's Chinese-American community -- and if the SFNA's membership continues to thrive, impossible to ignore the specific concerns of the group.

But what Tsai and the SFNA do in the next mayoral race will show if getting Willie Brown's ear is enough for the Neighbors' Association members -- or if what they really want is his head.

No one in the city's traditional power circles seemed to have a clue that perhaps divergent interests and political views might exist within the Chinese-American population.

"They [the SFNA] represent empowering neighborhoods and communities, helping with the self-sufficiency of individuals," Supervisor Leland Yee says. "They're winners."

One of the loudest voices in the Chinese community doesn't like Tsai and Lee much. Ask Rose Pak about the SFNA and be prepared to get an earful.

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