Is Tech a Political Liability? - May 25, 2016 - SF Weekly
SF Weekly

Is Tech a Political Liability?

With experience working for former Mayor Willie Brown, current California Attorney General Kamala Harris, and District Attorney George Gascón, Rebecca Prozan has a political resume to envy (her third-place finish in a 2010 supervisorial race aside). The Castro District attorney is seeking reelection to San Francisco's Democratic County Central Committee in the June 7 primary election, and the shiny new political mailers used in her campaign for a seat were produced by the boutique consultancy firm 50+1 Strategies. One of them may have ended up in your recycle bin, if you're a registered Democrat on the city's east side.

You'll see photos of Prozan with Harris and a laudatory blurb from Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is also a supporter. You can read about how she was an Obama delegate in 2008 and 2012, and how she worked as a prosecutor and as a “neighborhood liaison.”

What you won't see is any mention of her current occupation, chief of government affairs for Google. In fact, despite a nifty tech-friendly “forward” symbol in the O in her name, the only mention of “tech” is a line mentioning how Prozan “strengthens ties between tech and San Francisco” as a “community affairs manager.” In fact, it looks almost as if the messaging goes out of its way not to mention tech.

In a San Francisco gone mad with tech wealth — where the have-nots have plenty to be mad about — is tech a political liability?

Yes and no. While it's been several years since housing activists made a regular point of blocking buses ferrying Google workers to campus in Mountain View, tech is — finally — not the bogeyman it used to be.

This is partly due to assimilation — and a universal struggle to survive. Recently, political consultant Jim Ross — who has worked to elect candidates trying to get onto the DCCC on the opposite side of Prozan — heard a campaign volunteer rail about the “tech people” who needed to be opposed.

“I'm like, hold on a second. The average tech worker is struggling as much as anyone else, and a lot of them are longtime San Franciscans,” Ross says. “People who are vilifying them need to be careful about the language. There are folks you can rightly attack, but going after the tech industry could actually backfire.”

What San Franciscans do dislike with comforting consistency are big corporations — the Chevrons, PG&Es, and Wells Fargos of the world. Among these, you can now certainly count the likes of locally based global powers like Uber, Airbnb, and Google.

“San Francisco has long held an anti-corporate bias,” Ross says. “The issue for Rebecca is not that she works for a tech company; it's that she works for a big corporation.”

“I like Rebecca and I don't want to bash her,” he adds, “but if I had a client running for Central Committee — which I don't — I would downplay the fact that they work for a big corporation.”

Which Prozan's campaign also appears to be doing with her mailers, but the candidate herself says it's not by design.

“Google is mentioned in my Facebook page, Twitter, and on my campaign website, along with the other roles in which I've served,” Prozan wrote via email. “The mail is to communicate who I am as opposed to where I work.”

Maybe if it was a startup, Google would have had a mention. Just not after the first round of funding.