San Francisco’s mayoral race reached a new low Tuesday when an attack ad, funded by Ron Conway’s wife, Gayle, was posted on YouTube. The $200,000 video slammed candidate Jane Kim for a years-old vote she made that kept former-sheriff Ross Mirkarimi in office, despite the domestic violence charges filed against him. It’s a damning narrative that’s been used by the Conways before, but the video was short on facts: Kim did not vote in support Mirkarimi, but against a rule that would have allowed the mayor to remove a city-elected employee for behavior that occurred when they were not in office. It was a vote about the mayor’s authority, not about Mirkarimi, and certainly not about domestic violence.
The pricey video sidestepped around that detail. But after receiving negative press and hundreds of outraged downvotes, it was pulled from YouTube after only a few hours. However, it’s still up online at NotJaneKimSF.com.
People are pissed, in part because this isn’t the first time the Conways have pulled such a move. In 2012, a similar $49,000 attack ad was posted against former-Supervisor Christina Olague. Two years later, former-Supervisor David Campos was on the receiving end of one, which cost $85,000 to produce. This is the second ad released about Jane Kim — the first $200,000 ad came out in 2016 when she was campaigning for a state Senate seat against Scott Wiener, which she later lost. All told, $534,000 has been spent by the Conways to attack candidates of color in this manner over the past six years.
On Friday afternoon, a group of women behind the website StopRonConway.com gathered outside the Conways’ residence at the Four Seasons Hotel on Market Street with an oversized check for $534,000, made out to victims of domestic violence. Shanti Singh, who helped organize the event, said there’s a clear narrative unfolding here.
“This sends a signal after it’s happened four times,” Singh said. “Any woman of color on the left, any queer person on the left, any person from a marginalized community who’s running to the left in any sense — this is basically saying ‘we’ll threaten you, we’ll silence you, we’ll spend more money than God as long as you try to have a voice in City Hall’.”
Targets aside, the ads are also incredibly tone deaf in their exploitation of people who’ve actually been victims of domestic violence. “Ugly how Chiu exploit my family for political gain & trivialize DV. Not caring about my son or myself,” tweeted Eliana Lopez, the wife and victim of Mirkarimi, after the attack add was launched against Campos in 2014.
“They’ve weaponized women to hurt women,” said Christine Linnenbach, who ran for a supervisor role in 2004. “It’s tragic that we’re using this type of an issue six weeks before a race to pervert this type of an issue for political gain.”
And the effects this can have on a culture as well as a campaign can be longstanding. “People think its harmless because it’s bullying on TV or cyberbullying or on Youtube,” Linnenbach adds. “But violence when it’s words is different than when it’s physical. One act of aggression leads to another. It’s going to take women who stand up at the very beginning of the chain to say ‘no, it has to stop here’.”
Election politics aside, if the Conways really cared so much about domestic violence (not just every few years when an election pops up), they could be putting their money where their mouths are.
“Rather than funding these ads, donate the money to a community-serving organization,” said Frances Hsieh, of the San Francisco Democratic Party, who was also outside the Four Seasons Friday. “We’ve got a lot in San Francisco that are all underfunded and struggling to stay here, struggling to deal with an increasing load of clients.”
It’s a good point — $534,000 could fund a lot of services. That amount could pay for two years of the San Francisco Department of Women’s High Lethality Domestic Violence Response team, which identifies domestic violence victims at high risk of death or serious injury, and helps connect them to resources. It would cover nearly the entire grant budget for community-based programs funded by the S.F. Department of Children, Youth, and Their Families. And it would fund 37.5 million hours of crisis hotline support or could provide survivors 23,330 hours of one-on-one or family therapy at W.O.M.A.N., Inc.
As a statement of such, the group of women who rallied outside the Four Seasons left the oversized check with a less-than-pleased front desk clerk as a gift to the Conways.
And they’re not the only ones on the case: Friends of Ethics co-founder Larry Bush is also making waves. Bush announced Friday that he’d filed a formal complaint against San Franciscans Against Domestic Violence, Gayle Conway’s group behind the videos. The complaint circles around the group’s failure to file a Form 460, which lists in detail all the funds contributed and where they came from.
“The failure to timely file deprives the public of the ability to know accurate and total funding sources, who is being paid and how much and for what,” Bush said. “Notably, the committee has run an ad with only one person — Andrea Shorter — who may or may not be paid. In earlier committees that focused on ‘domestic violence’ in candidate races, Shorter was paid by Ron Conway. Shorter also has been fined by the FPPC and Ethics for failure to file accurate disclosures as a city commissioner and as a city college candidate.”
As we inch closer to the election June 5, it’s unfortunately highly likely that other, uglier attack campaigns will surface. And it’s a shame because the top three candidates all have remarkable stories that could easily be leveraged to sway voters, if political action committees weren’t so focused on trashing their preferred mayor’s opponents — and exploiting domestic violence survivors to do so.