Earlier this month, the San Francisco Bay Guardian awarded Julian Davis its top endorsement for District 5 supervisor. It did so despite penning this cryptic sentence: “His personal life and behavior in his 20s were not always admirable.” This is an odd thing to say about a candidate who is only 33. It's equally confusing for a journalistic entity to bring up such a point and just as quickly drop it.
Kay Vasilyeva claims, however, not to be confused. Six years ago, when she was a staffer on Supervisor Chris Daly's re-election campaign and Davis was a volunteer, Vasilyeva says that Davis grew “handsy,” and during a campaign bar-crawl, he then touched her beneath her clothing in an unwelcome physical advance. “It was such a shock to me he would do that to a colleague,” she says. “I was so appalled and really humiliated. I didn't want to tell people.”
Davis denies this type of encounter. “With some youthful indiscretion, I was too forward in a way that made two women feel uncomfortable,” he says. One of those women is Vasilyeva, and the other has declined to speak with SF Weekly. “This is something I apologized for,” he said regarding both instances. “I have matured a lot since then.” Davis claimed he did no more with Vasilyeva than flirt with her in front of a person he did not know to be her boyfriend. He characterized his past behavior as “overly flirtatious” and “overly persistent conversation,” stressing that “there was no physical advance.” He adds that “no one pressed charges. We're not talking about anything criminal here.”
Davis says he would be willing to take a lie-detector test. But on Friday he instead instructed attorney James Wagstaffe to send Vasilyeva a cease-and-desist letter threatening potential litigation. “The false allegations you continue to make to third parties about Mr. Davis have caused, and continue to cause, great personal and professional harm,” reads the letter. “These allegations also subject you to significant legal liability.”
Allegations of the sort Vasilyeva has made were known by Guardian management. Todd Vogt, the co-owner of the Examiner and Guardian, says, “It's been well-documented and it's widely known that Julian has had some episodes of very questionable behavior.” (Whatever concerns Vogt has about Davis, it's only fair to note the Examiner also gave him a solid endorsement. It hasn't, as of press time, reported on any questionable behavior.)
Vogt confirms that, having heard SF Weekly and another media outlet were reporting a story on Davis, he “went back” to the Guardian editors and “impressed upon them they had to disclose the information they had in a fair and balanced way.”
They didn't disclose much. The end result was the aforementioned, jarringly vague sentence. Guardian Editor and Publisher Tim Redmond says this was meant to imply no more than that, as a younger man, Davis “acted arrogant and entitled and could sometimes come off as a boorish jerk.”
SF Weekly was indeed reporting out a story. However, it was only after the Guardian endorsement that Vasilyeva agreed to speak on the record. She accuses the Guardian — and, by extension, the city's progressive establishment — of obfuscating and minimizing allegations of mistreating women.
Months earlier, Vasilyeva had privately expressed concerns regarding Davis to multiple progressive leaders. All of them, however, went on to endorse the candidate.
On Friday, Supervisor John Avalos defended his endorsement, claiming Davis told him he'd apologized for his behavior. On Saturday morning, after Davis' attorney fired off the cease-and-desist letter to Vasilyeva, both Avalos and Supervisor David Campos rescinded their endorsements of Davis.
“I don't know the specifics of what's true and what isn't. But I thought it was inappropriate that letter went out,” says Campos. “It's wrong to try to intimidate someone into not speaking their mind.” Adds Avalos: “Things happen in our lives, but you take responsibility. And I don't feel that's been the case. I felt like disassociating myself from Julian based on that.” On Monday, Redmond called to say that “until this weekend, all I was aware of about Julian Davis was a bunch of low-level rumors reaching the level of junior high school stuff. I have now become aware of some very serious allegations — stuff that, if we had known before the endorsements, we would have thought very seriously about. And I am now wondering what to do.”
The charge that progressives have a tin ear regarding women's issues is a growing concern. The restoration of Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi to office following his suspension after an incident in which he bruised his wife's arm was a progressive cause célèbre. During hearings at City Hall, Mirkarimi supporters booed when victims' advocates tried to speak about why the sheriff's admitted behavior should cost him his job. Davis is, obviously, in no way responsible for Mirkarimi's problems or the actions of his supporters. But S.F. State political science professor Jason McDaniel says voters could grow wary if progressives are perceived as valuing ideology over ideals.
“With the way they have rallied around Ross Mirkarimi, and the way some of their supporters behaved, they opened up legitimate questions about commitment to gender-equity issues,” says McDaniel. “This is the kind of issue they don't want to be on the defensive on.”
Vasilyeva, a city employee and member of the San Francisco Women's Political Committee, says she's “not out for revenge. I'm out to improve the environment in which we incubate our politicians. I am tired of women's issues being traded away for everything else in the progressive world.”