Ron Conway brokered intro between London Breed and Bill de Blasio — 3 days after Ed Lee’s death

Ron Conway in September, 2013. Photo by JD Lasica (Flickr)

“London, Mayor Deblasio # is [REDACTED]. Bill, London’s # is [REDACTED],” reads e-mail from VC and mega donor


Ron Conway earlier this month told the Chronicle he’s just too busy to get involved in this year’s mayoral election

“I agree that the mayor’s race in San Francisco is important,” the tech titan explained to the paper of record, “but there are national issues right now that superseded that, and I’m spending all of my time on those issues.”

Well, not all of his time. Documents obtained by Mission Local via a public records request demonstrate that Conway is indeed involved in this campaign, backing his preferred candidate, London Breed — and has been from very nearly the moment Lee unexpectedly died.  

“Gayle and I loved spending time with you and your lovely wife at Gracie Mansion Wednesday and reminiscing about the Great Ed Lee,” Conway e-mailed New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on Friday, Dec. 15.

Lee had died on Tuesday, Dec. 12. And Conway had wasted little time talking up Breed, Lee’s successor, to his host.

“I wanted to intro you to London Breed (the great woman we discussed) who is Acting Mayor and soon to be the interim Mayor until the election next June,” Conway continued in the e-mail, which was also sent to Breed and P.J. Johnston, the former Willie Brown spokesman who is now a Breed adviser.

“I’m sure London will be attending the Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 24, 2018, and I wanted to connect you so you can set up a face to face meeting. I wanted to connect you so we can continue the great tradition of partnership of East coast and West coast Mayors.”

Conway then provided each mayor with the other’s phone number: “London, Mayor Deblasio # is [REDACTED]. Bill, London’s # is [REDACTED].” (Information such as phone numbers was scrubbed from these e-mails before they were turned over to Mission Local).

Breed, of course, did not attend that conference on Jan. 24. By then she was no longer mayor, an eventuality Conway unsuccessfully attempted to head off. “I talked to Mark [Farrell] last night at the reception and he was very noncommittal, hence request to meet in person today,” Conway on Dec. 18 e-mailed Breed, P.J. Johnston and Conor Johnston, Breed’s former chief-of-staff turned consultant.

Farrell had good reason to be noncommittal when Conway lobbied him to back Breed. On Jan. 23, he was elected mayor by six of his colleagues in an acrimonious City Hall power play.  Progressive legislators, in fact, used Conway’s overreaching and his alleged behind-the-scenes arm-twisting for Breed as a rationale to dump her. Supervisor Hillary Ronen, in fact, accused Conway of extorting her colleagues in a speech she made, on the record, during a board meeting — which is pretty amazing, when you think about it.

Meanwhile, in the weekend between the two e-mails above, Conway purportedly stumped for Breed during Lee’s private funeral, literally over the former mayor’s dead body.

Conway’s efforts to introduce Breed and de Blasio weren’t entirely misspent, however. One day after her ouster from the mayor’s office, an op-ed under both of their bylines appeared in the Examiner, urging fossil-fuel divestment.   

At the conclusion of the editorial, de Blasio was credited as the Mayor of New York City. Breed was listed as the president of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors.

City progressives are, unsubtly, attempting to portray Conway as the living embodiment of runaway tech wealth and entitlement in this city and lash him around Breed’s neck like a billionaire albatross.

This can grow repetitive and tiresome but, you must admit, Conway plays the part. No individual in recent years has put more money into San Francisco politics. And, per the usual, he has invested wisely. To take just one example, Conway’s tight relationship with Lee-enabled Airbnb, which he backed early, has thrived for years as a more-or-less criminal enterprise, and raked in great heaps of cash.

This was not subtle. But Conway is not a subtle person. To wit, some of the city’s most reliable donors in April 2015 found themselves summoned by Lee to a meeting at the Hanson Bridgett law firm for what they expected was a standard plea for campaign dollars.

It was not. Instead, they found themselves being glared at by Lee, his chief of staff Steve Kawa, Conway and Tony Winnicker — then a Lee operative, now filling a similar role for Conway.  

Multiple sources recalled that the gathered big shots were essentially told that anyone who donated money to supervisorial aspirant Aaron Peskin and not Lee appointee Julie Christensen could expect blowback when attempting to do quotidian business in the city. This is, again, unsubtle: “I was being threatened,” as one told me. Then Conway started talking, and things grew strange.

Numerous witnesses recount Conway offering to donate to their preferred causes if they would pony up for Christensen — offerings that would help keep Conway’s fingerprints off the District 3 supervisorial race.

Among those on the invite list that day: Both Breed and Farrell.

This is an election of firsts — we will have our first African American female mayor, our first Asian-American female mayor, or our first openly gay mayor — but it’s jarring, even insulting, how similar this year’s script is.

Once again, we’re seeing bizarre campaign endorsements of Conway’s preferred candidate from random celebrities and musicians with ties to Conway. Once again, an independent expenditure committee targeting those who stand in the way of women’s issues has popped up, and is being run by some of the same Conway apparatchiks.

It remains to be seen if Conway sticks to what he told the Chronicle about giving his $500 max donation to Breed and bowing out. He apparently failed to mention the fund-raising pitch for her he fired off on Jan. 16, blanketing inboxes throughout the realm with pleas for $500 max donations. And, if Conway chooses to start moving around his money, election watchers have their eyes on the same Political Action Committees and Democratic clubs his money has flowed to so generously in the past.

These donations can be difficult to parse, as like-minded entities tend to funnel funds from one to the other, obscuring their origins. Those origins can be further muddied if, perchance, someone pulls off a backfilling scheme like the one Conway had little compunction announcing in front of a crowded room of this city’s politicians and donor class.

Breed’s opponents have decried this state of affairs. But it remains to be seen if San Francisco voters give a damn about who’s funding whom, and how much.

Conway’s record with investments speaks for itself. Come June, we’ll see who wins this bet.

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16 Comments

  1. Tim

    Joe, are you writing news stories or opinion pieces? It seems like a weird mash-up of both.

    • Joe Eskenazi Post author

      Sir, that weird mash-up would be the “reported column,” which is what I primarily do here at ML. Sometimes I do write breaking news and, at times like those, I try to keep it pretty straight.

      You can always tell whether it’s a column or a straight news story depending upon whether there are dropcaps (the big letters) separating the paragraph breaks.

      • Joe Eskenazi Post author

        I’m the columnist, Chirag. It’s not a role I invented. As noted, these are reported columns, which is a distinction from other forms.

      • Tim

        Thanks for the clarification. Perhaps Mission Local can do a bit more to clarify the pieces than the use of dropcaps. I don’t think that’s a convention that’s well-known to either the experienced nor inexperienced news reader.

        • Joe Eskenazi Post author

          Tim —

          It’s a fair ask. We can only do so much with the graphic interface we’ve got, but I’ll brainstorm ways to clarify these sorts of things.

          • Joel

            Not much to brainstorm — you can label the piece “opinion” if it’s an opinion piece like any other reputable publication.

          • Joe Eskenazi Post author

            You seem to be awfully hung up on some very ancillary details. Go through all the reported points in the column and tell me what doesn’t equate. I did not invent the concept of a reported column and I have enough respect for my readership that I think they understand the concept of a reported column. I suppose we could put in a one-word header that says “column.” But you can’t ignore or disregard the salient, reported facts of this piece because it’s a “column.”

            Best,

            JE

      • Zoidberg

        Your publication is bad and you should feel bad.

      • Patti Solomon

        Thank GOD you are finally telling the truth about London’s camp….again check out the company..Ground Floor..Alex Tourk..see his clients…then you will see who will be showing up to help London..it’s all done with an undercurrent..but justice will prevail..and THE TRUTH ALWAYS COMES OUT.

  2. Joe, I find you to be an excellent writer and one important to advancing dialogue and discussion in this City. Your knowledge of local politics, both behind the scenes and within/among the scenes themselves, are impressive and important to someone that no longer lives in SF but still cares greatly about its seemingly perilous future. Let the trolls troll, and continue shining a light on the Ways of the Con of Conway, Ron.

  3. Patrick Valentino

    With due respect to the writer and the paper, both of which i like, I believe this level of reporting is a distraction from what voters should be focusing on. First, we have three pretty good leading candidates for Mayor. You may not like one, but SF will not be at some major loss if your candidate doesn’t win. I wish the Press would focus on how each will perform on the major policy areas affecting the life of San Franciscans. What are their priorities? What are their goals and how do they plan to achieve it. Which one has shown ability to get legislation through the governing body? How do they govern? How do they relate to their constituents? Which Candidate’s plan do you like for solving homeless, cleaning street, improving transit, building affordable housing, increasing safety? Most voters are not insiders, so reading a short story in the paper that doesn’t address the foregoing is a distraction. but I guess that is San Francisco politics. I seriously recommend focusing on the debates, and their written statements and if you have personal interactions with a candidate or know them or know them through friends and colleagues. Do people like working for that candidate in their current role? Go to events and meet the candidates and ignore the noise like whether Ron Conway had a meeting or whatever and who knows an out of town Mayor. None of that has to do with how a mayor will help the homeless or create affordable housing (and please don’t say the foregoing is naive to SF politics; actually its because when you step back for a bit you realize how much time is wasted with Democrat v Democrat; its like left liberal v more left liberal. Of which I fall in the middle)

    • Joe Eskenazi Post author

      I appreciate the the thought put into this response. But, in a nutshell, none of the priorities you mentioned exists in a vacuum. They are all potentially affected, even undermined, by the influence and input of a major backer (individual or group).

      All of the things you mentioned are good for voters to do. I would add: Follow the money.

  4. Michael Nolan

    Great piece of journalism, Joe. I’m grateful Bob Mueller is following the flow of Russian and UAE money into the Trump campaign.

  5. marc salomon

    Hey Joe, looks like this piece got Quentin Kopp’s attention and then some traction for a hearing with possible subpoenas at the Ethics Commission.

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