This man, and perhaps nine or more others, was handing out Josephine Zhao campaign literature at Saturday's SFUSD enrollment fair — despite the candidate's ostensible withdrawal from the Board of Education race. The canvassers were descried as working in shifts.

Ten or more canvassers, purportedly working in shifts, urged attendees at Saturday’s public school enrollment fair at the Mission’s John O’Connell High School to vote Josephine Zhao onto the school board.

This occurred in spite of the candidate’s well-publicized “withdrawal” from the race in early September, after revelations that she sent Chinese- and English-language supporters conflicting messages, and had impugned her fellow candidates as “two transgender candidates … fighting for the title of ‘first transgender commissioner’ … There are also three homosexuals. Their highest priority for education would be to spread ideologies.”

Public school parents, however, were purportedly told by the canvassers to vote for Zhao anyway, as “she’s still on the ballot.” This is true; Zhao’s “withdrawal” came at too late a date to remove her from the running for November’s election. Event attendees were also allegedly told they should vote for Zhao because “the Chinese community needs her.” This, of course, is a more subjective matter.

Multiple attendees said the Zhao canvassers, who were described as older Asian men and women, were organized and working in shifts, and handing out English-language campaign material (the flier, obtained by Mission Local, describes Zhao’s impoverished upbringing in China and her hard work since arriving in the United States 30 years ago at age 19; it is labeled “Immigrant Story Part I” in its upper right-hand corner). 

Several parents in attendance told us the Zhao canvassers did all of this within John O’Connell High School at the voter-rich enrollment fair — a transgression of rules every other candidate or their backers respected.  

Reached via e-mail, Zhao wrote, “I had nothing to do with the canvassers over the weekend. My supporters have taken it upon themselves to support my former candidacy and to support having Chinese representation on the school board. They must still [have] had literature from several months ago. Please contact them directly if you want further details.”

She did not answer our question of whether she would serve if elected.

District 6 supervisor candidate Christine Johnson, District 2 Supe Catherine Stefani and Sheriff Vicki Hennessy have publicly dropped their support of Zhao, but her marquee endorsers — including Mayor London Breed, Sen. Scott Wiener, Assemblyman David Chiu, former supervisor and Assemblywoman Fiona Ma — have not yet done so, despite several of them counseling her out of the race.

One day prior to her canvassers showing up at the Oct. 13 enrollment fair, Zhao commented via her “Josephine Zhao for School Board 2018” Facebook page for the first time since her Sept. 10 “withdrawal.” In her brief post, Zhao praised an article written by an LGBT Chinese woman who salvaged her relationship with her parents thanks, in part, to Zhao. “I am committed to be an ally of LGBTQ community and agent to bring the immigrant community forward,” Zhao wrote on her campaign Facebook page.  

Multiple city politicos have reported Zhao’s storefront campaign signs have been refreshed, even since her Sept. 10 withdrawal.

Zhao, in 2013, joined with reactionary, anti-LGBT groups to protest the state’s proposed gender-neutral bathroom bill, AB 1266. This is something left-leaning opponents have tossed back at Zhao and her allies through the years, and she has issued apologies. Mission Local, however, was able to document that Zhao has, repeatedly, downplayed the extent to which she was involved in the effort to undo AB 1266, helping to circulate and collect a petition put out by the Pacific Justice Institute — which is described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “an anti-LGBT hate group.”

Via the WeChat Chinese-language messaging system, Zhao communicated with scads of followers. She filled hundreds of paid spots on Wiener’s 2016 state senate campaign, while attacking his opponent, Jane Kim, as a “homewrecker/career-wrecker.” Zhao in 2016 also referred to supervisor candidate Sandra Lee Fewer, who was running against Marjan Philhour for the District 1 seat, as “Chinese trash” and a “race-traitor.”

This 2016 WeChat from Josephine Zhao reads “Chinese Trash Sandy Lee Fewer really doesn’t deserve to be in politics, if she became Supervisor she is not only hurting our kids but also our families. Before passing these policies she didn’t listen to Chinese voices, after they passed she said we misunderstood. What a race-traitor. It is impossible to change these policies now. Hope everyone can pull parents of Richmond schools like George Washington, Presidio, Argonne into the group, so they can see the truth.”

The Examiner documented Zhao, via WeChat, sending her core Chinese-language supporters different messages than what she communicated in English.  

Cantonese speakers have told Mission Local that WeChat users have, since Zhao’s ostensible withdrawal, urged users of the service to vote for her regardless. The volume and fervency of those messages, we are told, has increased of late, with Zhao’s supporters allegedly even calling for some manner of press conference this weekend, to urge the community to support her in the coming election and spur her to run.

Even with Mayor Breed’s appointment of Faauuga Moliga to a vacant school board seat, there are still 19 candidates on the ballot running for three spots — with no incumbent other than Moliga, who is still running in November’s race.

This WeChat, sent on Monday, Oct. 15, calls for a weekend press event featuring at least 100 Zhao-backers, to show support for her and urge her to run.

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Joe was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left.

“Your humble narrator” was a writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015, and a senior editor at San Francisco Magazine from 2015 to 2017. You may also have read his work in the Guardian (U.S. and U.K.); San Francisco Public Press; San Francisco Chronicle; San Francisco Examiner; Dallas Morning News; and elsewhere.

He resides in the Excelsior with his wife and three (!) kids, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

The Northern California branch of the Society of Professional Journalists named Eskenazi the 2019 Journalist of the Year.

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31 Comments

  1. This is why we really need Chinese representation in the school board, because the translation for the Wechat is very inaccurate in this article. Looks like your publication needs more Chinese representation as well! We, as San Franciscans, claim that we love immigrants, but why do we hate Chinese Americans so much?

    1. Jing —

      The translations were provided to us by no fewer than 11 different Cantonese speakers, but why don’t you add your own $0.02?

      Best,

      JE

      1. 华人败类 – literally translated into English as “Chinese loser kind”, means Chinese losers. 汉奸走狗, means “sellouts”. I agree with her that Sandra Lee Fewer was quite a loser when she sold out the Chinese community on the 8th grade algebra/Math issue.

        意识形态 means fluffy ideas. She was saying some candidates had fluffy ideas. After watching a few debates, I agree with her.

        We need someone like Josephine who had proposed solid actions. I am more interested in her point of view in education than bathrooms. #iamstillwithher

        1. Jing —

          I put this in front of half a dozen more translators and it’s clear to me that you are prevaricating.

          The first phrase could, if one was so inclined, be loosely translated as “loser kind,” but the intimation is “trash,” “rotten,” “bottom-feeder,” “scum,” “a rascal,” “a fallen person,” “lowest-common-denominator.”

          You are being misleading on the second phrase. It does not merely mean “sellout,” it translates as “traitor to the Han,” the dominant ethnicity in China (it also incorporates the word “dog” in an unflattering way). This is a nationalistic phrase associated with Japanese collaborators during World War II; the intention in using it would be unmistakable for a Chinese audience.

          Finally, multiple translators said the final phrase does not mean “fluffy ideas” but the more general “ideology.” This was used in Zhao’s comment about homosexual candidates “spreading ideologies.” But, even if it did mean “fluffy ideas,” Zhao would have been singling out these candidates because of their sexuality; “homosexuals spreading fluffy ideas” doesn’t sound much better to me.

          You can vote for whomever you wish. That’s your right. You’re entitled to your own opinions. Not your own facts.

          Best,

          JE

          1. “Half a dozen or more” or “no fewer than 11”? Those are quotes from your comments above. Your story changes from one day to the next. Certainly if you had Chinese speakers translate who would know their names and, therefore, exactly how many provided assistance. After all, you are trying to refute a claim. An unknown number of anonymous people is not much help to your assertion. It seems like it is you who is the prevaricating.

          2. Don —

            For the big stories, I have had now more than a dozen translators. I keep finding more. For this one comment made by one person, I ran it by most of them, and some were able to get back to me in short notice.

            The translations are accurate. There is no issue here.

            Thanks for the advice, but we’re fine.

            JE

          3. I agree with Jing. #imstillwithher. We need strong leaders who can stand up for us as well as parent community in general.

        2. Jing Lee, you should try stepping outside your own immigrant community for a second and look at the big picture. Fewer didn’t sell out the Chinese. By delaying math education she sold out everyone who strives for excellence, not just the Chinese. Get out of your tribal mentality unless you want to associate yourself with the very identity politics that led to dumbing down education in the first place.

    1. Why do immigrant children need representation? What are the learning needs that place them above the US residents? I am asking the questions as a parent, I was active in pre-school co-ops, visiting parent duties at Lakeshore, fund raising at Lakeshore, AP Giannini, Herbert Hoover and School of the Arts, not to mention all the Parent Teacher nights etc. Every year we fought to get our sons placed at summer camps offered through SF Park n Rec. I never saw any racial group get preference. Living on the eastern side of SF, our sons developed friendships with many children of immigrants, as that was the truth of owning a residence in 94124(in the 1990’s). 80% of the students at the schools I mentioned lived nearby and my kids commuted and still had to socialize and GROW UP. My spouse and I worked out a schedule and we both worked locally. It never mattered. We have fine children, one graduated from Cal.

      For my 2 cents, the immigrants are getting misinformation about schools in SF.

  2. This is not helpful.

    From reading WeChat groups, it seems that Josephine Zhao has kept silence since her withdrawal, except some occasional informational announcements on seminars and community meetings. She has not disclosed what led her, a former front runner in the November race and a popular figure in the Chinese community, to withdraw from the School Board election. KTSF said she had not responded to any question or interview request.

    Different from before, she has not discussed her feelings in her fans groups either. She used to answer everyone’s question, share information she knew, and give a helping hand when she could – that’s why she was popular for many but also too much for some. But she has changed since the withdrawal, very quiet.

    From what I have heard, her followers were puzzled about her change and some lost trust in her. Even if her name is on the ballot, many said they were not going to vote for her because she seems weak and not worthy of the vote.

    But recently, it seems her strongest supporters have time to figure out what had happened, and they are getting self organized. Thus the increasingly feverish chats. Her supporters know well how to organize.

    In my opinion, this piece is not timely. Not only does it hits her but also her supporters. it stirred up the pot and will enrage more of her followers to drum up the lost votes.

    1. Emily —

      The piece is “timely” because 10-odd canvassers campaigned around — and in — John O’Connell High on Saturday in broad daylight. You’d never know Zhao had “withdrawn,” if you weren’t an avid consumer of the news and, when asked about this, her backers urged people to vote for her anyway.

      Ms. Zhao could, if she chose, disavow the behavior of her backers and, crucially, answer the question of whether she will serve if elected.

      She has not.

      Best,

      JE

      1. Joe, it is quite obvious Zhao will serve if elected, otherwise, she would have already said she would not. It’s an election, Joe. She has every right to serve if elected. Since when have dirty tricks invalidated a candidacy? I don’t believe anything Zhao has to say and clearly neither do you and for good reason. Whether some supporters are out canvassing for her with or without her approval is hardly a scoop. By the way, Joe, you don’t really believe the partisan Soros-funded Southern Poverty Law Center, do you? It ‘s a political smear factory, though I understand progressives put in them a great deal of stock.

          1. That’s not the point. I think you know that. Maybe you should be leaving your comments on Der Stürmer, and not here.

            Best,

            JE

          2. What you’re actually saying is that if I point out your error I must be a Nazi. Got it.
            So what is the point? You’re the reporter. You referenced the SPLC and I corrected your inaccuracy. Why don’t you just say it. You don’t want comments that you disagree with or worse, embarrass you. Everyone makes mistakes, Joe. Please correct me if I’m wrong.Now I need to go back to my activiies here at the Third Reich.

          3. No. You are prevaricating. Pointing out something is “Soros-funded” as a pejoritive is a dog whistle. We both know this. There was no innacuracy here, you didn’t point out any “error.” I was questioning why you’d bring that up at all.

            You can do what you like. If you see fit to disseminate anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, you can do it elsewhere.

            Best,

            JE

          4. Joe, so you are saying that no one can say the words “Soros-funded” whether its true or not because that would be a dog-whistle?
            I brought it up because you referenced SPLC in the context of Pacific Justice Center, a right wing outfit. They represent clients on various civil rights issues unlike what you claimed. Now are you going to ban me or not? I realize I have no 1st Amendment right to comment on this site, but some people do take the comment section as a place to express opinion in the spirit if not the letter of free speech.

        1. Sir or madam —

          With all due respect, read the articles.

          Furthermore, Ms. Zhao’s refusal to publicly state whether or not she will serve if elected is disingenuous. This is an easy question.

          JE

    2. We are organizing without Josephine. She had taught us well in the past. Our leader Josephine has gone quiet but that doesn’t stop us from carrying her torch forward.

  3. I’m more interested in Josephine’s views on classrooms than bathrooms. I’m not against transgender bathrooms, but SFUSD is a failing school district with the highest achievement gap among urban districts in CA. That so many want to make this the burning issue tells me all I need to know about the priorities of the progressive establishment.

    1. How is Josephine going to close that gap, Don? The Chinese immigrant community is already devoted to their children’s scholastic success. The “at-risk students” population is NOT of Chinese descent. Josephine will help the at-risk students? That’s a laugh. She’s pandering to the largest base she has; using inflammatory language; scaring those parents, in order to close the deal. She is power mad.

      1. That might be, Winston. But no more power mad than others. She started off pushing for reinstating 8th grade Algebra, a policy I support on the basis that, under the current delayed sequence, depriving students of the opportunity to advance is wrong on its face even if it were true that it helps others, which it doesn’t. But as time went on Zhao backed off that position knowing, I suspect, the political calculus didn’t work in her favor.
        I won’t demean her with the language you used, Winston. What I will say is that debates would only have highlighted her rather contradictory musings on transgender bathrooms. Bowing out may have been a ploy and I’m being polite. OTOH, it isn’t easy for people coming from a traditional background to change their ways and maybe she did. Her opponents would have bashed her anyway as the front runner. I don’t believe what any of them say nor do I particularly care about their bathroom policies. Progressives will do anything to avoid discussing the abysmal failure of their education policies including discussing what bathroom students should use.

    2. The “achievement gap” as more to do with the demographics and economics of SF than the SFUSD.

      With such a wide wealth gap, it would take extraordinary measures – probably illegal – to get even half-way toward bring up those students who underachieve. Without the commitment of families to further their children education – and expecting the School Board to become parents (providing food, housing, AND educational catch-up) to those failing children, closing that ‘achievement gap’ is almost impossible.

      1. The Chinese and Asian communities are at 50% low incomes, and 1/3 or higher as English Learners. Explain their children’s achievement!

        It’s about parents obsession in believing education can change life paths.

  4. So, the fact that SFUSD places students into Algebra 2 that don’t pass Alg.1 is not their fault, nor using inadequate math textbooks that fail to meet the standard of a text nor failing to provide any effective discipline at schools nor spending a disproportionate amount of the budget to remediate without benefit, and on and on and on…..none of it is SFUSD’s fault. What exactly are we paying the district for, only central office paid custodians? None of this prevents SFUSD from claiming it is among the best districts when it has the worst achieve!ent gap, which by the way is the expressed foremost mission of the district to solve. I will agree that it is a tough slog to fix, but SFUSD has not only not fixed it, they have only made it worse via their ill-advised loony-tune policies.

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