The comedian Brian Haley used to do a bit about the joys of donning a white lab coat, picking up a clipboard, and then asking restaurant diners inappropriate questions. 

Excuse me, madam. Does this taste soapy or rancid to you? 

If making strangers uncomfortable isn’t your thing, you should try this at home. You don’t even need the lab coat (though, after Halloween, you could probably pick one up for a song).

This routine feels especially germane around election day in San Francisco — which is Tuesday. Sometimes it really feels like we, the voters, are being pranked. 

And, at the same time, it feels like we’re being experimented on. This coming election is no exception. 

Just how rancid do things have to get before voters object? 

The locus in quo: 148-152 Fillmore Street, where Vallie Brown and three friends evicted several low-income African American tenants.

In recent years, it feels like some boundaries have been tested to establish voters’ tolerance for soapy, rancid fare. 

Would San Francisco voters support a candidate for supervisor who moved to the city only months before the election? No, as it turns out — but the city’s establishment did. 

Would San Francisco voters support a candidate for school board with well-documented noxious views on LGBTQ issues, who partnered with deeply homophobic organizations in an attempt to repeal LGBTQ-friendly legislation — and who described herself as a “progressive” despite urging San Franciscans to vote a straight Republican ticket as recently as 2012? No, as it turns out — but the city’s establishment did. 

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Tomorrow, District 5 voters will be asked to choose between Supervisor Vallie Brown and challenger Dean Preston. There are plenty of reasons to vote for either. Or against either; neither of these candidates descended from Mt. Sinai to stump in D5.

And yet it was Brown who, in 1994, evicted low-income black tenants, including a child, into near homelessness. 

That’s a long time ago. Cities change, people change, and much has transpired since. But it was in the present day that Brown claimed the tenants were deadbeats who were not paying rent and hadn’t been for years. And that’s demonstrably false

Brown also claimed that the people she and three friends evicted are, in actuality, unthinking pawns thrown at her by her enemies: “Unfortunately, the story that’s out there is full of misinformation and basic lies,” she wrote to a constituent. “It’s a political hit, taken from the Trump playbook. It’s outrageous my opponent and his allies are once again using vulnerable people to attack me.”

It’s quite the one-two punch to claim — falsely — that the tenants you evicted were freeloaders, and then follow up by claiming — also falsely — that they’re unthinking rubes who are being manipulated.  

The idea that these low-income black people have no initiative and no agency — that they’re being “exploited,” as Brown’s attorney put it in an apology letter (!) — is more than a little offensive. 

It certainly is to them. 

“That’s a lie. Ain’t nobody asked me to do nothing,” said Mary Packer, whom Brown evicted in 1994. “I called Dean Preston’s office. I called [lawyer Robert De Vries]. I do have five senses; I’m not a dumb black woman. I did it on my own: Me, myself and I.” 

It’s a cruel thought, but perhaps if so many African American tenants hadn’t already been expelled from District 5, this incident would resonate more with its present-day residents.

It remains to be seen what voters will make of Brown’s 25-year-old eviction and present-day dragging of those she evicted.

DA candidates, from left: Chesa Boudin, Leif Dautch, Suzy Loftus and Nancy Tung. Moderator Joe Eskenazi is in the center.

Voters will, tomorrow, also decide San Francisco’s next District Attorney: Alameda County Deputy DA Nancy Tung; Interim San Francisco DA Suzy Loftus; Deputy Attorney General Leif Dautch; or Deputy Public Defender Chesa Boudin. 

This race, which was figuring to be the first open DA’s race in more than a century, was upended when erstwhile DA George Gascón abandoned his post to go run for DA in Los Angeles. 

That was bizarre and uncalled for — and beget more bizarre and uncalled-for moves. To wit: Within hours, Mayor London Breed announced she would place her preferred candidate, Suzy Loftus, in the post some two weeks before election day, and with  mail ballots just arriving at voters’ homes. 

Let’s be frank: There is no credible reason to do this, other than to gin up name recognition in a race internal polling revealed to be a dead heat — with negligible name recognition for any of the candidates. 

Loftus has kept busy attacking politically sensitive subjects in the ensuing weeks; reporters have received so many releases from her press secretary, we’re beginning to worry he’ll come down with carpal tunnel. 

At the same time, a cavalcade of cash — more than $650,000 so far — has poured in from the Police Officers Association and other law-enforcement outfits to both bolster Loftus and blast leftist DA candidate Chesa Boudin.

This has come mainly via mailers and TV ads that feel as if they were ghostwritten by Travis Bickle.

When asked at a recent Mission Local-moderated debate if she would welcome the POA’s support, Loftus replied, “With deep respect for the work officers do, I did not seek, nor do I welcome, the POA’s endorsement in this race.”

That’s fair and true — and I have, personally, sat across the table from POA leaders and heard them denigrate Loftus and belittle the use-of-force reforms she subsequently helped ram down their throats. But, thanks to Independent Expenditure committees — over which a candidate has no control — Loftus has no say over who wants to, suddenly, be her new friend. And, with hundreds of thousands of dollars flowing into the race in short order, who needs an endorsement?

If Loftus had moved here six months ago and was unqualified for the position, the mayor’s heavy-handed move (and all that followed) would, at least, be more understandable. But that’s not the case. She’s a lifer. She’s qualified. She’s a solid candidate. 

But now voters are forced to balance her decades-long career against this crass political flex. And, if they opt to respect the former, they are sanctifying the latter. 

It’s a shame things have to be this way. Because that leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth. A rancid one, even. 

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Managing Editor/Columnist. 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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  1. Is this an election? Or even an example of democracy?

    In grade school there was a common theme to illustrate how evil communists were by the nature of their so called “elections”. Either one nominee for a position or a limited choice of party approved candidates.
    Now, I’ve never seen a Soviet ballot but the ongoing nature one party rule seems to confirm elections were just a farcical show.

    Switch to our land of the free current SF ballot.
    One “Candidates” (the ballot guide uses the plural) for
    City Attorney
    Public Defender
    Community College Board

    Running unopposed with token opposition:

    Board of Education?
    One overwhelming Party endorsed nominee with a couple of no-names.

    Blame our one party politburo overlords?
    Blame the Republican Party.
    As the only other viable political entity in our two party system they’ve abandoned a reasonable middle of the road course and hitched their wagon to ride the let’s go insane trail. Even a singular reasonable Republican candidate stands no chance due to guilt by association.

    And so we go on towards the eventual destination:
    A kind of urban Carmel-by-the-Sea with pockets of entitled non-millionaires lucky (or have an inside track) to squeeze their way into “affordable” housing surrounded by a permanent population of the un-housed.

    Goodbye groovy San Francisco.

    1. Once we go San-Francisco-by-the-Sea we’ll start removing the un-housed. It’s the end goal for Nimby’s, and the homed Progressives aren’t that upset about it either.

  2. Comparing any of the current candidates to Zhao is hyperbolic and sensationalistic. Nor are any carpetbaggers like Ho was.

    Look, here were my votes for DA: Tung, Dautch, Loftus. I left Boudin out because I believe that a DA should be interested in prosecuting crimes. He might make a good public defender in the future, or a legislator. But not the head of law enforcement for our city. If I still lived in D5 I would still have voted for Brown. Preston’s best civic role would be to keep contributing his inherited wealth to Tenant’s Together. Or funding the construction of new affordable apartment buildings.

    Neither Preston or Boudin is hurting for campaign funds this year. Both have plenty of IE support, as well as opposition. So save the moralizing. If you want to campaign, start your own PAC, don’t do it through a 501(c)(3).

    1. Sir —

      Thanks for telling me not to campaign on our 501(c)(3) while, explicitly, campaigning on our 501 (c)(3).

      It’s not my job to tell you how to vote. It’s my job to report on the comportment of the candidates and the issues at hand. Go back and re-read the stories about the D5 vote in 2012 if you think I’m being political.



      1. I’m not the one taking (and spending) tax-deductible donation money. As such, your “comportment” article here is, how does another news org describe it, oh yeah: “fair and balanced”. Just because you don’t recognize your biases doesn’t mean they do not exist.

      2. Joe,

        Thanks for the best election coverage as usual.

        I was really surprised at how light the ballot was,

        Just 2 light sheets.

        Voted up street at, I believe, St. Francis Senior Facility.

        Lovely garden.

        Go Niners!


  3. Say what you will, the very extreme left-wing candidates, Preston and Boudin, will be major disasters disasters for The City if elected. Preston, a self described socialist, who doesn’t believe in the right to own and control private property and obviously believes profit is evil and property is theft will lead a movement to Venezuelaize San Francisco. Boudin puts the criminals ahead of the victims. He has said he will not prosecute many criminals. Drunk drivers will have to hit somebody or something for him to get them off the streets. It’s past time for SF voters to wake up. Left-wing one party rule is not working. Look at the streets. Look at the bloated budget compared to other major cities. Etc, etc., etc.

    1. Venezuelaize San Francisco? I bet climate change will Venezuelaize the City long before Mr. Preston. But I like it — Trumpian Brown v. Hugo Chavez Preston. A good race to watch. Even if the Dems nominate Biden, Trump will be running against Chavez.

      1. @Kim – Howard Epstein is the head of communications for the S.F.G.O.P. “Communications” appears to mean parroting nonsense from Fox News and Breitbart.