Multiple activists and one member of the Redistricting Task Force have said that task force Chair Rev. Arnold Townsend confided in them that he has been under intense pressure from outside forces to vote in favor of the present controversial district map.
“I had a conversation on Saturday with the chair where he discussed the pressure he is feeling around the Potrero Hill and Portola vote,” said task force member Raynell Cooper. “He suggested that pressure was due to a longstanding friendship and relationship with the mayor.”
The current draft map, approved on Sunday after four members of the task force walked out over concerns about the transparency of the redistricting process, controversially includes Portola in District 10, Potrero Hill in District 9, and splits the Tenderloin into District 5.
Cheryl Thornton, an activist who also works for the Department of Public Health, showed Mission Local a text exchange with Townsend. In it, Townsend sends Thornton a text at 9:52 p.m. on Friday, April 8: “If you see me stand up, meet me outside.”
A while later, she said, Townsend stood up and the two met. Thornton did not record the exchange because doing so would have been illegal, but she recounted it to Mission Local.
Townsend told her that the decision to swap Potrero Hill and heavily Asian Portola would be coming up again, and she would not be happy with his vote.
Townsend, Thornton said, explained that he had no choice but to vote for this proposition. Townsend allegedly mentioned that Mayor London Breed does not get along with District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton.
The final draft map being proposed creates an Asian majority in District 10, a Black stronghold — and puts the African American Walton in a more vulnerable position.
The next text exchange is from early Sunday morning. Matthew Castillon, a mayoral appointee on the task force, had just proposed voting on a map that put Potrero into District 9, Portola into District 10, and moved the Tenderloin out of District 6 and into District 5. Townsend voted to accept the map, disliked by Thornton and others who spoke at public comment, but it was voted down 5–4, with Townsend in the minority.
In the text exchange, Townsend refers to Thornton and other activists winning while he managed to keep his “commitment.”
“You got what you needed and I kept my commitment,” he wrote after that vote. Just minutes later, however, around 1:30 a.m., Townsend called for a recess.
“Excuse me,” Townsend said. “ Why don’t we move our cars? Come back. Pull up whatever you want to pull up. Get a chance to think and talk for a minute and then we’ll come back.”
The recess lasted half an hour.
When task force members returned, Vice-Chair Ditka Reiner, who had voted with the majority against the map that would put Portola in D10 and Potrero Hill in D9, said that she had erred and had been confused about what she had been voting on.
The task force re-ran the vote. This time around, the map that puts Portola in D10 and Potrero in D9 won, in a 5-4 vote.
Task force member J. Michelle Pierce has said there was no way Reiner was “confused.” Clerk John Carroll had asked for the motion to be clarified immediately before the initial vote, and Reiner made detailed explanations of why she voted the way she did prior to the recess. Pierce adds that Reiner received a phone call as she left chambers.
Reiner, Townsend and Breed have not responded to attempts to reach them.
Raquel Redondiez, director of SOMA Pilipinas, also spoke with Townsend in the days before the controversial vote. Townsend, she said, told her that he had to take another “bad vote.”
According to Redondiez, Townsend added that he was going to “catch hell” if the vote went another way.
“The people who had been telling him behind the scenes to put Tenderloin in District 5 had not shown up,” said Redondiez. She said Townsend felt he had been “hung out to dry” because there had been insufficient support in public comments for moving the neighborhood, yet he was still expected to vote that way.
“He is clearly not acting independently,” she said.
Although Townsend twice voted in favor of the map that puts Portola into D10 and Potrero Hill into D9, he did not appear happy with the outcome.
After the re-vote was taken early Sunday morning and the controversial map won, Pierce referred to the approved map as “ethnic suicide,” before walking out of the proceedings.
Townsend, who voted for that map, responded, “I tend to agree with you.”
At that point, with four members of the task force gone, Townsend and others appeared unsure what to do. Chasel Lee, clearly frustrated despite having voted for the map, said that it “should have stayed failed.”
Townsend agreed: “Damn right, it should have.”
Nonetheless, Townsend, Lee, and the three remaining members continued to meet and approved the map that Townsend and Lee said “should have stayed failed.” As it stands, only small tweaks can be made to the map.
Thornton said that she was so angry, she stopped talking with Townsend. She has heard since that he has been deluged with calls from the Black community and is considering rescinding his vote. But that was only a supposition, she clarified.
“This isn’t what I signed up for,” Cooper told Mission Local. “And I’m sure it’s not what [Townsend] signed up for either.”
Townsend has publicly stated that he did not seek out his appointment. He was appointed to the task force by Mayor London Breed.
The task force’s meeting to approve the final map is currently ongoing, but chair Townsend has proposed extending the deadline by two more meetings. Deputy City Attorney Ana Flores has said that it would be illegal to miss the 11:59 p.m. Thursday deadline.
Data from the Redistricting Task Force.