“You are spineless. You are sellouts.”
“I had been duped this whole time.”
“Bought and paid for.”
These accusations have been leveled against members of the Redistricting Task Force — by other members of the Redistricting Task Force. Respectively, they emanate from members Chema Hernández Gil, Jeremy Lee, Raynell Cooper, and J. Michelle Pierce. And they were made publicly yesterday, after those four members walked out of the redistricting meeting’s final major mapping meeting.
When the Redistricting Task Force gathers at 5:30 p.m. today, these four members will return. But they will do so after some of them publicly accused fellow board members of being complicit in “selling out” the process’ independence.
And member Pierce has additionally suggested that task force vice chair Ditka Reiner misled her colleagues regarding her rationale for flipping a pivotal vote early Sunday morning, the incident that triggered the walkout.
Initially, Reiner voted against a motion that would put Potrero Hill in District 9 and the Portola in District 10. These district changes had not been floated in recent draft maps, and did not receive public comment before their approval.
Along with four other members, Reiner defeated the motion. She went on to explain her rationale.
“This decision was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” said Reiner. “No matter which decision I made, it was going to be bad for somebody.”
“But the other picture keeps the Tenderloin whole,” she said, referring to a map that Pierce had put together earlier in the meeting that combined the Tenderloin with central SoMa in District 6.
“I just could not do it. I am so sorry,” she said, directing her apology to Chasel Lee, who had been advocating for Portola to join District 10.
Task force chair Rev. Arnold Townsend then called a recess for members to move their cars for street cleaning. After the recess, Reiner returned and said that she had been confused about which map they were voting on. She reversed her vote, and approved all the controversial changes.
Only moments before the first vote, clerk John Carroll had asked task force member Matthew Castillon to repeat the substance of his motion.
“This is putting Portola and University Mound into District 10, and Potrero Hill into District 9,” said Castillon.
“She was not confused, that was very clear,” Pierce told Mission Local. “I can say she got a phone call as soon as we walked out on break … she grabbed her phone and put it to her ear as she was walking out the side door. And she apologized to me when she came back.”
“She truly thought about and rationalized why she went the way she did in the first vote,” said Pierce. “She explained it to everybody present, and all of that is on the recording. ”
The recording is available here. The initial vote on this motion begins at 14:39:50. Our messages for Reiner have not yet been returned.
After the initial vote was rolled back and Castillon’s map was approved, Pierce directed comments to Townsend.
“I’m going to call you out, Mr. Chair, because there is no way there is love for the Black community with this vote,” said Pierce. “Period. Point blank.” She referred to the map Townsend just voted to approve as “ethnic suicide.”
“Thank you,” replied Townsend. “I tend to agree with you.”
Townsend, a Black man and co-president of the San Francisco NAACP, has vocally advocated for the Black community throughout the redistricting process. It is unclear why he would vote for a map that he appears to agree is “ethnic suicide” for Black residents.
He has not yet returned an email, phone call or text from Mission Local.
In an exchange with Chasel Lee, Townsend appeared to wonder why the task force decided to approve the map. After the members walked out, Townsend and Lee talked about the map they had just voted to approve.
“It should have stayed failed,” said Lee.
“Damn right, it should have,” said Townsend.
“How bad do we want to look?” Townsend asked, but neither he nor Lee suggested returning to vote the map down. Instead, they let the vote stand.
Lee appeared well aware that the proceedings were problematic. “Let’s be real,” he said. “Any map [we] pass at this point may be legally legitimate. Publicly, it will not be. That’s just the reality. Let me say it up front.”
Some of the members who left after the vote was retaken took the unusual step of calling in for the public comment period.
“You disgust me. You are spineless. You are sellouts. You have shown that you will shake your ass and dance for a price,” said Jeremy Lee during public comment. Lee also made a comment about members going “on their knees” for certain political interests. He has told Mission Local that he intends to apologize for these comments at today’s meeting.
UPDATE: Lee, indeed, apologized at Monday evening’s meeting, an apology rejected sharply by member Lily Ho.
Lee called his comments on Sunday “deeply offensive and unbecoming of a public figure.” After 50-plus hours of meetings last week, he said, “I hit a breaking point. I reacted in a way that was very much out of character, and it was a moment of weakness that I deeply regret.”
He apologized to all of the members individually and to the individuals he had named. “I will endeavor to repair the damage I have done and will strive to be a person of greater integrity.”
Ho was having none of it.
“Your comments were homophobic, degrading. And you’re right, it is unbecoming of anyone given the privilege of serving the city of San Francisco in this important capacity. Your comment was verbal abuse that would really only come from a place of elite male misogyny.”
Critiques from the community were expected, she added, but not from a colleague she has worked with for seven months: “I don’t take degrading dick-sucking insults from men. And you are not forgiven.”
Reverend Townsend tried to smooth things over and said that he wished he had been a more effective leader. With that, the meeting resumed. END UPDATE
On Sunday morning, Pierce, too, called in during public comment.
“If you guys were going to be bought and paid for over a petty grudge, by someone else who is not in the room, you should have let me know back in September, so I could sleep,” she said. It is not clear in Pierce’s statement who the “someone else” is.
“I wish you guys could have been honest,” Pierce continued. “I wish you guys could have been forthright. I truly loved and respected you. But I don’t know who you guys are, because nothing about you guys is genuine.”
“This map is indefensible. It’s indefensible to the commissions and offices that appointed you. It is indefensible to the legal system. It is indefensible to society. And God protect your souls, because it is morally indefensible,” said Pierce.
In a written statement released on Sunday, Chema Hernández Gil called the redistricting a “sham process.”
“I expect [the map] will not only be legally challenged if made final,” Hernández Gil wrote, “but that [the map] will reduce the trust San Franciscans have in transparent government and our city’s commitment to the underrepresented.”
“There were irregularities in the voting and the motions that we were going through that made me uncomfortable,” Cooper told Mission Local. “Changes were made where the sources of those changes were unclear.”
“This isn’t the process I signed up for, and it only became clearly apparent to me tonight.”
Cooper later phoned into public comment, saying, “I had been duped this whole time.”
The members will meet this evening at 5:30 p.m. for one of their last meetings before the ultimate April 15 deadline for a finalized map. All members are planning to attend.
Additional reporting from Joe Eskenazi.