The stealth candidate

Ahsha Safai tries to be all things to District 11 voters -- but he refuses to explain his many contradictions and false statements
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Ahsha Safai is hoping to be elected to the Board of Supervisors without answering questions about his padded political resume of short-lived patronage jobs, greatly exaggerated claims of his accomplishments, history as a predatory real estate speculator, connections to and coordination with downtown power brokers, shifting and contradictory policy positions, or the many other distortions this political neophyte is offering up to voters in District 11, a crucial swing district that could decide the balance of power in city government.

Safai has refused numerous requests for interviews with the Guardian over the last two months. We've even left messages with specific concerns about his record and positions. But our investigation reveals his close political ties to the downtown interest groups that have spent close to $100,000 on his behalf and shows him to be a shameless opportunist who is apparently willing to say anything to achieve power.

There's much we don't know about Ahsha Safai, but there's enough we do know for a consistent yet troubling portrait to emerge.

Safai moved to San Francisco from Washington, DC with his lawyer wife in 2000, and immediately began to ingratiate himself into the mainstream Democratic Party power structure, starting as a legislative liaison with the corruption-plagued San Francisco Housing Authority and joining Gavin Newsom's mayoral campaign in 2003.

Safai became a protégé of Newsom's field director Alex Tourk, who was a top Newsom strategist for several years until he abruptly resigned after learning that Newsom had an affair with his wife. With support from Tourk (who didn't respond to our calls about Safai) and Newsom, Safai held a string of city jobs over the next three years, moving from the Mayor's Office of Community Development to the Mayor's Office of Neighborhood Services to the Department of Public Works, all of which he touts on his Web ite, greatly exaggerating (and in some cases, outright misrepresenting) his accomplishments in each, according to those who worked with him. (Few sources who worked with Safai would speak on the record, fearing repercussions from Newsom).

THE CONNECT DISASTER

One project Safai doesn't mention on his Web site is his work spearheading Community Connect, the most disastrous of Newsom's SF Connect programs. "It's the one Connect that the mayor will never talk about," said Quentin Mecke, who participated in the effort, on behalf of nonprofit groups, to create a community policing system. "The whole thing just devolved into chaos and there weren't any more meetings."

In 2005, Safai and Tourk convened meetings in each of the city's police precincts to take testimony on rising violence and the failure of the San Francisco Police Department to deal with it. Ultimately Newsom decided to reject a community-policing plan developed through the process by the African-American Police Community Relations Board. That set up the Board of Supervisors to successfully override a mayoral veto of police foot patrols.

"Ahsha's approach was consistent with the Newsom administration, with folks that talk a good game but there's no substance behind it," said Mecke, who ran for mayor last year, placing second.

Another realm in which Safai has claimed undeserved credit is on his efforts to save St. Luke's Hospital from attempts by the California Pacific Medical Center (and CPMC's parent company, Sutter Health) to close it or scale back its role as an acute care provider for low income San Franciscans.

"When I looked at his campaign material and he says he was a leader who saved St. Luke's, I thought, 'Am I missing something here?," Roma Guy, a 12-year member of the city's Health Commission and leader in the effort to save St. Luke's, told the Guardian. "Nobody thinks Ahsha has taken a leadership role on this.