Affordable housing group's shady, "shameless" endorsements

The Affordable Housing Alliance just backs members of the Brown machine


Editors note: This article orginally ran in October, 2000.T

he Brown machine's soft money operation is churning out some very
duplicitous propaganda. While we haven't seen many mailers attacking
independent candidates yet (they're usually deployed in the final days
of the campaign, when the targets don't have a chance to respond), we've
come across flyers that aim to portray business-friendly machine
candidates as champions of progressive causes.

Perhaps the most egregious comes from an organization called the
Affordable Housing Alliance.

Once a legitimate tenant advocacy group, the AHA does little these days
except endorse candidates and send out mailers during election season.
Numerous well-known tenant activists say the AHA reflexively promotes
the candidates of the Willie Brown machine — no matter where they
stand on tenant issues.

And from what we've learned about the group's endorsement process, AHA
director Mitchell Omerberg isn't even trying to give the group the
appearance of legitimacy.

Omerberg, who works as a deputy city attorney for San Francisco, was
active in the 1979 fight for rent control. We called him several times
and left messages at the AHA, at his home, and at his city office. He
never called us back or faxed us a copy of the group's endorsements.
The shenanigans began when Omerberg invited candidates to speak at the
AHA's endorsement meeting. Chris Daly, the District Six hopeful who has
inspired more enthusiasm from tenant activists than any other candidate
in the city, wasn't even invited. Daly told us his campaign called
Omerberg to ask when the meeting was scheduled, and Omerberg never
called back.

At the Sept. 28 meeting, the candidates whom Omerberg did invite made
their speeches. Then the group's supposed members voted on the club's
endorsements. But it's not clear who most of those members are or where
they came from.

Progressive activist Richard Ow, who probably attends more political
meetings than anyone in San Francisco, told us he didn't recognize a
single other tenant activist among the voting members. Ow sits on the
boards of the San Francisco Tenants Union, the Housing Rights Committee,
and the Senior Action Network and is active in dozens of other tenant

The most egregious maneuver came at the end of the meeting. According
to District One supervisorial candidate Jake McGoldrick (one of the few
people who stayed until the end) Omerberg refused to open the ballot box
and tally up the votes there and then.

Instead, he insisted on taking the ballot box home with him.
Apparently Omerberg prefers to count the ballots alone: one former AHA
member, who asked to remain anonymous, told us he did the same thing
after at least two endorsement meetings in years past.

Alex Wong, chair of the Democratic County Central Committee, helped
Omerberg run the meeting, introducing the candidates and watching the
clock as they spoke. Wong, a Brown ally, told us he didn't know if Omerberg had taken the ballots home with him; he says he, too, had left the meeting by that point. Then he got off the phone, saying he'd call
us back. He never did.

With Omerberg and Wong keeping mum, we couldn't track down a copy of
the group's endorsement list. (McGoldrick campaign manager Jerry Threet
says he asked Omerberg for a copy and Omerberg flat out refused.) But an
AHA mailer sent to tenant voters in the Richmond provides a clue.
"Renters have two choices in the November election," the flyer
proclaims. "Michael Yaki will preserve rent control. Rose Tsai wants to
repeal it."

Of course, Richmond renters have more than two choices. There are five
candidates on the District One ballot, including McGoldrick.