- This Week
Tech mogul Ron Conway is trying to buy San Francisco politics and sell his pro-business agenda
Ron Conway has spent more in the last two elections than any other San Franciscan.
The video talks about the range of San Francisco's problems — you can't get a cab fast enough, Muni doesn't work very well, and there's trash and graffiti on the streets. All of these problems, the video suggests, can be solved with technology. But there's nothing in the video, or in sf.citi's agenda, about homelessness or poverty or the gap between the rich and the poor — or the fact that the tech boom is making a lot of those problems worse.
In fact, sf.citi — and Conway's agenda — offers nothing for San Franciscans who are not middle class or above. There is no suggestion of an app for facilitating improvements to dilapidated public housing in the city, or for a map of free immunization clinics in low-income neighborhoods, or a database for easily tracking the political influence of Conway and his wealthy friends.
In the end, Conway had only this to stay in a statement delivered to us by McLear: "I am very proud to support Mayor Lee and members of the Board of Supervisors who are tackling the important issues facing our City head-on, from creating jobs for San Francisco residents to building more affordable housing to improving our parks, transit and infrastructure.
I became involved in San Francisco politics and formed sf.citi with leading technology companies because we believe that the technology industry shares in the responsibility to solve our City's challenges and give back to our community. That's why I donated generously this year to support consensus measures for our parks, City College, affordable housing and protect Hetch Hetchy, and why sf.citi and so many of its member companies supported these measures as well. sf.citi member companies and I will continue to partner with City leaders and communities to give back to the City we love and work together to create jobs and to improve our public transit, public schools, public safety and the lives of every San Francisco resident."
But his record shows that he's mostly interested in how the public sector can help the private sector. McLear says that Conway has supported many Democrats; that's true of almost anyone who tries to be a power-broker in a city where Republicans are a tiny minority.
"He is not right-wing," McLear said, but when we asked McLear to tell us if Conway had ever supported a measure to raise taxes on wealthy people, we got no response.
That's because Conway's agenda is about — as he himself announced at the Bay Area Council and again later at the Commonwealth Club — repealing the progressive agenda. "He wants to make this a totally business-friendly city with nothing that would slow down his plans or those of his friends," Agnos said.
Adds Avalos: "He wants San Francisco to be a mirror image of Silicon Valley, but he doesn't have any real concern for the social impacts for working people, renters, and the rest of us."
Conway's role in the campaign to defeat Olague showed a fascinating, and dangerous, side of his politics. When Lee first named Olague to the Board of Supervisors, she told us she was introduced to Conway as someone who would support her.
"Willie Brown collected some checks from him," she told us. She also said caustic mayoral aide Tony Winnicker, who sent Olague a vicious text message after the Mirkarimi vote with a vow to "defeat you," is Lee's main liaison to the tech industry. That vote was the last straw after she didn't play along with Conway on taxes and defeating CleanPowerSF, so the Conway shithammer came down.
"It was a calculated, cruel political strategy to punish her, and to send a message to other politicians that this is what happens if you cross him," Agnos said. "And that message is going to spread unless progressives stand up against it."
Added Olague: "I've never seen anything like this."