Trail Mix

Renters pay the price for Lee's political juice The Republican Party isn't the only organization making political hay out of the Julie Lee-Kevin Shelley money-laundering scandal unearthed by the San Francisco Chronicle. Now we hear the ever busy San Francisco Tenants Union plans to picket the San Francisco Housing Authority Aug. 26 (4 p.m., 440 Turk) to demand that Lee resign from her post as head of the SFHA board – and that she withdraw a planned eviction of a blind woman living on public assistance.

Lee and her husband, Shing Kit Lee, filed eviction papers under the state Ellis Act for the two-unit building they own at 371-373 Fifth Ave. Typically Ellis-ed buildings are converted to condos.

For the Lees, that means big bucks. For tenants, that's one less rent-controlled building to choose from.

"This woman is in charge of an agency that's responsible for housing San Francisco's most vulnerable. Here she is evicting someone who is vulnerable – for profit," SFTU chief Ted Gullicksen charged. "And then she gives money to politicians who push laws that hurt tenants."

Lee was stung by the Chron for allegedly orchestrating a complex scheme to illegally pad Shelley's campaign kitty. She's also been generous over the years to other pols, including Mayor Gavin Newsom and former mayor Willie Brown.

This won't be the first time Gullicksen and Lee have tangled. Over the years, Gullicksen says, Lee has fought at least three major efforts to protect senior and disabled tenants from eviction.

The receptionist at the Lees' real estate firm, First National Realty, wouldn't take a message when she learned we wanted to speak to the Lees for a news story.

Politics aside, the whole ordeal leaves Janette Guest – 57, blind, and living on supplemental security income – searching for new digs. She says she's lived in her Richmond District home for about 10 years. Now, ironically, she's turning to Lee's agency for help. Guest says she hopes the SFHA can connect her with subsidized housing before the year is out.

The tenant-landlord split could become a defining issue in the supervisorial contest in the Richmond this fall, where incumbent District One supervisor Jake McGoldrick is hoping to hold on to his seat. McGoldrick was elected in 2000 with strong tenant support and still has renters' backing generally, despite a couple of votes that disappointed the SFTU this year. Tenant support is key, because District One has the third-largest block of SFTU members in the city, after tenant-thick Districts Five and Nine.

But McGoldrick's top opponent, Lillian Sing, has a shaky record on renters' issues. As we reported last week (see Trail Mix, 8/18/04), she says she favors rent control but has supported ending it for a significant chunk of tenants in the past.

To bring it all back home, Sing's campaign consultant is Eric Jaye, the Newsom adviser who ran the failed 2002 supervisorial campaign of Julie Lee's son Andrew Lee. Andrew Lee was the Willie Brown pick (for a seat on the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission) whose appointment was preempted by Sup. Chris Daly's appointment in his "mayor for a day" move last year.

It's a small, small town. (Rachel Brahinsky)

A new mayor with some old debt ... and unexamined baggage Newsom recently announced he was returning $2,000 in contributions from Julie Lee and others implicated in the Lee-Shelley scandal and investigating about 120 other donors who attended a fundraiser she sponsored last year.

That will add to the mountain of debt the Newsom for Mayor campaign still can't seem to clear from last year's campaign, when the Newsom-Jaye team broke all previous fundraising records and still came up $550,000 in the hole, a debt those who already donated the maximum $750 can't help close.

It appears someone in the office of Newsom moneyman Jim Sutton then hatched a plan to illegally funnel unregulated donations to the inaugural committee to pay off the debt – a story only the Bay Guardian gave any serious coverage to (see "Newsom's Funny Money," 2/11/04).

That scheme was exposed by a document accidentally sent to the Ethics Commission, which the bosses there ordered destroyed in violation of open-government laws. The document destruction is the subject of an ongoing outside investigation by the Oakland Public Ethics Office.

Yet with the recent filing of semiannual campaign statements, we learn that Newsom still owes $520,000 – much of it for work done almost a year ago – including $61,102 to Decision Research, $42,334 to Computerized Political Service, and big chunks to people still on his team, including $188,429 to Jaye's Storefront Political Media, $31,000 to Sutton, $35,000 to Jack Davis (for sitting out the mayor's race), and $20,000 to his school board appointee Heather Hiles (the price of power?).

But the most interesting tidbit from this voluminous financial document is the $51,309 refund to his inaugural committee, which would seem to indicate that the $54,708 transfer from the inaugural committee to the campaign wasn't legal to begin with.

Newsom's office won't comment on all this, but Sutton said the initial transfer was a legal payment for rent and equipment when the inaugural committee worked out of campaign digs.

"After the press coverage and allegations about the e-mail error, we decided it was good and appropriate to send the money back to avoid even the appearance of impropriety," Sutton told us.

It's worth noting that there's never been an official inquiry into the significance of the document, even though an investigator with subpoena power could probably get to the bottom of it in just a day's work. But I suppose that's just life in this small-town big city.

On a related note: The semiannuals showed all three of Jaye's candidates – Sing, Hiles (raising $66,000, astonishing for a school board race), and Sup. Michela Alioto-Pier – as some of the biggest-money candidates. Incumbent supervisors Gerardo Sandoval and Aaron Peskin were also doing well in the money game, with contributions well into six figures. (Steven T. Jones)