Race-baiting and the politics of division

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Does the current Guardian cover mean that racism influenced our endorsements?

The political season must be in full swing because yesterday I was accused of racism, twice, both times by white men promoting different candidates of color. And both times, the accusations had no merit, but both men are so blinded by partisan allegiance they have refused to drop a tactic that is poisoning our political dialogue and creating unnecessary divisions in San Francisco's progressive movement.

The first was in a hit piece on the Guardian by Beyond Chron's Randy Shaw, in which he accuses the Guardian of being part of a progressive political machine that is trying to squeeze out supervisorial candidate Jane Kim, who the Guardian gave our number two endorsement to today, pretty much showing how ridiculous his conspiracy theory was in the first place.

But toward the bottom of the column, without contacting me or Jane first to determine whether it was true, Randy tossed off this zinger: “I found it quite illuminating that the Guardian’s City Editor Steve Jones told Jane Kim late last year that she should run in the very conservative, Asian-American majority District 4 rather than District 6, where her progressive views are in sync with voters. He was in effect saying that as an Asian-American Jane should run among 'her people,' implying that demographics prevailed over issues and political stands.”

Actually, as I told Jane at the time, back when she was district shopping for place to run for supervisor, and as I told Randy and his BC cohort Paul Hogarth yesterday, my argument had nothing to do with race, “in effect” or otherwise. My argument was that D4 Sup. Carmen Chu has been a terrible, conservative supervisor with weak connections to her district, yet no challengers in this election, and that perhaps a progressive school board member with citywide name recognition could unseat her and expand the board's progressive majority. And that made more sense to me that taking on a good progressive candidate like Debra Walker, who had been doing the legwork on this race for years and was poised to win, in the process unnecessarily dividing progressives, wasting resources, and possibly letting downtown's candidate take this progressive seat.

Yet while Beyond Chron ran my letter to the editor today (along with an editor's note that tried to undercut it), Shaw and Hogarth have, for reasons I don't understand and they won't explain, refused to correct the article, which is continuing to spread this defamatory misinformation, causing their readers to print comments such as “I can't believe Jane was told to go run in a different district because she is Asian!!!” and “racism has reared its ugly head.”

This is the kind of whisper campaign politics one expects from Karl Rove or the late Lee Atwater, but it's not what one should expect from progressives in San Francisco, particularly when the target is other progressives in San Francisco. But again, that's what this brand of myopic partisanship breeds, this ends-justified-the-means nastiness and reckless disregard for the truth.

And if there's any doubt that this is about partisan allegiance rather than an honest difference of opinions, just consider that Paul Hogarth (who once planned to run in D6 himself) is actively working on Kim's campaign, something that Shaw didn't disclose in his hit piece. When I asked Hogarth about what seems a clear conflict of interest, he wrote, “In every article I have written about District 6, I have disclosed that I endorsed Jane Kim and gave $20 to her campaign. If you can point to an article where I didn't disclose that, I will correct the error. The 'work' I have done on the Jane Kim campaign is no different than the unpaid volunteering I have done for Mark Leno, David Chiu and many many other campaigns over the years -- outside of work hours, evenings and on weekends. I am a political blogger, and like many bloggers I volunteer on campaigns.”

But it seems clear that Hogarth's partisanship influences Beyond Chron's approach – including the hardball tactic of race-baiting – and that this publication isn't honest about that. When my then-girlfriend Alix Rosenthal ran for D8 supervisor four years ago, we at the Guardian disclosed that fact in every article we wrote on the race and I recused myself from writing directly about it or participating in this paper's decisions on coverage and endorsements. Beyond Chron seems to have a very different standard.

The second episode of racial politics came last night when Sup. Chris Daly lashed out at us for not endorsing his candidate in D6, James Keys, who is African-American. “It's a Bay Guardian White Out. They are actually recommending a Board of Supervisors with no African-American representation,” was Daly's Facebook status update last night once our endorsements came out, a theme he also hammered on our blog and in direct messages to Guardian staffers and others.

Actually, a quarter of our supervisorial endorsements – Dewitt Lacy and Chris Jackson were our second and third choices in D10 – were African-American, as was one of our three school board endorsees. But Daly instead focused on the fact that our top picks in Districts 6, 8, and 10 were white and turned that into a bludgeon with which to criticize our failure to endorse Keys (whose endorsement interview, which you can listen to here, seemed to indicate that he just wasn't prepared for this job).

Daly is both a hothead and a smart guy, and in my conversation with him today, he said that he doesn't actually believe that racial bias influenced the Guardian's endorsements. In fact, it was closer to the opposite, arguing that we should have been more biased in favor of endorsing candidates of color and promoting that fact on our cover photo.

“A core value of our community is to value and empower communities of color. I've worked hard to promote grassroots candidates from communities of color,” Daly told me, a point that I happen to agree with. We should promote qualified candidates of color and even give them the edge when all other factors are equal.

But that shouldn't overcome our concern that Keys isn't yet ready to be a supervisor, just as we chose not to endorse Malia Cohen in D10 because she doesn't share our progressive values. Yes, race is important, and Daly is right when he says, “We don't live in a color blind society and we need to account for historic occurences of racism.”

Yet when race-baiting and accusations of racism are inappropriately used as political weapons to discredit opposing points of view, that just turns people off to politics and undermines legitimate concerns about the racism that does still exist. And there's nothing progressive about that style of slash-and-burn politics.