The odds were against Eric Mar. The Richmond District supervisor was seen as the most vulnerable of all San Francisco progressives up for election Tuesday -- and that was before the city's moneyed interests tried to drown him with buckets of cash.
In addition to Mar's reputation as an erratic legislator (the Happy Meal ban; resolutions about the Grammy awards and Black Panthers?) challenger David Lee had a record amount of campaign spending on his side. Specifically, he had loads of soft money -- a record-shattering $940,000 as of Monday -- so much that it could eclipse the million-dollar plateau in the final tallies.
But Mar beat it back -- and then some. In fact, Mar crushed Lee. Returns early Wednesday showed Mar leading by an insurmountable 54 percent to 38 percent.
So why didn't all that money pay off?
Mar had an army of volunteers on his side -- no fewer than 250 people walked precincts for Mar on Tuesday, according to a campaign staffer. And some of
that help came directly from Rose Pak and Chinatown.
Money aside, Mar might have always had a stronger campaign than Lee, a moderate candidate. Since Mar's progressive counterparts were running unopposed (Supervisors John Avalos, David Chiu, and David Campos), that freed up more volunteers to walk precincts for Mar.
Labor also worked hard for Mar, and contributions from nurses and the Labor Council fueled Mar's independent expenditures, pitiful as they were compared to the Realtors' onslaught. When it was all said and done, what was spent for Mar was less than half of what was spent for Lee.
Initial results trickled in a 9 p.m., showing Mar leading Lee, 48.65 percent to 43.67 percent. After those were posted, Lee's campaign manager, Jim Ross, took the long view. "This won't be decided until tomorrow," he said. Ross did not respond to later requests for comment following Mar's obvious win.
But over at City Hall, as the first results were announced, there was some shock and some snickering. "Five points up with early absentee, eh?" SEIU-1021 Political Director and former Supervisor Chris Daly said with a chuckle.
Because early absentee voters tend to be more moderate, political consultant David Latterman said he was surprised Lee wasn't taking the lead right out the gate -- or at least that the two candidates weren't tied.
"Wow," Latterman said. "This is a surprise. I was expecting a stronger showing for Lee."
Also watching the results was veteran field organizer and Chinatown activist David Ho.
On his way into City Hall to retrieve the initial numbers, Ho -- who rallied volunteers for Christina Olague in District 5 and Norman Yee in District 7 as well as for Mar -- seemed confident. "We had 150 people [for Mar] out today," he said. Lee, who has never gotten along well with big-shot Rose Pak, even went as far as to badmouth Pak and her support of Mar at debate. So he had to pay. And "we hit [Lee] hard," Ho said.
Lee, an insurance salesman and former Recreation and Park commissioner, banked on the economy as a winning message. Filling the Richmond's "85 vacant storefronts" was a constant theme in his campaign.
But when that didn't work, Lee's campaign went into full-on attack mode, lobbing mail bombs at Mar for being a "superPAC" candidate, for taking public funding, and for supporting the 8 Washington condominium development. This had some scratching their heads, since Lee voted for 8 Washington while a Rec and Park commissioner, and had received $225,000 from the San Francisco Association of Realtors as well as hundreds of thousands more from tech investor Ron Conway and developer Thomas Coates. He also took in more public funding.
Total spending in support of Lee topped $940,000 on Monday, according to records. Of that, $303,000 was in his "official" campaign war chest, with the rest third-party soft money.
San Francisco election law limits individual contributions to a candidate's committee to $500, but unlimited contributions can be made to an independent expenditure committee. SF Weekly caught up with Mar after he was elected, and let's just say he was feeling confident.
"We're gonna show the big business groups that they cannot mess with our communities, and that we will kick their ass every single fucking time."