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Government Assistance, in An Election 

Wednesday, Oct 21 2015
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Together they played ping-pong in the park, gawked at lion dancers, hid under desks with schoolkids, and posed with the twirling beauties of North Beach's Festa Coloniale Italiana.

Such is the montage of joint public appearances by Mayor Ed Lee and Supervisor Julie Christensen over the past few months. Christensen, a mayoral apppointee, faces an election challenge next month from former Supervisor Aaron Peskin.

And Lee is using every opportunity to remind the public of his choice for the office.

A review of Lee's official city schedule shows at least 11 mayoral events in Chinatown and North Beach with Christensen since April.

By contrast, the other 10 members of the Board of Supervisors may have forgotten what Lee looks like. The mayor has had five events with Board President London Breed, one with Malia Cohen, one with Scott Wiener — and no announcements of exclusive events with the other seven supervisors.

Winning Chinatown is key for Christensen, who has potentially alienated voters there through several verbal gaffes (calling tenants there "lower-class" instead of "low-income"; referring to the Stockton Street tunnel as a "wormhole"). This may be why Lee, hugely popular in the Chinese community, appears attached to Christensen's hip.

Christensen is also receiving plenty of free social media exposure on city time. Lee chronicled her cameo at his annual ping-pong tournament via his official Twitter feed.

"Playing a friendly match with @SupeChristensen at #ChinatownPingPong tournament. I can tell she's been practicing!" Lee (or his press people) tweeted.

Meanwhile, a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Joe DiMaggio Playground netted Christensen posts on the Twitter and Facebook accounts of the Recreation and Park Department, the Department of Public Works, and the SF Public Library.

That's a lot of free face-time.

Political campaigning is forbidden on city time and on the city dime, but it's entirely legal to make public appearances and meet with constituents. But while Lee's public relationship campaign with Christensen may not violate the letter of ethics laws, it sure does look odd.

"There seems to be a lot of various ribbon cuttings, program launches, and that sort of thing in the last couple months in Chinatown, especially with the mayor," said Jim Ross, a campaign consultant who is working for a labor-backed independent expenditure committee that supports Peskin.

"It's not them campaigning," Ross said, but "it's 'doing things' with an official city veneer."

In a statement, a Lee spokeswoman said Christensen's exemplary record justified such attention. Christensen herself says that a close relationship with the mayor is to be expected.

"If I lose, a candidate who vowed to make a mayor's life a living hell [may win], and you're surprised he'd spend time with his appointee?" Christensen told us. "The fact of the matter is, I try to use that perk judiciously. But there are times when the weight of the mayor's help is valuable."

Especially with an election on the line.

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Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

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