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Friday, March 28, 2014

Leland Yee: Politician Not Busted for Type of Corruption Charges Everyone Anticipated He'd Be Busted For

Posted By on Fri, Mar 28, 2014 at 3:30 PM

click to enlarge Don't look behind you, Leland. Something might be gaining on you.  - MATT SMITH
  • Matt Smith
  • Don't look behind you, Leland. Something might be gaining on you. 

As the impact of L'affaire Leland Yee continues to wash over San Francisco and its denizens, a number of popular themes have solidified. 

A State Senator hoodwinked into brokering an arms deal for Filipino jihadis; a gangster named "Shrimp Boy" with a predilection for gangsterism and having himself photographed with anybody and everybody; a political consultant, his son, and the son's sports agent buddy providing firearms for marijuana-tending thugs and stumbling into a murder-for-hire conspiracy: This is movie shit. 

Decades from now, audiences will laugh at the vintage 2014 costumes and hairstyles -- and Yee's windbreaker -- as the 2044 equivalent of Bradley Cooper portrays a dashing undercover FBI agent. 

Get the popcorn started. But the more salient theme for those of us who've lived here a while and hope to continue doing so pertains to Yee's political ascent. In short, these aren't the sort of corruption charges anyone expected him to get busted for. But Yee getting busted for corruption is a rabbit-out-of-a-rabbit-hutch moment.  

Yee has a well-earned reputation as a "human jukebox." You put the money in and it sings the song you want. Granted, it'd be a shock if you put money in the jukebox and guns and jihadis came out. But, if the voluminous criminal complaint underpinning the charges against Yee and 25 others is correct, he's simply transcended the legal, transactional role of a slick politician into a more lucrative and illegal version of the same game. 

He was, then, behaving like Leland Yee -- only more so. 

Yee has a long backstory as a dodgy guy. But San Francisco is teeming with dodgy politicians; some of them even dabble in journalism. 

The state senator's shoplifting incident in Hawaii and accusations of cruising for prostitutes -- which were never substantiated -- are well known. There are a litany of Yee stories harking to Lyndon Johnson's hi-jinks in the Texas statehouse. No one's naming a bridge after him anytime soon. 

But the more substantive charges relate to those jukebox tendencies. In 2011, SF Weekly's Matt Smith pointed out the following

He has authored 213 bills. Of those, 54 were sponsored by organizations including the casino Bay 101, which gave him $9,900, and the California Association of Health Plans, which gave him $22,938. In all, Yee reported receiving $188,755 in campaign contributions from the backers of so-called sponsored bills that bear his name.

In this, Yee was't so much a politician but a template. You just had to fill in the form and attach the necessary donation and he was there for you. It was akin to booking a motivational speaker for your event. Except your event would be a union rally or shepherding a connected donor and his pet legislation to the desired ends. 

Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful... - MATT SMITH
  • Matt Smith
  • Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful...
That's not to say Yee was solely a force for bad. Occasionally good people pay up, too. And he certainly knew how pick his enemies. His crusade against CSU-Stanislaus' clandestine speakers fee for Sarah Palin won him fans among government transparency advocates and people who can't stand Sarah Palin (It turned out to be $75,000 -- and her contract demanded bendy straws be made available). 

When Rush Limbaugh or unhinged gun nuts took aim at him -- somewhat literally in the latter case -- it was political manna for a San Francisco representative. 

Yee rose to the top by finding issues that riled people up and divided communities. Then he'd install himself as the leader and go-to guy for aggrieved single-issue activists who became his district-walkers and shock troops. 

Yee was an Asian citywide-elected politician back when that was a novelty; he was not afraid to play the race card early and often. As such, he sometimes took things to ridiculous lengths to stoke those fires. In 2002, regarding a clash between native plant enthusiasts and off-leash dog activists, Yee sided with the latter. His argument, essentially, compared the plant enthusiasts to fascist eugenicists: "How many of us are 'invasive exotics' who have taken root in the San Francisco soil?" he wrote. 

In fact, Yee's dogs-vs.-native plants phase neatly encapsulates all of the above. By tossing out red meat for off-leash dog zealots and vilifying the hapless native plant advocates with racially charged arguments, he established himself as the alpha dog for a pack of followers who walked districts for him and even started up a Yee Political Action Committee

Step three: Profit. 

Leland Yee may be innocent of the serious charges leveled against him. That's why we have affidavits and lawyers and trials and Sam Singer. But he's very much guilty of being that human jukebox and a political cipher. 

And we elected him and re-elected him and re-elected him. 

Looks like we got what we paid for. 

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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