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Thursday, November 5, 2015

Rose Pak: Ed Lee is a Puppet, Commanded By His Own Cronies

Posted By on Thu, Nov 5, 2015 at 5:50 PM

click to enlarge Rose Pak has a hot take. - SF WEEKLY FILE PHOTO
  • SF Weekly file photo
  • Rose Pak has a hot take.
Despite Mayor Ed Lee's constant reminders to Chinatown that Supervisor Julie Christensen was his choice, voters on Tuesday booted the mayoral appointee out and replaced her with a familiar face: Aaron Peskin. 

As Peskin, who served on the Board of Supervisors from 2001 to 2009, said while standing on stage at Club Fugazi on Election Night, the victory was largely "thanks to Chinatown."

It was also thanks to longtime community pillar Rose Pak.

Pak, who is either an activist or a "powerbroker" in Chinatown (depending on who you ask), told SF Weekly that the neighborhood came through for Peskin in a big way — largely because Lee left no other choice.

"It’s the community that realized we needed to help ourselves," she said in a recent telephone interview, noting that she feels "very strongly" that the mayor did not pay attention to Chinatown's needs. 

Christensen, recall, was appointed to fill the seat on the Board vacated by Assemblyman David Chiu against the wishes of Pak, who wanted Planning Commissioner Cindy Wu in the spot. 

Pak doesn't mince words: The mayor's choice of North Beach resident Christensen "was a dismal failure," she said. "We were hankering and banking that we get representatives that will represent our interests."

Pak's decision to support Peskin — who once suggested that Pak was trying to seize control of the San Francisco  mayor's office as an agent of the People's Republic of China — arose after "we were completely, completely dismayed when the mayor did not listen to our cries or pleas, and went instead with an unknown woman to represent us," she said. 

However, Pak doesn't put the onus of Christensen's appointment solely on Lee. No, she says, raising her voice, "it was all the baldies."

"You know: Ron, Steve Kawa, and Tony Winnicker."  That's tech investor and general bogeyman Ron Conway, Mayoral Chief of Staff Steve Kawa, and Lee senior adviser Tony Winnicker.

(First a point of accuracy – technically, Conway is snowy-haired, but perhaps, it's thinning a bit. The other two City Hall insiders Pak commonly calls "the baldies.")

Much hay has been made of Conway's freewheeling spending in local elections, including over $200,000 in cash that supported Christensen, and his hardcore support of the city's tech firms (like Uber, Airbnb, and Twitter).

But largely left out of the conversation are "the Baldies." 

Both Winnicker and Kawa have been in City Hall for some time. Kawa has been an aide since the days of former Mayor Willie Brown, and served current Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom as chief of staff, for whom Winnicker also worked.

In close political circles these days, Kawa is known by another title – "the shadow mayor." 

Much of the city's political class fears Kawa's retribution – by firing, by budget cuts, or by blunt political opposition – but Pak points out something politicians have been slow to catch onto. 

"They have been failing," she says. 

The electoral loss of Christensen may not solely a referendum on the mayor, but a referendum on Kawa's reputation as a honed political hammer.

"They are the people that never had the talent of their own except to survive in a political arena," Pak says of Lee's insiders. "They need to foster a fight between the mayor and the Board to justify their existence. If the mayor gets along with the Board, there's no reason for them to get around and play their Machiavellian games." 

The many public appearances of Lee with Christensen were part of an attempt to link her name with Lee's name recognition in Chinatown. According to Pak, that attempt was cooked up by Kawa and Winnicker, with Lee the willing puppet. 

"The mayor, they have (him) running around like a chicken without a head attending these ceremonies," she says. "They control who sees him and not sees him. When the mayor meets with anybody, one of those henchmen is sitting next to him."

A handful of high and mid-ranking politicos with access to Lee also told SF Weekly that Kawa often flanks the mayor at meetings in such a way. While that's no surprise, (and is in fact his job) the less-seemly aspect of this behavior, they say, is that Kawa often behaves as if he's the one in charge.

"No senior staff can meet with the Mayor without their prior approval," she says. "I’ve never seen anyone under such control," Pak says. 

In a recent profile, Pak recently told San Francisco magazine that "this mayor got no balls."

We asked her if this is what she meant. 

"Yeah," she says, "(the mayor) knows better. He by default let those baldies run his office."

"That is the atmosphere around Room 200."

Now that the mayor has been re-elected, she says, the "Baldies" will retire with hefty benefits, she says. When the next mayoral race looms, she says they'll likely jump ship to the private sector and become highly paid political consultants using their political knowledge to secure contracts for the city.

In the meantime, Pak worries the tech industry and other monied interests already have a stronghold in Chinatown, risking the eviction of long-time residents – which is why she backed Peskin. She thinks he has the political skill to navigate City Hall's embedded interests.

The "Baldies" included.

"The people did not elect them," Pak says, "and they act with impunity."

SF Weekly reached out to Kawa and Winnicker for comment. In between disparaging this news outlet and the people employed here, Winnicker offered praise for Pak.

"For my part," he wrote via e-mail, "I have nothing but profound and genuine respect for her lifetime of community service and commitment to the City’s Chinese community."

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