SAN FRANCISCO—“A social worker turned mayor is the best mayor ever!” said Ellen Lee Zhou, an unassuming 48-year-old mother of two college-age children, and a longtime public services employee of the city and county of San Francisco.
Zhou is one of the eight candidates, and the only candidate with a Chinese background, in the San Francisco mayoral race. As the June 5 special election quickly approaches, uncertainty and anticipation have been brewing silently but surely in the communities across San Francisco.
Relatively little known and thinly financed, Zhou calmly goes to work as she has been doing for the past two decades. Who exactly is Zhou and what does she stand for? The Epoch Times caught up with Zhou during her lunch break.
“My family immigrated from Guangdong, China, to the United States when I was in high school.” Zhou began in introducing herself. “I am married for 23 years; I’ve been a social worker for more than 22 years; I have been a public services employee for more than 13 years. My job is to provide and protect San Franciscans.”
A ‘Vocal Minority’ Against Recreational Cannabis
In addition to her regular job, Zhou was on the San Francisco Civic Grand Jury for two terms (2014–15 and 2016–17), a member of the union bargaining team, and a volunteer in the Chinese community.
With a slight hint of a Chinese accent, Zhou speaks with passion and confidence.
She said, about her experience on the Civic Grand Jury, “We investigated city government functions. I learned about the dynamics of the government practices and wrote a lot of reports. That’s how I found out about the corruption, including [that related to] recreational cannabis. We found out that all the Board of Supervisors were getting money from the cannabis operators. That is corruption.”
Zhou has been a fierce opponent of recreational cannabis, which became legal in the state of California on Jan. 1. In fact, she was nominated by a coalition of neighborhood “no recreational cannabis” groups from 11 districts to run for mayor.
“We fought against recreational cannabis in 2017. We had more than 20 public hearings. I took my personal vacation time to talk to the electoral offices at the city hall. People see my potential, that I can stand up for them, so they nominated me to represent the Chinese community, to run for mayor. I am very honored and privileged to stand up for not only Chinese, but also for public health workers, doctors and nurses, social workers, parents, plus people who care about the quality of life.”
Zhou is proud of the activism of the volunteers in the group. She said, “Since our first public hearing on Jan. 5, 2017, we had about 20 hearings. At one time we had about 1,000 people from all 11 districts [in San Francisco].” Then she said, with a chuckle, “I’ve been labeled a ‘vocal minority.’ But excuse us, Chinese and Asian people are not minorities in San Francisco. We are the majority in San Francisco. But our voice has been buried.”
‘Bring Ethics Back to City Hall’
After her family immigrated to the United States, Zhou paid for her schooling by doing odd jobs. She knew she wanted to help people and decided to become a social worker. She graduated from San Francisco State University in 2003 with a master’s degree in social work.
After 32 years living in San Francisco, she is deeply concerned. “We have no more family values in the city. Our [population of] family and children has been shrinking. People have been leaving the city to get a better life [elsewhere].
“It’s been crazy enough for people to say, enough is enough. There are a lot of people who don’t want to see needles everywhere, robberies every day.
“There are people, such as public workers and teachers, who make somewhat okay money but cannot afford their own housing. All people want a better life, yet the over-priced housing provides no opportunity for them to live a [better] life. People are getting evicted all the time. We have about 10,000 homeless people in the city.”
Zhou considers corruption the root cause of many problems. One of her campaign slogans is to “bring ethics back to city hall.”
“I worked for the government long enough to understand that there is a lot of corruption. I know that many of the city government, especially the people in charge, are corrupted and they collude with each other. At times, there is lack of morality. A lot of improvement is needed. I am the only one who can redirect San Francisco back to the right direction.”
In addition to continuing the fight against recreational cannabis and stopping corruption to protect public employees and the general public, Zhou wants to protect small property owners. “I am Chinese and 35 percent of the small property owners are Asian and mostly Chinese. They have been taken advantage of and being sued for racist reasons. I want to change that.
“If I am elected as mayor, I want to be good to the people who live here, to give back the power to the people.”
‘Nonpartisan People Don’t Fight’
Zhou said many years ago that she started out as a Democrat, then switched to Republican, and eventually decided to become nonpartisan. She registered to run for mayor on Dec. 20, 2017, as a nonpartisan candidate. She wanted to send a message to the voters: “I don’t want to get involved in the [partisan] fighting. I am for the people and for the workers. I am the only person who can direct San Francisco [in the right direction]. Even though I might not be known yet, eventually people will see the truth.”
There have been about 30 mayoral candidate debates, Zhou said that she was not invited. “The top candidates kept me away from the debates. They know I will speak the truth.”
Zhou considers her job in the city an advantage over the other candidates. “I have a lot of connections in the different departments. I am in a position to work with the ground level people. I have a chance to hear the ‘bottom truth.’ As a union representative for public employees, I have already been working with the employees and the public. I’ve been fighting corruption for many years.”
Priority: Being Heard
Another source of Zhou’s passion for the city comes from her belief. “I grew up in the church, I have been a Sunday school teacher for more than 22 years. I teach people about the Bible and about how Jesus is love. I practice what I preach. Jesus Christ said that love is the most important thing in the world,” she said.”
“When you have love, you will do what is right to help people from suffering. Many homeless people suffer and die on the streets. Many Chinese small property owners with limited English are being sued through corrupted activities, and they suffer from depression and anxiety.
“I don’t have a professional team. I don’t have a paid full-time campaign manager. I don’t have a campaign office. I don’t have millions of dollars through donation. But I have a group of dedicated volunteers, who go to different districts to talk to people, passing out flyers and share our mission, vision, and action plans with residents. Our words will be spread.”