Chinatown Activists Cut Corners Delivering Vote for San Francisco Mayor Lee
SAN FRANCISCO—Grassroots organizations in Chinatown are working hard to get the vote out for interim Mayor Ed Lee—work that includes filling out ballots for voters, collecting vote-by-mail ballots and submitting them for voters, and having staff that split time with Ed Lee’s official campaign organization.
The two organizations that have played the biggest role in marshaling the vote for Lee in Chinatown are the Chinatown Community Development Center (CCDC), which receives millions of dollars each year in city funds, and the Community Tenant Association (CTA), which has 1,000 activists embedded in neighborhoods throughout the city, and especially in Chinatown. CCDC says it works “extensively” with CTA on issues such as tenants’ rights.
On Oct. 23 Epoch Times reporters were given a demonstration of how CTA supports Ed Lee’s campaign.
Outside the Gordon J. Lau elementary school on Clay Street, two Epoch Times reporters presented themselves as prospective voters and asked how they could vote for Ed Lee. A friendly woman quickly appeared to help out. She produced a list of names and phone numbers that had been printed from a computer, and, pointing to the title, explained that she was a CTA activist.
She called someone to come to open the official Ed Lee campaign office, which was across the road.
In the five minute discussion that followed, as Lee campaign office workers arrived, she blithely explained her door-to-door activism as part of her CTA “work unit” on behalf of the Lee campaign.
“If people can’t move, we help them vote,” she said. When asked to clarify, she explained that “helping” might mean to simply have an elderly or disabled person sign and date their ballot, and then she or her people would take it away to fill it out and mail it in. She was asked the same question three times in different ways, and each time affirmed that that is indeed what she meant.
After the Lee campaign workers arrived, she settled into a chair in the office and began chatting with others present. The woman who opened the door to the Lee campaign office was an activist from the CCDC.
The two organizations are closely linked, with the CTA running a de facto office out of the community room in a CCDC building.
In that room on the second floor of 777 Broadway, CTA’s paraphernalia is plastered on the walls and sits among the furnishings: an organizational map, a big red sign, a list of board members complete with photographs, a list of donated monies (to what was unclear), an “ideas box,” and Ed Lee campaign literature, along with handwritten announcements for meetings in support of Lee’s bid for mayor.
Gen Fujioka, public policy manager at CCDC, said he was not aware of the CTA material in the community room, and says that political advertising is not allowed at their buildings.
Voting from Home
CCDC’s mission is “to build community and enhance the quality of life for San Franciscan residents,” according to its website. Primarily serving Chinatown, CCDC says it plays “the roles of neighborhood advocates, community organizers, planners, developers, and managers of affordable housing.”
Canvassers for rival mayoral candidate Leland Yee made news when they reported CCDC staff was involved in helping residents vote.
Andy Li, a volunteer canvasser for Yee, said that many residents at CCDC buildings where he went door-knocking had already handed in their ballots to building management.
One address he identified included 1303 Larkin, a CCDC shop.
Elderly Chinese residents at that building, in the week of Oct. 9 to Oct. 16, repeatedly mentioned to Li how they had given over their ballots to CCDC, he said.
Other times the old people would say “I don’t need your explanation, someone from CCDC is going to help us,” Li said. Residents repeatedly told Li that every election they take their ballots to CCDC headquarters.
Li recollected that some of the residents he spoke with simply said that they had taken their ballots to an address with “777.”
The CCDC building at 777 Broadway appears to be the focus of much of the get-out-the-vote activity in Chinatown, and sets an example of voter involvement. On its website CCDC states that it keeps 31 studio apartments there. According to voter records, there are 33 registered voters, and 31 of them vote by mail, which is a percentage of 93.9 percent (the percentage in the population at large is 46 percent). By Oct. 24, 60 percent of them had cast their ballots, while 6 percent of the rest of the city had done the same.
A Yee canvasser who, because she lives in Chinatown does not want her name published, said that she had been told by several elderly residents that they would go to the 777 building for help with voting.
An Epoch Times reporter also heard a recommendation to visit 777 Broadway after casually striking up a conversation with an old Chinese woman about where to vote, near the northern Ping Yuen public housing block.
On its website, CCDC published a statement denying the “reckless and unfounded accusations made by the Yee campaign,” saying, “Our staff does nothing that even resembles collecting or tampering with ballots nor does our staff promote any candidates for office.”
The Epoch Times was unable to confirm the allegations against CCDC at 1303 Larkin, though two residents there said that they had signed their ballots and given them to workers from On Lok, a health care agency for seniors in San Francisco. They had not filled them out, and indicated that the health care workers would take care of that and mail them in. The spokesperson for On Lok Lifestyle did not respond to a request for comment.