SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — San Francisco’s mayoral campaign took an ugly turn over the weekend that left several community leaders outraged and the incumbent London Breed “shocked” by a personal attack displayed on a billboard on Howard and Dore Street, in the city’s South of Market neighborhood.
The billboard depicts a crude caricature of Mayor London Breed in a red dress and heels with her feet up, holding a cigar in one hand and a stack of money in the other. The message “Stop slavery and human trafficing [sic] in SF” is visible.
Shown in a thought bubble coming from the woman are lines of individuals with numbers tagged around their necks. A man in a suit is also seen carrying away a young girl holding a teddy bear–the man is holding a stack of money as well.
It was sponsored by the Ellen Lee Zhou For Mayor campaign. Monday, she was doubling down on her message.
“No matter what — you look at my face — I am not a racist. I am Chinese-American. I am running for mayor. I care about San Francisco,” said Ellen Lee Zhou. “We’re not talking about racism here. Whoever brought up that it’s racist is because they’re brainwashed.”
Zhou brushed aside charges of racism or calls to remove the billboard.
“I think the billboard speaks for itself,” Breed told reporters Monday. “It’s unfortunate that it has come to this point … There are ways the policy decisions I make can be criticized without making things, sadly personal. Unfortunately, it is what it is, at this point.”
Breed said her phone began ringing right away and she was stunned by what she was being told.
“I was pretty shocked that something like that was up in San Francisco,” Breed said. “I got contacted by a lot of people who were really upset and hurt and outraged that we would have something like that hanging in San Francisco.”
When pressed further, Breed said her current focus was “to run the city and to not get caught up and provide more attention to this than it’s worth.”
“A San Francisco politician should unite us rather than continue to divide us,” says Greg Lawler who lives near the billboard’s location.
Zhou might have united the city in opposition to her message. A broad coalition of politicians and community members held a press conference Monday morning to condemn the billboard, calling it a “vile and reprehensible political ad that is invoking racist, misogynistic and sexist perspectives.”
“We are all standing united to say, we denounce this,” said California Assemblyman David Chiu at the Monday morning news conference. “We (the politicians and community leaders surrounding Chiu) don’t always agree on everything, but we do agree that this type of political discourse has no place in San Francisco. No place in America. Unfortunately, the current occupant of the White House, President Trump, has engaged in this type of statements and this mayoral candidate is an avowed Trump supporter.”
“We shun the Trumpian politics of hatred,” said Supervisor Aaron Peskin.
Zhou is one of a handful of people opposing Breed in her re-election bid and is the only Republican in the race. She drives around the city in a pickup truck plastered in campaign posters, blaring “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“I believe London Breed is racist,” Zhou told KPIX 5. “Racist against three Caucasian men who is running for mayor because there’s no debate. She refused to have any debate. I am Asian American and there is another Asian American running for mayor. There’s six candidates for the mayor’s position. I believe that London Breed is the most racist in the entire San Francisco.”
After being asked to describe the billboard in her own words, Zhou had no qualms confirming the woman depicted on the ad is indeed Breed.
“Well, if you look at the picture, London Breed is counting the money — that’s her paycheck,” Zhou said. “The mayor makes $350,000 a year while people are dying on the streets — they have to pick their dead bodies up. A mayor getting a big fat raise while people are dying.”
Among those who gathered to condemn the billboard was former president of the San Francisco Board Of Supervisors and now chair of the state Board of Equalization Malia Cohen.
“I come here with two succinct measures,” she said. “First, I want to communicate to you all what the depiction of this billboard means to me as an African-American woman. I personally am hurt. I’m wounded. It’s very upsetting … Stop using racism and leveraging it for your own benefit.”
Supervisor Matt Haney represents the district of San Francisco where the billboard has been erected.
“[The billboard] should have no place in this neighborhood,” he said. “Residents of SoMa, children, families having to walk by this and see these depictions is absolutely unacceptable. What we are seeing is trickle-down hatred coming from the White House and it should never have a place here in San Francisco. Not any time. Not in the year 2019.”