Adorned with a bow-tie and blessed (perhaps cursed?) with an overabundance of energy, Justin Jones dramatically shook San Francisco’s political scene in a brief three years.
He garnered Supervisor Aaron Peskin as a political opponent, and helped grow the United Democratic Club — formerly the Robert Francis Kennedy Democratic Club — into a 600-member behemoth.
Now, he’s gone: Jones left our fair city to greener pastures in Richmond, Va., after his wife’s mother passed away. They moved to her childhood home to take care of family affairs.
“I always wanted to live in San Francisco,” Jones, a Pleasanton native, told me.
Though he left Dec. 18, his departure was perhaps lost in the flurry of news following Mayor Ed Lee’s death Dec. 12. Lee had a hand in Jones’ last job here, because Lee appointed Supervisor Jeff Sheehy as supervisor for District 8, and Jones went on to work for Sheehy as a legislative aide shortly after.
Jones moved to San Francisco in 2010, but it wasn’t until he entered the political fray in 2014 that his name was rued by progressives and hailed by moderates.
He co-founded the former RFK Democratic Club, which was later redubbed the UDC. In San Francisco, political clubs are hotbeds of organizing for local candidates and ballot measures, but Jones took it to another level.
UDC took in absolutely copious gobs of money — $800,000 by their October 2016 filings — mostly from other groups which themselves took funding from billionaires like tech mogul Ron Conway, an investor in Google and Airbnb.
“It gave the impression that special interests were able to buy the name of the Democratic Party,” said Petra DeJesus, a police commissioner who is also on local Democratic Party board that oversees Democratic clubs.
This drew the ire of Peskin, who unsuccessfully tried to oust the club from the Democratic Party. The hubbub also spurred a resolution calling for contributions to clubs to be more transparent, as some critics dubbed UDC’s funding “dark money.”
Jones’ legacy, then, may be to inspire greater funding transparency in San Francisco through his own — ahem — energetic fundraising efforts.
Peskin declined to comment. As for the nearly always bow-tie-clad Jones, he was quick to answer how he felt about his political stint in San Francisco.
“I wouldn’t change a thing,” he said.
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By the time you read this, it will be the day after Christmas (or a week after Hanukkah, if you please), so I wanted to share with you a tiny, hopeful tale.
I was waiting for the 38-Geary by Sixth Avenue one chilly December morning, on my way to work. It was one of those mornings — one I’m sure we all have — when gentrification, evictions and stark inequality had me in a foul mood. Suddenly I saw a white sedan stop in front of me.
“Bro, don’t you write for the Examiner?” a young, brown guy shouted from his car. People say hi to me around town often (the red hair helps), but that day in particular … the hello felt different.
“This City is almost dead. But I’m a San Francisco native, I love your work,” he said.
I replied to him, “We’re still here.”
Later as I sat in my Muni seat, I felt far warmer than I had minutes ago. As heavy as our city’s changes can weigh on us, we all have to remember — we are still here.
Happy holidays, everyone.
On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at email@example.com, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at facebook.com/FitztheReporter.