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Legendary politico John Burton scorches progressive SF Dems for taking ‘ugly’ landlord campaign cash

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Senator Barbara Boxer puts her hand on the face of California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton before speaking to the California Democrats State Convention on Feb. 27 in San Jose. (Ben Margot/AP)

Former state Sen. John Burton is spittin’ fire at San Francisco’s progressive Dems.

The legendary Democrat, occasional boxer and politician known for his fiery demeanor is hoppin’ mad at the local Democratic Party board, known as the Democratic County Central Committee, for taking $10,000 in campaign donations for the June election from San Francisco’s biggest, and most controversial, landlord: Veritas Properties.

You see, Burton helped the progressive wing of S.F. Dems retake the board from corporate moderates two years ago by lending his name to the usually sleepy election for DCCC seats. Now, he’s accusing the progressives of doubling back on their promises to rout pay-for-play politics.

As readers of this column may recall, Supervisor Jeff Sheehy scolded Veritas representatives in a May 2 City Hall meeting, verbally knocking them over the head as accusations rained down that the company engaged in “unlawful business practices” and hiked rents to pay for construction, among other allegations of shady-wrongdoings. Veritas owns more than 250 buildings in The City.

Just eight days later, Veritas donated $10,000 bucks to the DCCC, which they used to partially fund their slate-mailer cards trumpeting Sheehy’s opponent, Supervisor-Elect Rafael Mandelman, to voters. Funnily enough, Mandelman didn’t even really need the boost — he beat Sheehy at the polls in a veritable landslide.

Still, it’s the principle of the matterand Burton spared the progressive-led DCCC no quarter.

Veritas were subject to hearings “for their rather tastless tactics of doing their best to move tenants out of rent controller properties so they can put them on the market and collect higher rents,” Burton wrote in his letter to all DCCC members. “One of the raps on Mary Jung when she was [DCCC] chair was that she took money from almost anyone and everyone that put out a slate card. I do not, however, remember Mary ever taking money from a group such as Veritas Properties who has shown nothing but disrespect for the laws and residents of our city.”

Burton even questioned the Democrats for slighting Sheehy by giving him lesser prominence on the Democratic Party’s slate-mail card, the potential for which Burton characterized as an “ugly specter.” Sheehy earned the DCCC’s number 2 endorsement in ranked-choice voting, meaning he should have been loud and proud on the mailer, Burton argued.

“Frankly from the outside looking in it stinks and it raises a question about the ethical standards that the SFDCCC intends to adhere to when making endorsements,” Burton wrote, “and how much ‘pay for play’ is going to enter into party endorsements and slate mailers.”

Oh, burn.

Of course, this all raises flags for me as well. I’ve spilled much ink slamming Mary Jung’s pay-for-play practices when she chaired the DCCC — and the practice stinks no matter who does it.

Despite that, I did think, in fairness, I should dig up who else Veritas has given to over the years.

In no particular order, the Yat-Pang Au, head of Veritas, and the entity itself have donated campaign cash to: Supervisor Ahsha Safai in 2017, Marjan Philhour for her failed DCCC run, former supervisor (and now Mayor) Mark Farrell’s 2016 DCCC run, the late Mayor Ed Lee for San Francisco Committee, Re-Elect London Breed for Supervisor 2016 committee, the Katy Tang for Supervisor 2014 committee,and both David Chiu and Ed Lee for Mayor campaign committees.

I’d also add that many of those folks are political moderates who tend to net landlord and Realtor dollars in campaigns. When I asked Burton by phone if he would similarly scold those candidates for taking Veritas’ money, Burton said, “What independent candidates do is up to them, but the Democratic Party is what concerns me.”

That’s fair, he was the state Democratic Party leader for nearly a decade.

David Campos, the former city supervisor, is current chair of the local Democratic Party. His response was a modest slight to Burton.

“As John Burton himself has shown us, the Democratic Party can take money from people who do bad things, and use that money to do something good,” he said. “The contributions we received from this entity was a small percentage of the money we used to elect a progressive majority on the Board of Supervisors and pass Proposition F, the most significant protenant measure to pass since rent control.”

That’s all well and good, but Burton had a different opinion.

“There’s a lot of money you don’t take,” Burton told me. “It’s some real horseshit.”

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at joe@sfexaminer.com, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at facebook.com/FitztheReporter.

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