The battles of campaign season are normally waged in television ads, mass mailings and public debates, but on Tuesday political combat came to the streets of San Francisco.
What was supposed to be a revelation from mayoral candidate Leland Yee of illegal colluding with independent expenditure committees by Mayor Ed Lee’s campaign turned into a chaotic and ugly scene outside the state senator’s campaign office.
Based on accounts from a former campaign worker who refused to provide his name to reporters, Yee’s campaign claimed Lee supporters paid $150 in cash to more than 30 down-and-out Bayview residents to post signs and door hangers, along with offering them bonuses and city jobs if Lee wins the race.
Yee’s campaign said the collusion took place when those same workers also were asked to post signs from the official Lee campaign.
Members of Lee’s campaign — including spokesman Tony Winnicker and campaign manager Bill Barnes — showed up at Yee’s headquarters to denounce Yee for what they called “flat-out lies.” When they were turned away at Van Ness Avenue and Turk Street, they waited outside for reporters. But when reporters tried to get the Lee camp’s side of the story, a few dozen Yee campaign workers went outside to shout over their comments.
As Barnes and Winnicker attempted to leave, the Yee supporters followed and chanted louder. Jim Stearns, Yee’s campaign manager, got in on the action by holding an iPhone close to Winnicker’s face and laughing as he captured the ruckus on video.
Lost in the mayhem was the anonymous campaign worker, who never showed up for the 2 p.m. news conference. Yee’s campaign gave reporters a chance to interview him three hours later at a nearby apartment building, where they said he wouldn’t “fear for his life.”
About the time the campaign worker was originally scheduled to speak, a group of people claiming to represent the Bayview showed up to refute what was going to be said about the alleged illegal activity because it would reflect poorly on a community leader, they said. They too were not allowed into the campaign office.
“Well, this certainly wasn’t boring,” said Adam Keigwin, who is on leave as Yee’s chief of staff in Sacramento to help with the mayoral campaign.
Police arrived soon after the hoopla and asked Yee if he wanted to file a report.
“I don’t think that’s necessary,” Yee said.