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Ron Conway backs London Breed for mayor at Ed Lee’s private funeral

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Mayor Ed Lee, left, and investor Ron Conway speak during the TechCrunch Disrupt event in San Francisco in September 2013. (Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch)
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Ron Conway is all-in on London Breed.

At Ed Lee’s private funeral service for friends and family at Duggan’s Serra Mortuary in Daly City on Saturday, the tech billionaire gave a speech strongly backing Acting Mayor Breed’s rumored candidacy, according to sources who asked not to be identified.

I’m told most, if not all of the speakers, referred to Lee’s personal life.

Not Conway, though.

Conway’s announcement, given as Lee’s casket laid for mourners, may strongly signal the tech sector mobilizing for the June 2018 election. Once dubbed the “Godfather of Silicon Valley,” Conway is an angel investor who has backed tech heavyweights like Google, Ask Jeeves and PayPal.

SEE RELATED: Supervisors mull ‘caretaker’ mayors to replace London Breed in January

Few individuals have shaped San Francisco politics with the power of the purse as surely as Conway — and Saturday wasn’t the first time he’s thrown his weight behind Breed.

In 2012, Conway’s family and one ally spent about $100,000 in an independent expenditure committee to back Breed in her District 5 race, and Conway has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on Lee’s mayoral candidacy, supervisor races and even some races for The City’s tiny local democratic party board.

Conway reportedly began his speech began by praising Lee, but shifted into a monologue about backing Breed as mayor to honor Lee’s “legacy.”

People were reportedly aghast. “I thought it was totally lacking in class,” one person told me.

“Mr. Conway was a dear friend of the late Mayor Lee and it’s true he was honored to attend the private family memorial service Saturday evening at the invitation of Mrs. Lee,” said Tony Winnicker, Conway’s spokesperson and a former senior adviser to Lee, in a statement. “Mr. Conway honored the life and service of a great man in his remarks, and observed Mayor Lee’s special place in the City’s history. There were no politicians present, and no politics were discussed at all.”

Deirdre Hussey, Breed’s spokesperson, declined to comment.

Breed told reporters at a Monday news conference that she’s still grieving the mayor’s death and that her focus “is on running The City.”

Breed’s personal story is compelling: Rising from a life in poverty and public housing to become the first African-American woman to serve as San Francisco’s mayor is certainly an achievement. Her roots as a San Francisco native, her easy grace and powerful speaking ability portend strong leadership.

But politicos have also whispered fears that Breed would follow in the footsteps of past mayors like Lee, with his strong ties to the tech community, or Willie Brown, known for his easy access to the Mayor’s Office.

Though we mourn Lee, our city’s inequality continues to widen. Our evictions continue to mount, and San Franciscans have a right to know who will lead us — and which deep-pocketed backers are jockeying to influence those leaders.

* * *
Speaking of our mustachioed mayor, Lee’s public memorial on Sunday went mostly as you’d expect — bigwigs praising his record and his humor. But one speaker’s remarks went off the rails, just a bit.

Charlotte Shultz, the monied heiress, spoke before the mourners at City Hall, and — perhaps accidentally — recalled an old racist trope about Asian folks.

Charlotte Mailliard Shultz reads letters to the Lee family from Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Tony Bennett during a celebration of life ceremony for the late Mayor Ed Lee held at City Hall on Dec. 17, 2017. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

“He had a wonderful laugh,” she said. “With those twinkly — well, just like the picture — squinty eyes and that wonderful smile.”

Cally Wong, head of the API Council that represents more than 40 nonprofits serving the local Asian community, was shocked.

“It’s offensive and derogatory,” Wong said, and that’s “coming from someone who was made fun of for having squinty eyes” in school as a child.

It’s an unfortunate gaffe, especially for someone who Lee appointed as “Chief of Protocol” for San Francisco. Yowch.

* * *
Golden State Warriors President Rick Welts shared a surprisingly touching memory of what may have been Mayor Ed Lee’s final text messages last week before he died at 1:11 a.m. on Tuesday.

At the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce’s “Holiday Hoops Luncheon” on Friday, where more than 400 leaders from San Francisco’s business community wined and dined at the Westin St. Francis Hotel to celebrate holiday giving, Lee was on the minds of many.

A tribute video played for him, and even the players shared in the memories.

“It’s tragic. He meant so much,” Kevin Durant told the San Francisco Examiner.

“He was at my press conference when I first got here,” Durant added. “Just seeing him around at events like this one here, obviously at the parade, obviously at the various home games … You can see how much he meant to the whole Bay Area. He’s a great man. We definitely honor him.”

But perhaps the most touching story came from Welts. Sitting on stage before the lunch-goers, Welts said he had visited Lee’s casket Friday morning. There, he spoke with Lee’s chief of staff, Jason Elliot.

Elliot had asked Lee if he could leave work on Monday evening to catch a Warrior’s game.
“The mayor said, ‘Yes, but only if you bring home a win,’” Welts recalled.

And win they did; the Warriors took down the Portland Trail Blazers 111-104 that night.
Elliot got one last text from the mayor.

“Congratulations on the win,” Lee reportedly texted Elliot. “I’m headed to the grocery store because I need some apple juice.” (The Mayor’s Office later confirmed the texts.)

Lee suffered his heart attack around 10 p.m. at a Safeway on Monterey Boulevard, and died shortly after at 1:11 a.m. at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital.

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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