Squabbling between prominent power brokers has blown up into a fight highlighting a political rift in San Francisco’s Asian community that could have implications in the mayoral race.
The fight escalated recently when local Democratic Party chair Aaron Peskin suggested in an interview with the Epoch Times that one of Mayor Ed Lee’s close allies, Chinese Chamber of Commerce head Rose Pak, represented the interests of outside governments, including the People’s Republic of China. Peskin backed the claim by pointing out that Lee had taken multiple trips to China with Pak.
The comments led to a backlash that is still being played out in Chinese-language newspapers and elsewhere. Tony Winnicker, a spokesman for Lee’s campaign, compared the former board president to former U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who took anti-communism to the extreme in the 1950s.
Intensifying the war were the mayoral endorsements made by the Peskin-led Democratic County Central Committee this month. Only two candidates were endorsed for the three-spot ranked-choice slate card, and neither of them was Chinese-American.
Daily newspaper Sing Tao followed with a one-sided front-page article with Pak condemning Peskin as racist. That report was rebutted by another report in the Epoch Times, which is run by supporters of Falun Gong, a spiritual movement banned by the Chinese government that Pak once prevented from participating in the Chinese New Year parade.
Publishers of the Epoch Times also say that issues of the weekly print publication that included Peskin’s original interview were pilfered from news racks over the weekend.
Peskin disputes any claims of racism. He pointed out that if the local Democratic Party was racist, then why did it endorse successful Asian candidates in the past, including supervisors David Chiu, Carmen Chu and Eric Mar, Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting and Public Defender Jeff Adachi?
“My remarks were taken out of context and I regret if they were misconstrued by or caused hurt to anybody,” Peskin said. “But my quotes about the treatment of Falun Gong in the Chinese New Year parade are now being used for strategic, political purposes to elect someone as mayor.”
And the strategy appears to be having a major effect on a large voting bloc, according to San Francisco State University political science professor David Lee.
“I think it has generated a lot of comment, which ranges from outrage in the community to resignation,” Lee said. “Some people say, ‘Well, what do you expect? This is a pattern of historic anti-Asian discrimination.’”
“It is really about political influence and how political influence works — and that even includes working with and representing the interest of an outside government in San Francisco. I am happy to name those names. They include the People’s Republic of China.”
— Aaron Peskin, to the Epoch Times in a thinly veiled shot at Rose Pak
“[Peskin is] the Joseph McCarthy of S.F. politics.”
— Tony Winnicker, spokesman for Mayor Ed Lee’s campaign, on Twitter
“I’m actually not surprised by these racist remarks by Peskin. Actually, many liberals are racists, their true colors are being shown now.”
— Rose Pak, in Sing Tao Daily as translated by rival paper Epoch Times