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Tech mogul Ron Conway shakes down supervisors to support London Breed for mayor

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(Left: Emma Marie Chiang/Special to S.F. Examiner; right: Courtesy Joi Ito/Creative Commons)
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Welcome, folks, to the Great Supervisor Shakedown of 2018.

Ron Conway, the tech mogul and billionaire ally of the late Mayor Ed Lee, has contacted moderate-leaning members of the Board of Supervisors with one message: Support Acting Mayor London Breed for interim mayor — or else.

Remaining mayor until June would give Breed an edge to win against fellow mayoral candidates Mark Leno and Jane Kim. Conway is ensuring she gets that edge.

Conway, who is also known as the “Godfather of Silicon Valley” with investments in Airbnb, Google and PayPal, has the purse strings to make such an implicit threat all too real.

And this isn’t the first time he’s stumped for Breed. He also called on mourners at Lee’s private funeral to rally behind her, which I previously reported in December.

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

Conway has much stake in the election. Past administrations have fostered a friendly environment for the tech industry. It doesn’t take the latest app to figure out Conway fears progressives could end San Francisco’s tech romance.

Meanwhile, the heat to vote for an interim “caretaker” mayor is rising.

Breed, in her capacity as board president, said Wednesday she’s willing to schedule a vote for interim mayor. But a date has not been set.

Leno and Kim have argued for a fair election, free from the influence of incumbency.

Breed cannot vote for herself as interim mayor, leaving the remaining 10 supervisors — five of whom are counted as “progressive” and five as “moderate” — deadlocked. Progressives have zeroed in on those moderates, attempting to convince one of them to swing toward nominating a caretaker mayor.

Enter Conway.

Conway has contacted various moderate supervisors to pressure them to support Breed, I’m told by sources with knowledge who wish to remain unnamed.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin was also aware of these meetings.

“I won’t divulge individual names, but I will say that Ron Conway has been meeting with moderate members of the Board of Supervisors and throwing his weight around,” Peskin said.

There’s also a serious ethical question to consider in Conway’s discussions.

You see, Conway has a history of spending his money in independent expenditure committees, which — unlike committees for candidates — can take contributions of any amount.

But, importantly, independent expenditure committees are barred from coordinating with candidates. They are meant to be separate, autonomous entities, not bargaining chips.

So, if Conway is talking to supervisors about who he’ll crush or help in their own future elections, that may constitute illegal campaign coordination.

The supes would have to spill the beans for us to know for sure.

Tony Winnicker, who was Mayor Lee’s former senior advisor and is now Conway’s spokesperson, said if Conway spoke about Breed to some supervisors, well, big whoop.

“Ron is a native San Franciscan and respected technology leader and he’s sometimes asked his perspective on important issues,” Winnicker said. “In any case, it’s entirely appropriate for him to express his personal views about any topic, and he’s not going to comment on any private conversations he may have.”

Supervisor Katy Tang was the only moderate supervisor to go on the record. She told me in an email, “I did not and do not have any plans of meeting with or communicating with Tony Winnicker nor Ron Conway on any previous date nor in the future.”

Conway is a bogeyman in local electoral politics, but not without good cause. The tech mogul personally ponied up hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight Kim’s state Senate bid against Scott Wiener, David Campos’ failed Assembly bid against David Chiu, Peskin’s comeback elections and more.

The question is — will he succeed again?

* * *

Famed local politico Angela Alioto was first to file for the upcoming June mayor’s race. But folks all around The City quickly started noticing something odd about her campaign …

Alex Clemens, founding partner of consultancy firm Lighthouse Public Affairs, recently posted on his personal Facebook page that one mayoral candidate (diplomatically, he did not name names) was oddly using the slogan “Now more than ever!” in their campaign materials. (Spoiler alert: It was Alioto).

That’s the exact same slogan used by none other than “Tricky Dick” himself: Disgraced former Republican President Richard Nixon.

Hoo-boy, did that get Alioto — yes, a Democrat — fired up.

“I told Clemens off!” she told me. “I said, ‘Cheap shot.’ You can Google any slogan and find some turkey in history that’s used it.”

Clemens said he hasn’t spoken to Alioto in at least two years.

“I’m not sure if there’s another Alex Clemens in San Francisco who was recently told off by Angela Alioto,” he said.

Alioto distanced herself from the infamous president who once claimed, “I am not a crook!”

She told me, “Our point is, it’s Angela — me — now more than ever.”

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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