25 years later, evicted black tenants may get the last laugh against Vallie Brown

25 years later, evicted black tenants may get the last laugh against Vallie Brown

While it ain’t over ‘til it’s over, one clear sign that Supervisor Vallie Brown could be in trouble was evident Tuesday night: Her election night party felt like a funeral.

Under the tall ceiling of the Church of 8 Wheels — which, appropriately, is actually a former church — Brown stalked the lacquered wooden floor with her collar pulled tight to her neck.

While roller skaters sweated it out on the rink, her campaign started to sweat, too.

As of this writing, tenant advocate Dean Preston was a slender 218 votes ahead of Brown in the race to represent District 5 on the Board of Supervisors. It is, in Preston’s own words, a “nail-biter,” and may not officially be over for a while. The neighborhoods of the Western Addition, Alamo Square, Haight Ashbury, Japantown, and a sliver of the Inner Sunset will wait a few days yet to discover who their new representative is.

That also includes homes along Fillmore Street, like the one Brown bought 25 years ago with a group of friends. The rub was, people were already living there, including Mary Packer, who still lives in the Western Addition to this day.

Brown evicted them. And 25 years later, when SF Weekly first reported it, Brown claimed they hadn’t paid their rent. There’s just one problem with that claim: It was false.

Documents unearthed by the San Francisco Tenants Union showed the tenants had indeed paid rent, and Ms. Packer filed a cease-and-desist against Brown, calling her a liar.

Neighbors saw Vallie in a different light after that.

One neighbor named Michael, a Preston supporter I spotted at his campaign party at Noir Lounge, told me “it was a surprise.” As a District 5 resident, the eviction shook his image of Brown.

“I guess you can’t escape your past,” he told me.

But in politics, sometimes you can. The eviction news broke Oct. 10, which by conventional political wisdom may have been too late to change the mind of vote-by-mail voters, who usually make up the bulk of San Francisco’s electorate.

Among City Hall insiders of all stripes, there was little hope — or fear — that it would impact Preston and Brown’s election, no matter how damning or revealing.

That wisdom may have been wrong.

Jon Golinger, a long-time San Francisco activist and author of “Saving San Francisco’s Heart,” told me the eviction may have given voters a “bright line” between Preston and Brown’s campaigns, which may not have been as easy to spot before for layman voters.

“Dean is the one who gets you a lawyer when you’re evicted. Vallie is the one who had evicted people” Golinger said. Notably, Preston authored a ballot measure that guaranteed representation for San Franciscans facing eviction.

The news also may have galvanized Preston’s volunteers, Golinger said, which is crucial for netting those election-day votes, which results show are tilting toward Preston. The numbers back Golinger up.

And it isn’t just progressives reading the tea leaves for Preston. Maureen Erwin, a long-time campaign consultant who previously worked for former supervisor, now-state Sen. Scott Wiener, told me Brown is in trouble.

“She’s out,” Erwin said, mincing no words.

Erwin recalled going through this on Julie Christensen’s campaign against Supervisor Aaron Peskin in 2015.

“It just gets uglier,” Erwin said. “The eviction hit worked.”

Now, conventional wisdom again says that San Francisco voters who cast their ballots on election day, whether by dropping off an absentee ballot or casting it in person, tend to skew more progressive. So as the counts come in, they’ll likely continue widening Preston’s lead.

The only exception to that conventional wisdom in recent years was Mayor London Breed’s win last year, but I’d argue that’s a special case for too many reasons to illuminate here.

Supervisor Matt Haney had an interesting take, though. The lower ballot candidates in District 5, Nomvula O’Meara and Ryan Lam, could end up boosting Preston with their ranked choice votes.

“They could actually end up making the difference — and they’re trending for Dean,” Haney said. “The election could come down to a hundred votes from candidates no one paid attention to.”

No matter which way it goes, I know one Western Addition resident, and District 5 constituent, who is happy to see the results as they are now: Mary Packer, one of the tenants Brown evicted 25 years ago.

I stood in Noir Lounge at Preston’s campaign party wearing my goofy, oversized headphones and dialed up Ms. Packer at 11:30 pm., a while after the last election results had come in. Preston held his lead with 6,439 votes, and Brown trailed with 6,221 votes.

Packer’s phone went to her answering machine, but she heard my voice and picked up just as I mentioned that Brown was behind Preston.

“She’s losing?” Packer said, excitedly. “Amen! Right on! Thank you Jesus! Thank you thank you!”

Packer was especially mad that Brown’s supporters said outright that Preston’s campaign must have put Packer up to speaking out against Brown.

“They made it sound like I wasn’t intelligent enough to talk up and say what I had to say,” Packer told me. As if “black people were not intelligent enough to speak up. But I spoke up.”

While things are looking up for Preston’s campaign, ballots are still stacked high at the Department of Elections. Counts will still go on.

That means Packer, a God-fearing person, knows exactly what she’ll do Tuesday night.

She’ll pray.

“I get on my knees, by my bed, and pray before I get into bed. I do it every night,” she said.

And tonight, will she be praying for Dean?

“Yes, I am.”

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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