Political leaders on Monday Oct. 21, 2019 held a news conference to call out a billboard put up by mayoral candidate Ellen Zhou at Howard Street and Dore Alley depicting Mayor London Breed that they described as racist. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Conservative mayoral candidate defends controversial billboard: ‘this is beautiful art’

Local elected officials denounce depiction of Mayor London Breed as ‘racist’

With the promotion this weekend on TV news of a single campaign billboard, mayoral candidate Ellen Lee Zhou has finally taken her long-shot, never-gonna-win conservative messaging from a quiet grumbling to a volume akin to clanging pots and pans.

Zhou, who finished her mayoral campaign last year with a not-too-shabby 9,500 votes compared to Breed’s 90,000-plus, has largely seen her campaign — which features pro-Trump, pro-NRA messaging and criticism of The City’s handling of homeless issues — fly so deeply under-the-radar it might as well have been swallowed by the San Andreas fault.

Until this billboard debuted, that is.

This weekend she got her fifteen minutes. Now she’s making the most of it.

Monday, she stood near her controversial campaign billboard on Dore Street, in the South of Market, and defended it.

Just moments earlier a bevy of politicos — including Assemblymember David Chiu, City Assessor Carmen Chu and Board of Equalization member Malia Cohen — had called it racist, sexist, and plain old awful. It depicts a cartoon Mayor London Breed kicking up her bare feet on a table, counting money while dreaming of our homeless crisis growing ever worse. It also shows a man carrying a little girl away with the slogan “Stop slavery and human trafficing (sic) in SF.”

“This type of political discourse has no place in America, and no place in San Francisco,” Chiu said at at news conference.

“As a Chinese American, I am appalled that a fellow Chinese American would use this racist propaganda,” Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer said.

They demanded Zhou take the billboard down.

I spoke to the San Francisco Ethics Commission, and they verified their jurisdiction doesn’t cover the content of political ads. And a spokesperson for Outfront, the company that operates the billboard itself, told me “we’re not making a public statement on it at this time.”

That leaves all the power with Zhou. Monday, she dug in her heels.

Zhou speaks with media in front of the controversial billboard put up by her campaign in the South of Market neighborhood. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

“People always try to use the racist card. It is not racist. It is about the reality of San Francisco,” Zhou said. “When people say I am racist, how can I be racist? I’m Chinese. I’m female.

Zhou’s campaign hovers in an interesting space in San Francisco politics. The broader city doesn’t hear about her exploits, usually, but since she does actually represent a real conservative streak in San Franciscans, however small, she hovers just high enough in the air to earn some attention, especially in the Chinese press.

A small slice of San Franciscans support her.

Their support comes from the same frustrated impulse that drives some of our denizens to put up boulders to block the homeless. The same impulse that led one man to threaten to light homeless people in the Mission on fire. The same impulse that lets us block needed housing because we’re afraid The City will replace a tree with a species you don’t like.

Now, I’m not saying these are folks who should be demonized. I’m a fan of conscientious disagreement, while still trying to understand. Like when a perception of rising crime in Chinese neighborhoods scared members of that community, in August I revealed some wanted to arm themselves in response.

That was a scary time for some, when they saw Chinatown civic leaders beaten by robbers. I get it.

But it was also a political opportunity. Zhou, gun in hand, was quick to encourage those seeking gun ownership.

Today’s controversy was another opportunity, and put her in a position to air thoughts like this:

“I believe London Breed is racist against three white men running for mayor right now.”

“This is beautiful art for campaigning.”

“You may get Chinese in here who says this is a beautiful picture. It’s beautiful. But to an African American, it’s all racist!”

“I, as a conservative and as an immigrant, I appreciate my President Trump is doing the best he can, I respect him as a president. I will not make toilet paper in there with him to go to the bathroom. I will not call him an idiot like the Democrats do.”

“Whoever thinks this billboard is racist themselves are racist!”

“I am not looking for attention. I’m letting the San Francisco voters know they have a choice.”

Anyone putting up a billboard like Zhou’s is, of course, looking for attention.

She’s gotten it. The City’s political class has scorched her for it.

We have to remember that no matter how much The City recriminates against her, that Zhou-like impulses have always existed in San Francisco. Roughly 37,000 people here voted for Trump in 2016, after all.

But I’ll tell you one thing: That’s more votes than Zhou will likely see for mayor.

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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