If you think the attack ads on your doorstep are bad, you should read the ones in the Chinese-language newspapers.
These ads swing far below the belt — particularly ones targeting state Senate candidate Jane Kim.
They may be far harsher than ones we see even in English-language media, and in many cases they represent a world that those out who can’t read Chinese seldom see — one in which our politicians sometimes take on entirely different personas.
“It is probably the case that Chinese voters are the swing vote in this election,” said Jason McDaniel, a political science professor at San Francisco State University.
That’s especially the case with the state Senate race between Kim and Scott Wiener.
One recent attack ad in particular targets Kim’s relationship with California Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu, which for some odd reason was a leading item in Matier & Ross. At the time, the investigative duo’s story seemed to paint Kim as the reason Liu separated from his wife, Ann O’Leary.
To many, it was just a story gawking at romance between politicos with no impact on the electorate. Isn’t this San Francisco, home of free love?
Perhaps, though, it’s a message that rings with some conservative Chinese voters.
Translated, the ad reads, “Jane Kim cannot represent Chinese community, Goodwin Liu is separating from wife, dating Jane Kim. State Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu’s broken marriage, wife states that Liu is dating Kim.”
The last line is quite the kicker: “All newspapers are reporting: Kim destroys a good family.”
Yikes. And many other similar ads hew to that conservative bent. Another alleges Kim “publicly insulted the first Chinese mayor in SF. It is unacceptable.”
“Mistress Kim, great disrespect,” it reads.
Now, Chinese language ads have long shown a “Twilight Zone” version of a candidate you thought you knew. Progressives are no stranger to this.
A recent ad on KTSF supporting supervisor candidate Kimberly Alvarenga, for instance, touts Alvarenga as “against marijuana dispensaries,” somehow conveniently forgetting the Green Cross fundraised for her at a local bar.
But this attack on Kim goes above and beyond, some insiders told me, and may signify the resurgence of a conservative bloc of Chinatown organizers in the wake of Rose Pak’s death.
Cindy Wu, head of the San Francisco Democratic Party, told me this faction swung into power around regional school choice initiatives, when some in the Chinese community felt they were being wrongly penalized.
“The people who have more fear, the people that are more xenophobic, started to band together,” Wu said. “I like to call them the Chinese ‘Tea Party.’”
And no, that’s not a cute play on the idea of drinking tea, but based on their similarities to the Republican fringe group of the same name.
Josephine Zhao is one of those more conservative power players in Chinatown now, and she rallies Chinese landlords in San Francisco. She’s hosted banquets to fundraise for Wiener’s state senate campaign.
Rumor has it Zhao was behind the Kim attack ad, but she told me via Facebook: “I am not involved in that matter. Haha, I’m too highly regarded.”
That particular attack ad is tough to trace — there was no “paid for” designation my translators could spot, nor could I find the ad in campaign filings.
But there may be a clue. Some of these ads link Kim as “part of a team” to put Propositions D, H, L and M on the ballot to “deprive of the mayor, take away his power.”
That points keenly toward the “Friends of the Mayor, No Recall on Mayor Lee, No on D, H, L & M Committee,” which has raised only $32,000, far less than the tech industry or other big spenders this election.
The group spent exclusively on Chinese-language news station KTSF, The Epoch Times, the World Journal and Sing Tao Daily, all bastions of the Chinese press in San Francisco.
McDaniel said there wasn’t much analysis of ads in different languages.
“You’re more likely to see these ads in other language media because they’re less likely to be covered in English language press,” McDaniel said.
In this election, at least, half of The City is having a heated debate about candidates the other half of The City doesn’t even hear.
On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter.
Correction: On Guard initially implied the organization Friends of the Mayor, No Recall on Mayor Lee, No on D, H, L & M Committee may have pushed for political ads against Jane Kim. However, the committee had not formed by the time the alleged political ads were sent. On Guard regrets the implication regarding the committee. Pius Lee, one member of the committee, has denied personal involvement with the attack ads against Jane Kim.