It’s that time again, dear readers — Sign Wars!
The red-hot race between Supervisor Vallie Brown and organizer Dean Preston, who are vying to represent District 5, including the Haight, the Inner Sunset, Western Addition and Japantown, has now officially hit the “hey, you tore my sign down!” stage.
Yes, we’re so close to election day (November, dammit, please tell me you didn’t need to Google it) that candidates’ campaigners are running their tempers high.
Signs are swiped. Fingers are pointed. Candidates make hay. Merchants are caught in the middle.
Call it a “sign” of the times.
(That’s my last sign pun, I swear).
But in a twist, this latest case was caught on video.
Two campaign staffers for Preston’s campaign can be seen arriving at the Oasis Cafe on 901 Divisadero St. in surveillance footage provided to me by the cafe. When they leave, they’ve got Vallie Brown’s campaign signs in hand.
While what is actually written on the signs is not legible in the video, Oasis Cafe’s owner, Haile Taddesee, told me the tale. He also alleged that one of Preston’s staffers, who has not been named by the campaign, lied to his face.
“I asked her, ‘why did you remove the sign? You can’t remove my property without authorization,’” Taddesse told me. “She said she worked for the supervisor, Brown, and said she was going to bring another one because they changed the logo.”
Taddesse later found out the sign-stealer did not work for Brown’s campaign, and he was incensed. He doesn’t think criminal charges should be pursued, but he does want an apology from Preston’s staffers.
“They’re young folks, they may have competitive feelings,” Taddesse said, empathetically. But, “They disrespect my place. They disrespect me.”
There were two staffers, however. The second is a young San Francisco native and Ruth Asawa School of the Arts graduate Otto Pippenger. He said it was all a big misunderstanding.
Pippenger thought there was some agreement where Oasis Cafe would not allow any signs. He walked in with his fellow staffer and — in what he said was in full view of all sorts of people, showcasing how unconcerned he was — pulled down Brown’s signs.
“I feel so silly about the whole thing,” Pippenger said. “I’m egregiously sorry.”
Now here I must say that I’ve known Otto for quite awhile. When City College of San Francisco’s ridiculous Keystone Cops initiated a brawl with peaceful protesters on their main campus, I reported how Otto was (wrongly) locked in our local clink for a fight he didn’t start.
I even taught one of his brothers in high school, back when I was a teacher. (Otto’s mother very sweetly messaged me on Facebook in anticipation of this story to advocate for her son).
No matter what happened, and how hot tempers ran, I have no doubt Otto cares the utmost for San Francisco. That’s why he’s in politics.
Despite that, I must point out that Taddesse did not recall any agreement about not posting signs. In fact, quite the opposite — he said a Preston campaigner asked his wife to hang one of their own signs in their cafe.
Now, this is all a repeat, yes, of a frequent campaign allegation.
In the screenshots above, Otto Pippinger can be seen taking a campaign sign from Oasis Cafe. The footage shows him walking out at a quick pace. Courtesy Oasis Cafe
Infamously, District 3 Supervisor candidate Julie Christensen raised a ruckus about campaign signs in her 2015 race against Supervisor Aaron Peskin (Heather Knight was all over it). And various ballot proposition campaigns accuse each other of taking signs down all the time.
Maureen Erwin, a political consultant who has worked numerous campaigns in The City (including Christensen’s) said signs do help raise name identification among voters, but they mostly serve another purpose: to pacify candidates’ donors and volunteers who think signs are analogous with political support, and freak out if there aren’t enough of them.
Often the opposite is true, Erwin said. Campaigns that spend more time putting up signs, instead of knocking on doors, show their priorities are twisted.
Also, Erwin added, staffers tempers tend to run hot the closer you get to election day.
“The whole thing is so stupid,” she said,“every campaign I’m on, the last two weeks I sit everybody down. I say, ‘something is going to strike you as a brilliant idea, but it’s a stupid idea. Don’t. Touch. Signs.’”
Almost like clockwork, when I called Preston’s campaign manager Jen Snyder to ask her for comment, she told me she personally saw Brown taking down one of Preston’s signs at Le Cafe Du Soleil in the Lower Haight, some months back.
“That’s crazy,” Snyder said. “It’s usually staffers, it’s not usually the candidate.”
Brown confirmed the story herself, but with a different view.
Brown has known the owner of Le Cafe Du Soleil for quite awhile, and when she saw Preston’s signs there, she called him to ask what the deal was. He told her that Preston’s staffers keep putting them up as soon as he tears them down.
“He said ‘can you please take it down? They’re really disrespectful,’” she told me.
So Brown did, and Snyder was there, too.
There was no video to confirm whether or not Snyder’s version of the story or Brown’s was more accurate.
Jim Stearns, a consultant with Preston’s campaign, was also there and backed up Snyder’s version. But, he said “I really kick myself for not pulling out my phone in the middle of the cafe to video this.”
No matter who’s right, and who’s wrong, Brown did say one thing that was on the money.
“It’s very high-schoolish,” she told me.
In the end, Oasis Cafe now only displays one candidate’s campaign signs — for Brown.
On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at facebook.com/FitztheReporter.