Local dems turn superior court race political


The usually sleepy judge’s race in this year’s city election is now one of those classic San Francisco political brawls — where no one’s hands look clean, and the allegations rise like cheap sourdough.

The story starts out simply enough. The local arm of the Democratic Party, the Democratic County Central Committee, voted to endorse a candidate for judge on March 16.

Three candidates are vying for San Francisco Superior Court Judge: Sigrid Irias, Victor Hwang and Paul Henderson.

Judges usually occupy their seats for life, so this is for all the beans.

The race is considered “down ballot,” meaning voters know bupkis about it. As one political insider told me, “I’ll give you $20 if you can name seven San Francisco judges right now.”

Fair enough. So rubber stamps —like that of the Democratic Party — are hugely influential.

But the ones holding the stamps, the DCCC, are also run by Mayor Ed Lee’s allies, like Mary Jung, a lobbyist for the San Francisco Realtors association and DCCC chair.

Hwang is a police commissioner, but Henderson works in the Mayor’s Office. Seeing the writing on the wall, Hwang implored the DCCC to choose “no endorsement” in the judge’s race, asking the DCCC members “to let the voters decide.”

No such luck. Though 12 DCCC members chose “no endorsement,” and two voted for Hwang, 17 members voted for Henderson.

Afterwards on Facebook, Hwang cried foul.

“Sadly, some have chosen to value politics over qualifications,” he wrote in his post, adding he is the only candidate who handled serious felony trials and practiced in both criminal and civil courts. Henderson disagrees with this assessment of his record.

Local Chinese-language newspaper Sing Tao then took a swing, and singled out Jung and other Asian DCCC members for not backing the lone Chinese candidate, Hwang.

In Chinatown, that can be a politically damning claim.


Above, Sing Tao takes on Mary Jung, and the DCCC, over Henderson’s endorsement.

Jung shot back, and wrote in a statement, “I am deeply disappointed at the remarks made by Victor Hwang.” The statement questioned Hwang’s “temperament.”

Jung has questionable ties to Realtor purse strings as leader of the Democratic Party. If Jung said the sun was hot and water was wet, I’d still be inclined not to believe her.

But folks at the DCCC that night spoke pretty plainly about their divided loyalties — Henderson is an out gay black man (and native San Franciscan), Hwang is Asian, Irias is a Latina woman. The DCCC is by its nature political, so all the handwringing about labels is not unexpected.

And now all the same political allegations have surfaced, too.

Some behind the scenes are calling out Hwang’s questionable role with Progress for All, which allegedly skirted numerous campaign finance laws to get Mayor Ed Lee elected in his first mayoral run.

“If I could go back in time I would not have participated,” Hwang told me. “Not because of ethics violations, it’s not clear there were violations.”

Henderson similarly was called out years ago by the San Francisco Bay Guardian for being gifted his current role as Mayor Ed Lee’s Deputy Chief of Staff in charge of public safety. So the story goes, “Da Mayor,” Willie Brown, wrote in his San Francisco Chronicle column that Newsom helped “take care of” Henderson.

“I felt like my qualifications were seen independently,” Henderson told me, “I had a familiarity with Ed Lee independent of the politics.”

So here we are, with allegations flying at two of these candidates, regarding race, qualifications and prior alleged deals with — who else? — Mayor Lee.

There is one thing Henderson and Hwang agree on.

Henderson wants to be thought of “as an individual, just beyond what the stats are, independently of labels,” and Hwang said, “I think it’s a bigger deal that people are able to see beyond racial guidelines to recognize qualification.”

Both just want voters to do their research — and see them for their record.

Well voters, I gave you a start. You’ve got until June to figure it out.

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each Tuesday. Email him at joe@sfexaminer.com.

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