By Luke Thomas
February 17, 2011
Supervisor Jane Kim has, fairly or unfairly, come under fire from progressive circles in recent weeks. Some are questioning whether the District 6 supervisor is able to exercise political independence following revelations former Mayor Willie Brown contributed $5 thousand to an independent expenditure benefiting Kim’s candidacy.
And in the first test of her political independence since her swearing in to the Board of Supervisors in January, Kim supported the appointment of Richard Johns, the husband of Willie Brown Institute Executive Director Eleanor Johns, to the Historical Preservation Commission despite claims that Johns is not qualified to serve as a historian on the commission.
And while the city faces a $350 million budget deficit, Kim has also been criticized for supporting a payroll tax exemption for Twitter, Inc. to discourage the social media company from relocating to Brisbane.
To address these issues and concerns in more detail, Fog City Journal was granted an interview with Kim. The following is a transcribed excerpt from the interview:
FCJ: There’s a perception out there that you are not able to exercise political independence and much of that perception was generated after it was revealed Willie Brown contributed $5 thousand to your campaign via an independent expenditure. Can you address this?
JK: “The same people that criticized me during the campaign are criticizing me now. So that perception was there before I got onto the Board of Supervisors, and it’s propagated by the same set of people.”
FCJ: Brown’s independent expenditure surprised a lot of people, particularly progressives.
JK: “It was a surprise to me, too. I didn’t know about it. I didn’t ask Willie Brown for funding for our campaign. I certainly didn’t know anything about an independent expenditure. The IE that came out on our behalf was a fraction of what was spent for Debra Walker and Theresa Sparks, so the fact that people thought that a small donation buys my politics, I found very interesting.”
“And nothing to be said for the number of developer dollars that went to both of my opponents which we didn’t accept during the campaign – nobody thought that was a big deal. I’m not really quite sure what the difference between developers and Willie Brown are in terms of their interests and certainly a ton of them funded the Debra Walker campaign – progressives didn’t kick up dust about that.”
FCJ: The perception is is that your benefactors are Willie Brown and Rose Pak.
JK: “I honestly don’t have anything to say about that because they haven’t asked me for anything … except to come to the Chinese New Year’s parade. Besides being invited to events, I’ve never been asked for anything by them. If people have evidence of how my votes have been influenced by them, then people should bring that forward. But to simply say, ‘oh, we saw them at your event and therefore you’re going to do whatever they say,’ I think that’s a huge jump. A lot of people go to a lot of people’s events. I don’t think Rose (Pak) played a significant role in our campaign, but that was my perception.”
FCJ: Did Rose Pak help raise money for your campaign?
JK: “Not that I know of. I would say 80 percent of the donors – I could be wrong about this – I could call personally on my cell phone right now, and the fact that people think that I can’t fundraise that amount on my own, to me it’s a little insulting. I worked really hard to raise that money for our campaign and other people helped us with fundraising. I’m not aware of Rose actively campaigning for our campaign fund.”
FCJ: Do you sense there may be an expectation of voting a certain way on issues that are important to Rose Pak?
JK: “Not that I know of.”
FCJ: For example, the Central Subway Project.
JK: “I’m already supporting Central Subway. I was supporting that before I knew who Rose was.”
FCJ: And Willie Brown? Is there any implicit expectation that you will vote according to how Rose and Willie would want you to vote on issues important to them?
JK: “I don’t event know what they want. I feel like Steve (Steve Jones, SFBG City Editor) is telling me what they want but no one has ever approached me of what they wanted. So I’m not aware of any future things coming forward. No one has warned me of anything. Again, I just want to know the evidence that people have of all these supposed ‘string pulling’ that’s going on instead of just assuming that they are my own independent decisions.”
FCJ: Can you explain your support for the payroll tax exemption for Twitter?
JK: “The basic concept is that, if you’re a company that’s growing in San Francisco and you want to invest, put your company in Mid-Market – it’s an area that already has infrastructure and large commercial retail that is vacant – we will give you a tax exemption on new jobs that you bring to the City. So whatever current jobs you have, you continue to pay payroll tax on that. So Twitter will continue to pay what they are currently paying every year for the next six years if they move to Mid-Market.”
“To me this is our dialogue around business tax reform as well. I think that most of us agree that the payroll tax is not the best way to tax businesses because it discourages job creation – which is something we want to see happen – and so I would like to see us move to a gross receipts tax model on commercial rental and I think that’s a good direction to move in.”
FCJ: If a gross receipts measure proposal passes on the ballot, would Twitter’s payroll exemption expire?
JK: “Yes. This is not a tax exemption on future taxes or tax reform.”
FCJ: On Richard Johns’ appointment to the Historical Preservation Commission, did you know that his wife, Eleanor Johns, is the Executive Director of the Willie Brown Institute?
JK: “I found that out after the Rules Committee hearing.”
FCJ: How did you vote for Johns at the full Board?
JK: “I voted for him yes at the Board and yes at Rules Committee.”
FCJ: Your progressive colleagues have indicated Johns was unqualified for the post.
JK: “They said he was qualified but they didn’t know if he was the best person for the job. I felt the same way. I thought he was qualified. Did he fit perfectly under the definition of historian? I didn’t think so but our City Attorney said that we had discretion… We asked supervisors if there were concerns around Mr. Johns and there wasn’t so we went forward and supported his nomination.”
FCJ: And you’re okay with your vote on that?
JK: “He’s one member out of seven on the Historical Preservation Commission. I think he cares about historical buildings. I think he’ll be a good member.”
FCJ: On the Pledge of Allegiance, do you believe in God?
JK: “I do believe in God, I don’t think it should be in the pledge.”
FCJ: What are your thoughts on the state of progressivism in San Francisco?
JK: “I think a lot remains to be seen and I think what we saw was ten years of really strong activism in progressive electoral politics which is really important in setting a strong foundation for us right now. There’s a lot of work that was done around housing, around a more equitable budget process that were huge successes. We saw Healthy San Francisco, we saw paid sick days, we saw local hire – I think those are some of the key legislations that we were able to pass in the city that now even moderates claim as successes. So I think the key now for the next ten years is what are the next steps for progressives? How can we address job growth? How can we continue to deal with a shrinking budget that helps fund services that make our city more equitable, and how do we continue to kind of evaluate how development happens in this city?”
FCJ: Have you thought about ways of raising revenue, targeting the rich in San Francisco, to pay more of their fare share?
JK: “I think revenue generation is something progressives have always tried to take a leadership role in and we have to do it.”
FCJ: If the Falun Gong were to apply for a permit for next year’s Chinese New Year parade, where would you be in terms of support for that?
JK: “I have no opinion on this issue.”
JK: “I don’t know. I don’t have an opinion on this issue.”
FCJ: Do you remember the issue when it flared up in 2006 and 2007?
JK: “Yeah, they violated rules of the parade. They weren’t allowed to leaflet and they did, so they weren’t allowed to participate again in the parade. That’s my understanding of the issue.”
FCJ: They are a peaceful organization. Shouldn’t they be allowed to participate in a parade in a country that supports freedom of speech?
JK: “I don’t know anything about Falun Gong and try not to get involved. I don’t think this is an appropriate issue for elected officials.”
FCJ: This issue was brought before the Board before.
JK: “I know and I think it was inappropriate. I thought it was inappropriate for [Supervisor] Daly to bring this forward. This is an international issue. There’s a lot of politics involved, China with Falun Gong; there’s a lot of different opinions in the Asian-American, Chinese-American community. I think this is something that needs to be worked out in the community.”
Editor’s Note: Luke Thomas is a resident and voter in District 6. In the interest of transparency, he provided photography services to the 2010 campaigns of Jane Kim, Jim Meko and Debra Walker.