Both Sides Of District 1 Supe Race Slam Bizarre Realtor-Funded, Hollywood-Produced Commercial That Misidentifies Neighborhood

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The biggest — and costliest — political battleground this election year is turning out to be the Richmond District, where District 1 supervisor Eric Mar is attempting to not become the first incumbent ousted in a San Francisco election in nearly a decade. The challenger, Recreation and Park commissioner David Lee, is getting lots of help — some of it from Hollywood, and some of it unwelcome.

Lee is the recipient of nearly $410,000 in campaign contributions to Mar’s $105,000, according to the most recent campaign finance reports available Monday. Of this, over $220,000 has come from third-party independent expenditure committees — the local equivalent of a “super PAC” — including a campaign video paid for by the San Francisco Association of Realtors.

Uploaded to the YouTube account of the “Coaliton (sic) for Sensible Government,” the video was produced by Hollywood-based Strategic Perceptions — who has done work in the past for former President George W. Bush and Arizona Sen. John McCain, according to the firm’s web site. Since its release last week, both Lee’s campaign — which the video is supposed to help — and Mar’s campaign have called for the video to be taken down.

The video takes Mar to task for opposing a policy statement on neighborhood schools last year, for opposing the 2010 sit-lie initiative, and for the “empty storefronts” along Geary Boulevard. Among the other highlights in the slickly-produced four-minute, 12-second clip:

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Orphan Annie histrionics: A crowd of children, their faces blackened with soot, their jeans torn at the knees, their hands clasping pots and pans banged together, take to the streets. Played over the video is audio of children chanting, “Send Mar back to Mars. Send him back, send him back!”

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Somewhat-uncomfortable hot-tub references: There’s a reference to Mar’s awkward reference to the hot tubs at the Richmond’s YMCA, which celebrated its 90th anniversary in April. Three men, naked from the waist up, glance knowingly at the camera in one steam-filled shot decried by some commenters (their remarks since removed from the YouTube posting of the video) as “homophobic.”

Comments on the video were disabled sometime Monday. Prior to that, several comments appeared to be examples of “astroturfing.” The comments were left by users who had registered with the site since the video had been posted, and those users had only commented on that video. “Astroturfing” is a practice where grassroots support is manufactured, or political campaigning made to look like grassroots support.

And, finally, the video appears to demonstrate a tenuous grasp of local nomenclature: not less than four times, the neighborhood known to San Franciscans as “The Richmond” is called “Richmond,” as in “embattled Richmond supervisor Eric Mar,” “David Lee will put the focus back on Richmond,” “Richmond back on top.” In the Bay Area, the term “Richmond” generally means the East Bay city of Richmond in Contra Costa County.

It’s a small error, perhaps, but one that belies a lack of local awareness. And all politics is local, as they say.

Campaign managers for both David Lee and Eric Mar slammed the video and called for it to be taken down.

“We believe that the video is a distraction from the issues we should be discussing in this campaign,” Lee campaign manager Thomas Li said in an email Saturday.

“The tone and nature of the video is not one that David would approve of for his campaign and we are again asking that the video be taken down.”

The video also includes what appears to be fresh shots of Lee talking to voters and on a merchant walk. Coordination between third-party committees and a candidate are prohibited by local election law. It was unclear Monday how the video’s producers came by the video of Lee, according to campaign consultant Jim Ross.

Nobody from the San Francisco Association of Realtors returned emails or phone calls placed Friday and again on Monday.

Any decision to take the video down would have to be made by the realtors, according to Strategic Perception’s Bill Kenyon.

The YouTube account that posted the video, the “Coaliton (sic) for Sensible Government,” is controlled by the realtors, said Kenyon, who was “surprised” that both campaigns had a negative reaction to it.

“It was just a kind of tongue in cheek, light-hearted video,” said Kenyon, who said that the SF Association of Realtors approved the script before the video was produced.

“I haven’t heard any complaints… I’m very surprised [by the reactions]… it sounds like people are making something out of nothing.”

In texts received by the Appeal Friday, Mar said that he’s seen the video and that neighbors in the 46th Avenue and Balboa Street area, where the video was filmed, had complained about the filming but did not comment further.

Mar campaign manager Nicole Derse said Sunday “downtown interests” are spending “ungodly sums to slur Supervisor Mar’s character and distort his record, because Lee has no record, and because their real plans to gut rent control and make the Richmond unaffordable for working families are deeply unpopular.”

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