Chinese restaurateur's rap video reinflames San Francisco mayor's raceDecember 28, 2023
SAN FRANCISCO — Black church leaders on Thursday rushed to San Francisco Mayor London Breed’s defense after a rapper of Asian descent lambasted her record on crime and accused her of abandoning the city’s Asian American community.
But in a possible sign of Democratic leaders’ wariness about inflaming the situation, former Mayor Willie Brown unexpectedly pulled out of the press conference held by Black leaders, which didn’t feature Breed and wasn’t endorsed by her campaign. The whole episode shows what a political tinderbox confronts Breed and her allies as the mayor seeks to win a second full term amid broad dissatisfaction with the condition of the city.
Black leaders’ vociferous denunciation of the diss track from Chino Yang, the owner of a Chinese restaurant in San Francisco’s Alamo Square neighborhood, reflects still-raw racial divisions between the city’s Black and Chinese communities that burst open during the pandemic and could determine the direction of the mayoral race.
“We are here to fight for our mayor,” said Phelicia Jones, the founder of the San Francisco nonprofit Wealth and Disparities in the Black Community and a Breed appointee to the city’s Human Rights Commission. “All those who are running for office and think they can come out and really disrespect our mayor, I stand before you in the church of God.”
Breed faces several moderate challengers competing for the support of the city’s sizable Asian American community, which is home to the largest concentration of Chinese-speaking voters and the oldest Chinatown in the country.
The mayor’s political future is likely to depend on whether she earns the support of those voters, who were critical in the recall elections of former District Attorney Chesa Boudin and three members of the San Francisco Unified School Board. AAPI community leaders have become increasingly critical of Breed and city leadership after a wave of property crime and violent attacks targeting elderly Asian residents.
Breed’s most serious challenger so far is Daniel Lurie, an heir to the Levi Strauss & Co. fortune who has been campaigning on a law-and-order platform in a bid to appeal to moderates. Lurie’s campaign seized on Thursday’s press conference to accuse Breed of intimidating a small business owner whose restaurant has been repeatedly burglarized.
“Mr. Yang spoke out after being repeatedly victimized, but this administration is more interested in silencing its critics than solving the very real problems facing our city,” said Max Szabo, a spokesperson for Lurie’s campaign.
Yang’s Dec. 19 video blasted Breed and City Hall leaders for the city’s crime rates and deteriorating street conditions. He called Breed a “clown” and accused her of doing little to help Asian immigrants.
“Now throw your two middle fingers up to the mayor,” Yang said in the track.
Yang issued a public apology Wednesday but said he’d been threatened after meeting with an “extremely powerful individual” with connections to politicians at the state and federal level.
That wasn’t enough for the Black community leaders who put on Thursday’s press conference at the Third Baptist Church in the Fillmore, the city’s historically Black neighborhood.
“The young man got it wrong, and he needs to get it right,” said Amos Brown, the church’s pastor and a member of the statewide task force appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom to study whether the state should pay reparations to Black residents. Brown said he had met with Yang and that no one had threatened or intimidated him.
“That was dishonest,” he said of Yang’s allegation. “It did not represent working together.”
Willie Brown, a longtime political patron of Breed and a still-potent power broker in the city, lent his name to Thursday’s press conference, although he didn’t show. Brown said he decided to skip the event in order to deprive Yang of more publicity.
“I wouldn’t promote somebody’s insulting activities,” he said in an interview. “It was a set-up. It’s somebody trying to promote themselves.” Breed campaign spokesperson Maggie Muir said the mayor’s camp had nothing to do with the event or Brown’s decision to not attend.
Brown, who said he hadn’t seen Yang’s music video, also questioned if Yang was even of Chinese descent and pushed back against the notion that Breed could be vulnerable in next year’s election.
“I don’t think anybody can beat her,” Brown said. “She is in good shape with Chinatown. She has a good working relationship with the Chinese community.”
But the press conference underscored Breed’s vulnerability with Asian American voters in Chinatown and in the city’s westside, long a highly influential electorate. AAPI community leaders who endorsed Breed for mayor in 2018 are now wavering, said one political consultant and longtime organizer in Chinatown.
“If you’re an elected official today, you’re in trouble,” said David Ho, a protegee of the late Chinatown powerbroker Rose Pak. “People don’t feel safe. They don’t feel the city is headed in the right direction.”
Ho said Yang isn’t well known in Chinatown and noted that his video only had about 11,000 views on YouTube as of Wednesday, but said his grievances echo frustrations among many AAPI residents who’ve had businesses vandalized or are fearful of anti-AAPI hate crimes. He called the reaction from Black church leaders overblown and said the episode speaks to decades-long tensions between the two communities.
“People don’t want to address the elephant in the room,” he said. “The complicated relationship between the Chinese and Black communities in San Francisco is often not talked about.”