Ed Jew Opens for Chicken John at Ethics Commission Nov. 30 -- Is That Kosher?

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(Tuesday Addendum to SFGovernmentInAction)

It’s the perfect media storm.

Last night the San Francisco Ethics Commission set Nov. 30 as the meeting date for BOTH the Ed Jew dismissal hearing AND the Chicken John public financing appeal.
Damn.

Why? I don’t know. Maybe San Francisco just loves a circus that much. Or maybe they have a media death wish. Or maybe they said “What can we get that nice Wachs reporter? Blow? A hooker? No – let’s really make it special.”

And while the schedule isn’t officially set, so far they’re planning to give Chicken John top billing.

That’s right: Jew’s opening for Chicken.

Is that kosher?

Even the commissioners were surprised. “We’re putting Ed Jew first on the agenda?”

Commissioner Eileen Hansen asked Ethics Commission Director John St. Croix.

Yes, St. Croix replied. They expect Chicken John’s appeal to take longer … and be more involved.

How is that possible? The likely – but unspoken –answer is that the Ethics Commission doesn’t actually understand the public financing process any better than Chicken John does.

Over the course of the meeting, several commissioners showed only the most rudimentary grasp of the public financing law. (“I think it’s important for us to know that there’s a deadline where candidates have to declare their intent to file,” Commissioner Emi Gusukuma said, in a way that suggested the body responsible for applying the law didn’t actually know that).

Nor was the answer clear when Commissioner Jamienne Studley asked the question, “just how many appeals does (Chicken) John Rinaldi get?”

The answer was so unclear, in fact, that the commission put it down on their next meeting agenda to discuss.

You’d think they’d know something like that already.

But that’s exactly the point: this issue has never come up. Chicken John is a test case – the first mayoral candidate to both apply for and appeal a ruling of the city’s public financing law. There’s no precedent, and it seems increasingly likely that nobody involved in the process knows what they’re doing.

“I’m learning a lot about election law,” Chicken John’s lawyer admitted outside the hearing room.

“I know so much more about how this process works than I did when we started,” Chicken John’s campaign manager said. “It’s been disturbing.”

“I’m not even sure what we’ll be doing on the 30th,” Commissioner Hansen told her colleagues. No one had an answer.

Despite the way the case is dragging on … and yes, for those who noticed, November 30th is a ways after the election, suggesting that even if Chicken John wins his campaign has been crippled by the effort of being right … it seems to be picking up more attention, not less.

That’s because “progressive” voters – who thought the public financing law was going to help their candidates – are suddenly wondering if it’s actually a giant trap designed to bury them in paperwork.

Activist Mark Solomon spoke during the committee’s public comment period in defense of Chicken John’s interpretation of events.

“I don’t like Chicken John,” Solomon said afterwards, “but if (the Ethics Commission) can fuck over Chicken John they can fuck over Ross .” (Progressive heartthrob Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi)

Clearly, for many San Franciscans, the credibility of the public financing law – and the Ethics Commission – is on the line. But St. Croix said that the trouble Chicken John’s having is that the process IS credible.

“The people who wrote the law made it a deliberately difficult process so that the public will know it has integrity,” he said. “We’ve done more for (Chicken John) than we’ve done for any other candidate, but the bottom line is they just didn’t get there. If they come up short by a dollar, and we just waved them in, the process wouldn’t be credible.”

That wasn’t good enough for Chicken John supporter Robin Coomer, whose cash contribution was discounted because of a typographical error the campaign made in its filing. She spoke to the commission, with a copy of the filing in hand, to tell them that yes, she really had made the contribution and yes, she’d really meant to, and yes, she was in fact supporting this campaign.

“I’ve since been all over town, trying to make this work,” she said. “I’ve photocopied my driver’s license, and even though I’ve told you that what we have on my form is a legitimate typo, it looks like this whole thing is going to get swept under the rug. That’s very frustrating.”

Asked if the commission was disenfranchising voters like Coomer, St. Croix responded “We’re not talking about just one typo. They made a lot of errors. How many times can we accept resubmissions before the process seems to lack integrity?”

That’s exactly the kind of question nobody has an answer to.

(For all of SF Weekly's The Snitch Chicken John Coverage, click on the link.)

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