SACRAMENTO -- There’s no shortage of offbeat characters in San Francisco who are drawn to City Hall. Willie Brown was harassed by an Elvis impersonator. Gavin Newsom was stalked by a man wearing purple latex gloves.
Democratic strategist Nathan Ballard, who spent a decade working in City Hall, said Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow was one of those characters.
“I just remember him showing up at events and trying to get pictures with politicians,” Ballard said.
The Chinatown gangster was trying to make a name for himself as a legitimate community leader after being released from prison in 2003. He was accused of money laundering and conspiracy in a sweeping corruption investigation announced Wednesday.
Ballard, who worked for Newsom when he was mayor, said he was always on the lookout for Chow.
“When you work for a big-city mayor, you constantly have to make decisions about who the mayor gets to meet with and who the mayor spends time with. You can’t guarantee that every meeting is going to be populated entirely by Boy Scouts,” Ballard said. “But you do your best to keep away the worst characters. And he was one of those.”
Chow did succeed in getting one photo with Newsom, which he posted on his Facebook page. He also received certificates from San Francisco politicians after he was recognized by a local nonprofit that honors ex-cons who are turning their lives around.
Although Chow promoted himself as an up-and-comer who was turning his life around after serving time in prison, Ballard said “we never bought his schtick.”
“Nobody could claim with a straight face that Shrimp Boy was a serious political player,” Ballard said.
Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) was also wary of Chow, according to the criminal complaint released Wednesday.
“Let’s not get too close, OK?” he told Keith Jackson, a political consultant who the complaint says was helping Yee raise money for his secretary of state campaign.
Nevertheless, the complaint says, Yee accepted a campaign donation from an undercover agent in return for a proclamation honoring Chow’s organization in Chinatown, the Ghee Kung Tong.
One of Yee’s staff members brought a framed proclamation, printed on California State Senate letterhead, to an anniversary celebration for the group.
Yee and Jackson have been charged with scheming to deprive citizens of honest services, among other alleged offenses.
Ballard said making friends in Chinatown is critical for San Francisco politicians.
"But they have to be the right ones, and Shrimp Boy was not the right one,” he said.