Chinese divided by scandal in S.F.

Times Staff Writer

Perusing the Chinese leeks and bitter melons outside his neighborhood market, Dave Pon said he’d heard enough embarrassing talk of political scandal involving one of his own.

He was proud when fellow Chinese American Ed Jew was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. But now he thinks Jew should step down -- even though, in a city where a third of residents are of Chinese descent, he is the board’s only Asian American.

Jew, 47, a political conservative who took office in January, faces questions about whether he actually lives in the heavily Chinese 4th District, where he campaigned last year.

The residency issue arose during a federal inquiry into whether Jew accepted $40,000 from a group of businessmen seeking a city permit. The dual criminal investigations generated by those questions have caused divisions in the usually tight-knit Chinese community here.

Some say the charges are the result of racial discrimination. Others say race has nothing to do with political corruption. Either way, Pon, 56, a third-generation Chinese American who used to run a chain of delis, believes that Jew has become a liability for hardworking Chinese immigrants.


“Ed Jew doesn’t just represent one section of San Francisco,” he said of the supervisor, a local flower shop owner. “He represents the Chinese people in a way. And he’s becoming an embarrassment. What he’s doing looks bad for all of us.”

In recent days, calls for Jew to resign have intensified. San Francisco County Dist. Atty. Kamala Harris last week filed felony perjury and election-law charges against him for allegedly lying under oath and falsifying data filed in his candidacy papers.

The following day, a handful of Jew supporters staged a rally at City Hall, saying he was being attacked for his conservative views and Chinese heritage.

This week, City Atty. Dennis Herrera asked the state attorney general for permission to file a lawsuit to force Jew from office, a move that he said would “remedy a crisis in governmental legitimacy that is unprecedented in San Francisco’s modern history.”

Mayor Gavin Newsom has joined several supervisors who have called for Jew’s ouster, asking Jew to offer definitive evidence that he lives in the district he represents.

Through it all, Jew has refused even to meet with city investigators. The scandal has lent a circus atmosphere to City Hall as hordes of reporters trail his every move.

Jew apologized to colleagues for the disruption after one recent committee hearing was moved to a larger space to accommodate the media. As he pushed past a crowd and a sign that read, “Ed Jew: Time to Resign,” supporters said the supervisor deserved time to mount a defense against the charges.

“I’m the supervisor working on issues that are really important to the Chinese community and the entire city and county of San Francisco,” Jew told reporters. “I’m going to continue to work hard, and my office is open for business.”

Herrera’s investigation found that Jew only recently moved to the house on 28th Avenue listed in records as his primary residence -- and located in his district, 40% of whose residents are of Chinese descent. Neighbors near the one-story home with peeling paint and a weed-strewn backyard say Jew began showing up there only after news of the residency issue hit the local papers.

“I’ve seen it with my own eyes; he doesn’t live here,” said one neighbor who declined to be named. “He’s trying to make this the O.J. Simpson case: cry racism and hope for the best.”

Jew has his supporters, who denounce what they call a rush to judgment among the local press and city officials.

“Neither the media nor his fellow politicians are giving Ed Jew fair treatment,” said Calvin Louie, a friend of the supervisor and president of the Chinese American Democratic Club, who organized the City Hall rally. “We’ve only heard one side of the story. They haven’t heard from Supervisor Ed Jew. All we’re asking for is due process.”

Bill Fazio, a lawyer representing Jew in the criminal case, has advised his client not to discuss residency issues with city attorney’s investigators until the more serious federal charges are resolved.

“What’s the rush?” he asked. “Why do these issues have to be resolved right now, all at once? They charged Mr. Jew, set bail for $135,000 and demanded that he turn himself in. He wasn’t going anywhere. He wasn’t a threat to the community.”

Fazio said he met with prosecutors days before charges were filed but was unable to make headway. “I’ve had more respect from the D.A.'s office in dealing with drug traffickers,” he said.

“I don’t know if it’s a Chinese thing or a political thing. Ed is conservative and follows his own drummer. But to have one supervisor ask why we had to wait for a trial -- that smacks of Alabama before civil rights: Here’s a rope. Let’s get down to business.”

Jew’s legal troubles began last month when FBI agents raided his City Hall office, business and two residences he claims in San Francisco and suburban Burlingame.

Investigators were looking for evidence that Jew accepted $40,000 in cash at his Chinatown flower shop from Chinese American businessmen who wanted to secure a business permit. No charges have been filed in the federal case.

Harrison Lim, an official with the Chinese Six Company, a group of politically powerful Chinatown business owners, says officials want to get rid of Jew because they are wary of the growing Asian American voting bloc in San Francisco. “They’re afraid of our political power, afraid that we will gain some ground,” he said.

Joseph Leung, editor of the Sing Tao Daily, a Chinese-language newspaper, said his editorial page has not joined the chorus calling for Jew’s resignation. But he believes that most readers already have made up their minds.

“Ed Jew’s friends are a small group trying to grab the media attention in his defense,” he said. “The silent majority think that Ed Jew is stupid. There’s something wrong with a politician who won’t admit wrongdoing. Eventually, he will have to pay his own price. It has nothing to do with the Chinese community.”

Jew has until July 3 to make his case to the attorney general on the city attorney’s request to file a lawsuit. Supporters planning a second rally this weekend say they have started a petition to save the supervisor’s job.

Meanwhile, Jew has lost friends at City Hall and among fellow Chinese Americans.

“I feel for the guy,” said Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin. “But there is concern as to whether his constituents are getting adequate representation. And there’s concern about the impact this will have on people’s confidence in government.”

Rose Pak, president of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in Chinatown, says the community will do just fine with or without Jew.

“I don’t believe in collective guilt, and I resent people who imply this is some sort of cultural event,” Pak said.

“Ed Jew won’t resign easily because he worked very hard to get where he is.

“But when it comes to support for his cause, the silence is deafening from Chinese American elected officials in this city. It’s death by a thousand cuts.”