Candidates in San Francisco's mayoral race are teaming up against Mayor Ed Lee, calling for federal and state monitors for the Nov. 8 election after a neighborhood group that supports him was accused of ballot tampering.
With early voting already under way, the seven candidates based their concerns on media reports claiming that members of the group have been helping Cantonese-speaking residents fill out ballots.
The candidates wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice and California secretary of state on Sunday, calling for an investigation into reports that the alliance used stencils that prevented voters from marking their ballots for candidates other than Lee.
"From alleged money laundering to suspected ballot tampering, those allied with Ed Lee's mayoral campaign have shown a willingness to do just about anything to preserve their power and influence inside City Hall," said Joanna Rees, a businesswoman and candidate who signed the letter.
Lee insists his campaign is not affiliated with the group, SF Neighbor Alliance for Ed Lee for Mayor 2011, and is furious over the unsolicited campaign help by the independent expenditure committee.
"If it was my campaign doing that, I would fire them immediately; they should not be handling ballots for anybody else," Lee said Monday, the same day he got a boost with the endorsement of Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. Lee became the city's first Asian-American mayor when Newsom left the mayor's office in January to take up his new role as lieutenant governor.
"I couldn't be more passionate in my encouragement of the people of this city to support Ed Lee on election day," said Newsom of his handpicked successor. "The best is yet to come."
A former city administrator who has never run for public office, Lee initially said he would not seek the mayoral seat. He changed his mind in August after a groundswell of encouragement from several former mayors and the Asian-American community.
He is considered the front-runner by a wide margin in a field of 16 candidates. His competitors have tried to paint his campaign as tainted.
Although Election Day is Nov. 8, voters can cast ballots now at some designated polling stations and by mail.
The district attorney already is investigating donations made to the Lee campaign by some drivers of an airport shuttle company. Lee said he welcomes all investigations into the suspect donations and ballot tampering.
The letter from his rivals calls for federal observers and state election monitors, claiming that testimony and video evidence showed that SF Neighbor Alliance workers collected completed ballots in plastic bags and interfered with the voting secrecy.
If the ballot tampering allegations prove true, the letter said, the conduct may have violated the U.S. Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The other candidates who signed the letter include City Attorney Dennis Herrera, Board of Supervisors' President David Chiu, Public Defender Jeff Adachi, City Supervisor John Avalos, State Senator Leland Yee and businesswoman Michela Alioto-Pier.
Lee's office said it believed the SF Neighbor Alliance was headed up by San Francisco attorney and political consultant Enrique Pearce. A call to Pearce's law office was not returned.
Adachi said the group is comprised of individual backers who also hand-delivered 50,000 copies of an unofficial Ed Lee biography to voters' doorsteps. He claimed the money backing their ventures came largely from two construction companies that had received millions of dollars in city contracts since 1997.
"It appears that a very tight-knit group of affluent and politically motivated individuals are at work," Adachi said in a statement calling for an investigation into the connection between Lee and the group.
"Each vote represents the voice of one citizen," Adachi said. "To cast a vote for someone else is to silence his or her voice, and to allow a few to speak for the many. It contradicts the notion of democracy, and it shouldn't happen."