Discover more from Gotham by Susan Dyer Reynolds
“It is N-words like you that looks like me that is always the problem … You must not know who I am, I’ll whoop your ass.”
— Shamann Walton to sheriff cadet Emare Butler, City Hall security checkpoint, June 24, 2022
Board of Supervisors president Shamann Walton likes to call people out for their misdeeds, particularly when it comes to race. In 2020, the second most powerful person at City Hall (and the first Black man elected to the position) introduced the Caren Act, which stands for Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies (a nod to the term “Karen,” which refers to white women complaining) making it illegal to dial 911 to make a racially biased or fabricated report. Walton also blasted the closure of JFK Drive to cars as “elitist, ableist and segregationist.” Most recently, he demanded the resignation of Ann Hsu, one of three mayoral appointees who replaced three commissioners recalled last February, for comments she made on a parent group endorsement questionnaire. After a swift backlash, Hsu posted a lengthy Twitter thread reaffirming her comments, but also apologizing for singling out those in the Black and Brown community. “In trying to convey my thoughts on this subject, I misspoke. My statements reflected my own limited experiences and inherent biases. I made a mistake, and I am deeply sorry.” Hsu also met with board members of the San Francisco NAACP, where she apologized again. The group accepted her apology but still voted 105-0 to call for Hsu’s resignation.
London Breed, San Francisco’s first Black female mayor, said it was important that Hsu apologized, and she should now “listen and reflect.” Breed didn’t ask for Hsu’s resignation, but Walton did, stating, “Yeah, sure, thank you for the apology, but at the end of the day this is probably how this person feels.” That’s very judgy coming from an elected official who stood by Alison Collins after tweets resurfaced of her calling Asians “House N-words.” Collins never apologized, refused to resign, and, when her fellow board members demoted her, filed an $87 million lawsuit for violating her First Amendment rights. Those tweets and her smugness, along with countless bad decisions made by the hapless board, helped bring Collins down, along with colleagues Gabriela Lopez and Faauuga Moliga. In fact, Walton slammed the recall as the evil doing of “closet Republicans and most certainly folks with conservative values in San Francisco, even if they weren’t registered Republicans.”
As for Collins and her racist tweets, double standards be damned. “I want people to understand that when you feel certain ways about certain types of communities, certain cultures, you should not be in a position to make decisions,” Walton said of Hsu. Then, just a week after Walton demanded Hsu’s resignation, a report of his own bad behavior surfaced. According to documents obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle, on June 24, Walton became angry when a sheriff cadet asked him to remove his belt to pass through a metal detector. Despite the person in front of him doing so without incident, Walton hurled racial slurs at the cadet, who is also Black, and threatened him physically. According to a memo by San Francisco Undersheriff Joseph Engler, Walton said, it is “N-words like you that looks like me that is always the problem” referring to the security protocols as some “N-word s**t.” In a second memo, Walton admits using the N-word “several times,” but told Engler he believed that the way he had used it “could be defended.” Walton’s aide Natalie Gee was less subtle, tweeting, “The alleged ‘slur’ is only a slur if someone who isn’t Black says it … In this context it wasn’t a ‘slur,’ it was normal communication. Even a sign of solidarity.”
For her part, Mayor Breed demanded that Walton apologize. “The use of that word toward any employee is not appropriate no matter what your race is,” she told the press. “People in positions of authority, whether they’re elected officials or managers of other people in the City — we have to be held to a high standard.” Walton not only refused to apologize he doubled down, saying the sheriff’s department’s depiction of the incident was “inaccurate,” they had it out for him because he introduced and passed sheriff’s oversight legislation, and intimating that he may take legal action for the way he was mistreated.
In an effort to set the record straight, the cadet, 43-year-old Emare Butler, came forward to multiple media organizations. “I don’t agree that just because it’s two Black males it’s OK to use that word,” Butler explained. “Someone said it was a sign of solidarity. I don’t know what kind of solidarity that would be.”
Butler, who grew up in the Bayview (a district Walton represents) says the supervisor also threatened him with physical violence. “So, he gets his things and as he’s walking toward the elevator, he looks at me and he goes, ‘You must not know who I am, I’ll whoop your ass,’” the cadet told ABC7 News reporter Lyanne Melendez — a clear violation of the city’s harassment-free workplace policy which states, “Harassment consists of unwelcome visual, verbal, or physical conduct.”
The Twitterverse wasn’t kind to the supervisor, tagging him with “Whoop Ass Walton” and asking Butler to run to replace him as District 10’s representative. When Butler said he was offended and didn’t accept being called the N-word, that was Walton’s opportunity to save face by apologizing, but it’s hard to get out of your own way when you keep tripping over your ego.
‘OWNER-OCCUPIED’ MORTGAGE IN VALLEJO
In a recent Gotham by the Bay newsletter, I detailed another double standard regarding Walton stemming from a Vallejo home mortgage. In an Aug. 16 article, Mission Local reporter Joe Eskenazi exposed that District 4 candidate Leanna Louie co-owns a home in District 11. A clause in her lending agreement, finalized in April 2021, stipulates the home shall be “Borrower’s principal residence within 60 days” and that she “shall continue to occupy the property as Borrower’s principal residence for at least one year.” After Eskenazi’s report and Louie’s own admission that she voted in District 10 while being registered in District 4, the Department of Elections referred Louie to the District Attorney to investigate possible voter fraud. City Attorney David Chiu also demanded a meeting with Louie in which “she will be mandated to provide voluminous evidence — bills, statements, documents, tax forms — proving her residency in District 4.” (Just before press time, the City Attorney ruled, correctly, that Louie didn’t qualify to run in District 4 and she has been dropped from the November 4 ballot.)
Establishing residency to run for supervisor is quite easy (maybe too easy) — you file the forms with the Department of Elections, give them an address you’ve lived at for a month within your desired district and, if the address matches your voting records, you’re done. Unless someone questions it, the city never checks.
After receiving a number of tips about Walton living in Vallejo, I decided to look into it. According to Walton, he has rented a 900-square-foot unit on Hollister Avenue in the Bayview since 2015, but public records show he and his wife, Talmesha, own a home together on Del Sur Street in Vallejo, and they signed the same loan agreement as Louie. In Walton’s case, the July 2019 timeframe coincides with his term as District 10 supervisor, which began in January 2019. That means Walton was on the board with a residency requirement for San Francisco at the same time he applied and signed for a loan with a residency requirement in Vallejo.
Has Walton lived in the district he represents for the entirety of his term? Because the lending agreement required Walton and his wife to make the Vallejo home their principal residence within 60 days of ratification, and to continue occupying the property as their principal residence for at least one year, Walton either wasn’t living full time in San Francisco or he committed bank fraud.
On Thursday, Aug. 18 (the day after my newsletter went out) Walton uploaded an Instagram video of him at his Vallejo home, where he thanked everyone for “coming out here today.” As the camera pans the well-appointed kitchen, family and friends can be seen gathered for a party celebrating Walton’s stepson going off to college. That same day, he posted a response to my column. “San Francisco is unaffordable for 95 percent of its civil servants and that includes me … because working for our City’s most vulnerable does not pay $300,000 a year, which is required to purchase a home in this city.” He doesn’t mention that between he and his wife, a nurse with the City, the couple brings in $370,000 a year before benefits ($411,000 after).
Walton also says there is “nothing illegal, unethical or fraudulent” about purchasing “a non-income generating property outside the county to create generational wealth for his family.” I don’t know what Walton pays for rent in the Bayview, but expenses on the Vallejo house would be in the $3,500 to $4,000 a month range — a pretty penny for a non-income generating investment property. Walton doesn’t claim his homeowner’s exemption, either, leaving more money on the table (although that could be strategic).
Over the weekend, Walton texted Mission Local’s Joe Eskenazi, who penned a Monday morning article again attacking Louie (“Dual accusations of residency fraud, voter fraud put Leanna Louie in a Catch-22: ‘She is trapped’”) and excusing Walton. According to Eskenazi, he reached out to the City Attorney’s Office who confirmed they “counseled Walton in 2019 [under Dennis Herrera] about the purchase.” Eskenazi also quoted mortgage experts. The owner-occupant clause is just “boilerplate,” one said. The general consensus of Eskenazi’s experts was that lenders don’t care when borrowers lie.
I wondered if Walton’s lender felt that way, so, based on public records, I called and asked a generalized question: Do they care when borrowers lie about the owner-occupancy clause? “We absolutely care,” a representative responded. “We don’t condone mortgage fraud.” In fact, most banks don’t: on Aug. 18, City Hall insider Victor Makras was convicted of making false statements to a bank and bank fraud tied to fraudulent representations made in a mortgage refinance loan application. The verdict came one day after disgraced former San Francisco Department of Public Works boss Mohammed Nuru (who I first wrote about in April 2019) was sentenced to seven years in federal prison for fraud, including bribes and kickbacks. And who did Makras commit this bank fraud with? None other than Harlan Kelly Jr.
You may recall I wrote about Nuru’s close friend Kelly, former general manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), and his chief strategy officer and assistant general manager of external affairs, Juliet Ellis, who was also his girlfriend. In March of 2020, I exposed the couple vacationed together on the ratepayer’s dime, including a trip to Mexico where they ordered Cheetos and tequila from room service. On June 15, 2020, the U.S. Attorney’s Office served a subpoena demanding the complete personnel files of Kelly and Ellis, including all records from 2005 to the present day related to any trips they took, plus expense reports and reimbursement records. They also ordered the agency to produce any commission audits from 2010 to the present related to trips taken by the clandestine couple.
In my July 2020 investigative report on the SFPUC Community Benefits pay-to-place scheme, where Joint Venture Boards (a group of representatives from two different contractors who team up on an SFPUC project) supposedly chose nonprofits by doing random Internet searches, I said allies of Kelly and Ellis should play the lottery because they have amazing luck. For example, in the canceled checks from AECOM-Parsons (totaling $655,000, a drop in the bucket compared to the millions running through the various Joint Venture Boards), the most prolific beneficiary was Young Community Developers (YCD). Walton held the six-figure position as YCD’s executive director from 2010 until he joined the Board of Supervisors in January 2019. AECOM-Parsons wrote $169,500 worth of checks to YCD, but they weren’t the only corporate sponsors — for example, mega builder Lennar provided $10 million to YCD during Walton’s tenure. Of course, Walton was endorsed by Harlan Kelly (surely it can’t hurt to have a close friend in the District 10 supervisor’s seat where most of those Community Benefit dollars are doled out). In that same column, I also produced evidence showing that Kelly had longtime contractor and permit expediter Walter Wong do work on his home. Just four months later, Kelly was charged with bribery. (Wong had already agreed to plead guilty to fraud, conspiracy, and money-laundering charges.)
Inside sources tell me that Kelly has been talking — and he’s willing to throw his former associates under the bus in exchange for a lighter sentence. He must be fairly confident it will work, since Kelly and his wife, former City Administrator Naomi Kelly, have sent out invitations to his 60th birthday bash. With the relatively harsh sentence given to Nuru, and with Makras facing a maximum of 60 years in prison for making false statements to a bank and bank fraud, the Feds are sending a message to City Hall — they’re nowhere near done. “Nuru’s long-running scheme of bribes and kickbacks ultimately earned him seven years in prison,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Sean Ragan. “Today’s sentence sends a clear message that public officials who abuse their power for personal gain will be punished. The FBI’s investigation into this case is not over. We will continue to unravel and disrupt corruption within the city of San Francisco.”
Meanwhile, Walton has yet to apologize to Cadet Butler and, when asked if he could prove his residency in San Francisco, Eskenazi writes that Walton texted, “of course I can.” Walton could easily prove it by providing his FasTrak statements, but why bother? As Eskenazi points out, “Nobody has yet, officially, asked him to do so,” and Teflon Shamann seems pretty sure they never will.
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