SF Supervisor Gordon Mar’s Quiet Ties to Radical Anti-Police Groups
The District 4 incumbent is putting on a more moderate face. Will voters buy it?
Supervisor Gordon Mar stammered when asked last month why he endorsed the San Francisco School Board’s Alison Collins. Collins is best known for two things: using a racist slur against Asian Americans, and helping end the merit-based admissions system at Lowell High School in order to lower the number of Asian students enrolled.
During a candidate forum, Mar quickly changed the subject, then drew quiet as he was challenged again by opponent Joel Engardio, a public safety advocate, on the subject. As the election draws near, Mar is attempting to strike a moderate pose, promising action on rampant crime and quality of life issues, while distancing himself from any extreme education or racial views.
Like the thick fog that sweeps across San Francisco’s west-side Sunset District, the middle class neighborhood in the heavily Asian district that he represents, Gordon Mar’s reconstructed image is obscuring the view of his actual beliefs and political commitments.
Mar, who is Chinese-American, is in fact deeply connected to a powerful network of organizations that have lobbied to slash police funding and enact policies designed to penalize Asian American students on racial grounds in the name of achieving “racial equity.” These groups pose as militant left-wing revolutionaries, but they’re bankrolled by some of the richest people in America.
One such organization is the “Chinese Progressive Association,” the nonprofit at which Mar previously served as executive director before entering elected office. In his latest campaign finance disclosure, Mar’s reelection committee paid $14,370 to the Center for Empowered Politics — the fiscal sponsor of the Chinese Progressive Association — for “polling” and other services, making the group his largest campaign vendor.
In recent days, an offshoot of the Center for Empowered Politics, a group called SF Rising Action, began mobilizing voters to elect Mar, Honey Mahogany for District 6 in SoMa, and John Hamasaki for District Attorney.
Far from reflecting the mainstream interests of voters or grassroots sentiment, the collection of organizations, though branded with various names, share a small set of fringe activists and far left billionaire donors. The connection to the Mar campaign goes well beyond a single election. In fact, the Mar family ties to this assortment of groups goes back decades.
Gordon’s twin brother and former supervisor Eric Mar has worked for the association, and his older brother Warren Mar was one of the first members of the Chinese Progressive Association at its founding in the early 1970s, when the association was an openly Marxist-Leninist group.
In those days, according to Warren Mar, the Chinese Progressive Association was affiliated with the Red Guard and I Wor Kuen, radical American organizations that were explicitly inspired by Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong and the Black Panthers in Oakland.
“I liked Mao, mainly because white American politicians feared and hated him,” Warren later wrote. In those days, Warren recalled that he brawled in the street with American military veterans and hung posters of Mao and Huey Newton, the leader of the Black Panthers, in a show of his loyalty to revolutionary movements.
“The Panthers and Red Guard also appealed to me because I hated the cops,” Warren noted.
In that era, many wealthy Americans became enamored with the radical chic politics of the Panthers, who happily accepted large donations from Hollywood liberals and other white philanthropists. They turned a blind eye to the group’s abusive politics. Newton, the founder of the group, routinely beat his subordinates and extorted local businesses. As Berkeley-based journalist Kate Coleman meticulously documented, Newton also murdered Kathleen Smith, a 17-year old sex worker in Oakland and attempted to use Panther recruits to cover up the crime by intimidating witnesses for the trial.
Newton was killed in 1989 by a drug dealer in a dispute over a cocaine deal gone wrong.
The Chinese Progressive Association’s racial identity politics and anti-police bias have come back into vogue in recent years.
The group, as previously mentioned, is formally hosted by the Center for Empowered Politics, the fiscal sponsor that received the payment from the Gordon Mar campaign earlier this year. The center also sponsors the Black Futures Lab, a project of Alicia Garza, the co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, which spent money raised during the George Floyd protests on a $6 million luxury house in Los Angeles.
Garza built a rallying cry around “Defund the Police,” a slogan that became a policy prescription in the aftermath of the summer riots in 2020. The organization she built, Black Lives Matter, won campaigns to slash police funding and stigmatize active policing practices, contributing to a spiraling crime wave in Portland, New York, Seattle, Minneapolis, and beyond that disproportionately hurt poor people.
BLM’s success in shaping America’s public safety policies was underwritten by some of the richest people in the country. The billionaire financier George Soros, through his charity, the Open Society Foundation, has given multiple $100,000 grants to the Center for Empowered Politics. Mark Heising, the private equity billionaire based in the ritzy Bay Area city of Atherton, has also donated at least $100,000 to the Chinese Progressive Association and $60,000 to the Center for Empowered Politics in the last year alone.
In 2020, the Chinese Progressive Association also campaigned to pass Proposition 16, which would have ended merit-only and race neutral policies at UC Berkeley, UCLA and other institutions of higher learning in the state. The measure, designed to allow race-based affirmative action policies, mirrored the “racial equity” approach championed at Lowell High School that sought to remove testing in a bid to lower the rate of Asian American student admissions.
Alex Tom, the current leader of the Center for Empowered Politics, who received a special grant from Soros to build out support for far left policies among Asian communities, has made the connection to today's crusades against policing an extension of his group's past.
“We see solidarity as part of our historical trajectory. The Chinese Progressive Association (CPA) has been on the frontlines with Black folks from the 70s and on, from the Black Panther Party to many other Black-led movements," explained Tom, in a previously published interview.
Only 28% of black Americans in fact support defunding the police, reflecting the proposal’s dismal reception among voters of every race and class. Fifteen percent of voters in America favor it, while close to half want to increase police funding in their areas.
Gordon Mar’s district is no exception to that tendency. Seventy percent of the Sunset District voted to recall the notoriously lenient former District Attorney, Chesa Boudin. Yet Mar was against the recall of Boudin on top of his opposition to Alison Collins’ ouster. Brooke Jenkins, the new District Attorney who has promised to work with the police to combat the city’s lawlessness, is twice as popular among Asian voters in San Francisco as she is among voters at large. More than half of District 4’s residents are of Asian descent.
Engardio is far more aligned with this renewed concern for law and order than Mar’s record has shown the Supervisor to be. So Supervisor Mar has done what politicians do: run away from who he really is, adopting an updated version of himself in the hopes that voters won’t notice the feint.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said that Huey Newton died in 1982. It’s been corrected to say that he died in 1989.