Reilly’s Attacks on John Burton Could Backfire

by Randy Shaw on April 28, 2006

Assembly candidate Janet Reilly is running a much better campaign than Fiona Ma, and has narrowed the latter’s once large lead in the polls. Reilly is sweeping the progressive endorsements, and is benefiting from Ma’s pro-landlord votes on the Board. So why has Reilly chosen this moment to not only publicly attack tenant icon John Burton, but to even file a criminal complaint against him?

As tenants across San Francisco mobilize to stop Ellis Act evictions, some may not be aware that the only reason tenants have the time to fight their eviction is because of former State Senator John Burton. In 1999, Burton rammed through state legislation extending the notice period for Ellis evictions from 30 days to at least four months for all tenants and one year for the elderly and disabled.

John Burton was the only state legislator who could have made this happen, and he was the only person with power in California who cared about making it happen.

And Burton did not stop at reforming the Ellis Act.

Burton was the driving force behind every major tenant victory during the Gray Davis years. For all of Mark Leno’s heroic efforts to exempt SRO’s from the Ellis Act, Leno would be the first person to tell you that he could not have won this victory without John Burton on his side.

I wonder how many San Francisco tenants know that John Burton is 100% responsible for the partial reinstatement of the state Renter’s Tax Credit. This brings senior, disabled and low-income working tenants $250 million per year, and has already put over $1 billion in tenants pockets.

Other Democratic State legislative leaders, including Burton’s Senate pro tem predecessor Bill Lockyer and former Assembly leader and current Los Angeles Mayor Antoino Villaraigosa, did not see reinstating the Renters Credit as a priority.

Burton did. Upon becoming Senate leader he made reinstatement his top priority, and he used a career worth of political smarts in 1999 to get tenants the money that had been taken from them by former Governor Pete Wilson.

Now Reilly is trying to combine a progressive message by attacking the state legislator with the most progressive record of accomplishment over the past 25 years.

What’s going on here?

Apparently a poll was done showing Burton has a 60% unpopularity rating in Assembly District 12. So Reilly campaign manager Eric Jaye figured he could hurt Ma by tying her to Burton through the latter’s alleged illegal funding of her campaign.

I spoke to John Burton after receiving Jaye’s press release earlier this week and he flatly denied the charges. Burton has been in political life for four decades, and his record of complying with campaign finance laws is spotless.

I would think that Assembly District 12 tenants and progressives would look more favorably upon Ma if Burton were seen as being closely aligned with her. Those voters primarily motivated by anti-Burton sentiment are either Republicans (who cannot vote in the Ma-Reilly race), or people who already oppose Ma due to her former work in Burton’s office.

Eric Jaye and Clint Reilly may have a method to their madness, but it is a sad day when a “progressive “candidate attacks the California politician who has done most for the state’s underrepresented and disenfranchised.
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