49ers owner spends $3m to unseat Santa Clara politicians who crossed him, says he’s promoting “diversity”

San Francisco 49ers owners the York family successfully won approval in 2012 to build a $1.2 billion stadium in Santa Clara with the city taking on much of the risk, but ever since then has butted heads continually with local government, clashing over insufficient team financial reports and how much taxes the team would pay and whether the Rolling Stones could set off fireworks and who gets to manage the stadium and whether the team could withhold rent when two exhibition games were canceled thanks to Covid. What’s a poor sports billionaire family to do? Buy a new local government, of course!

[Jed] York has contributed $3 million to Citizens for Efficient Government and Full Voting Rights, a PAC whose stated mission is to bring diversity to the city council​…

”It would be unusual for a sports franchise owner or let’s just say any corporation or business to spend this kind of money even in a mayor’s race,” John Pelissero, the senior scholar at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, said​ Thursday​. “Instead this has all the appearance of attempting to buy four city council seats just to improve the private interests of the 49ers.”

While the PAC is organized to promote diversity, the candidates it’s supporting this year go extremely white guy, Indian-American guy, Indian-American woman, Korean-American guy; they’re looking to unseat a white woman and a woman so white she has a Celtic knot in her campaign page banner design, plus capture two open seats. So that’s either a plus or a minus depending on whether you’re looking at racial or gender diversity, and of course assuming by “diversity” you mean “access to just enough power for non-white-guys to not make white guys uncomfortable,” but that’s a battle that was lost decades ago.

Anyway, the issue here is less whether York is backing diverse (or good) candidates than whether he’s trying to unseat elected officials who are a pain in his butt by throwing money around. Three million dollars may not be a lot to an NFL owner, but it’s a fortune in small-city political circles: SFist notes that one of the incumbents (it links to a dead campaign finance page, so we can’t tell which one) has only raised a total of $6,234 this year. And whether or not York is successful — and whether or not the challengers he’s supporting would necessarily be beholden to his interests — he’s certainly making a public statement that anyone who clashes with him will be firmly in the crosshairs of his wealth come election time. If that’s enough to get current or future local pols antsy enough to get them looking to cut deals with him rather than taking a hard line, that should prove money well spent.

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5 comments on “49ers owner spends $3m to unseat Santa Clara politicians who crossed him, says he’s promoting “diversity”

  1. This kinda hints at the biggest problem (well, two) with the “different faces in high places” mentality: 1) people think that’s the end game of diversity, rather than the first step toward it, and 2) it’s so often used as a cover for preserving established views or orders, or even introducing a new one that invariably benefits some bad-faith actor at the expense of everyone else

    ANYWAYS lol, I’m rather more surprised that more sports franchise owners don’t attempt this type of coup at the local level. Or maybe they do, and the local press just doesn’t want to cover it bc they fear losing access. Cynically, I’m thinking it’s the latter…

    1. I suspect it’s that usually they don’t have to: Most city officials know that it’s not a great idea to piss off the local billionaire who can then fund your opponents. Plus, yeah, it doesn’t usually make it into the press — in fact, this case only did because the mayor made a stink about it.

  2. Being a local, I know that there is no love lost between the Niners and local politicos.

    What is also important to know is that the City of Santa Clara has been ruled by the same fraternity of people forever and have kept that stranglehold by the way the City Council is elected. Every seat was an open seat, so the entrenched (typically from the wealthier and whiter area of the City) were able to fund City-wide campaigns. So as the City became more diverse, the Council was not representing the people. The fraternity fought tooth and nail to prevent splitting the city into districts and lost in the courts.

    So the Niners are certainly supporting this PAC to unseat its unfavored politicos. But I really wonder if it will turn out the way they want.

    I don’t know that these candidates feel the same way about football, a shiny Erector-set of a stadium, the tradeoff being made for other city services, etc. I knew the “Indian-American guy” back when our kids were in grade school together and I don’t recall him being a fan of the stadium.

    On the other hand, these new candidates may be green enough that, if elected, they may be in over their heads with the Niners and Stadium matters and might be distracted by the slight of hand the Niners can perform.

    “Look! Squirrel!”

    1. If York is dropping 3 million on a small-fry local election, it’s more than likely he knows where his chosen candidate stand. Even if he doesn’t and hey win, they’re going into this knowing how easily he can get them removed.

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