Shifting Alliances Between Chinatown Politicos In Mayor Lee Recall Battle

After a sleepy May 24 hearing in the bribery case against three former fundraisers for Mayor Lee, I was asked out to coffee by former Adult & Aging Services Commissioner Richard Ow, who chatted with me throughout the hearing and knew I was a reporter. Ow told me he followed the Raymond ‘Shrimp Boy’ Chow case and its offshoots because he’s retired and finds it interesting.

“Some people pay $50 to go to the opera,” said Ow, but he could watch the hearings for free.

We talked for an hour and a half about the case and local politics before he had to leave for lunch with his friend Pius Lee, a former police and port commissioner. There are a few things I learned in that conversation that are interesting in light of the recall effort against Mayor Ed Lee. The organizers of the proposed recall held a protest cum press conference in front of City Hall today and were met by a significantly larger counter-protest organized by Rose Pak and Pius Lee.

According to Ow, Pius Lee was a “big supporter” of Mayor Lee but did not want to show his face in court at the bribery hearings. That might have something to do with Pius Lee’s connections to Chow, who was Pius Lee’s choice to take over the Chinatown Night Market after he stepped down. Chow’s takeover of the Night Market was nixed by then Mayor Gavin Newsom, which triggered an unusual political conflict that involved Chow organizing a protest at City Hall and then Supervisor David Chiu wearing a wire for the FBI to a meeting with Chow.

Ow, on the other hand, told me he was “personally agnostic” about what happened to Mayor Lee in May, and didn’t care one way or the other if Lee got recalled or arrested. So it was a little surprising to see Ow demonstrating in support of the Mayor today. However, he did tell me that he debated politics with Pius Lee on a regular basis. Maybe Pius Lee, who continues to support the Mayor and reportedly raised money for newspaper ads calling for the demonstration against the recall, won Ow over to his side at some point in the past two months.

I reached out to Ow for comment this afternoon but have not heard back from him as of the time of publication.

What might be even more surprising was Rose Pak’s opposition to the recall. According to Ow, he thought that Pak would make a strong statement against Mayor Lee within 30 days after her dramatic return from China, where she was seeking medical treatment. Pak told Matier & Ross on arrival that she planned to “get even with the people who wished me dead.”

Some observers suspected that one of those people might be Mayor Lee, but Pak was out today opposing the recall. Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez of the Examiner spoke with her:

“It took us 160 years for Chinese-Americans to elect the first Chinese-American mayor,” Pak said, and the recall would be devastating.
She and the mayor have been at odds as of late. Acknowledging this, Pak said, “Whether I agree with Ed Lee or not, he did not cause malfeasance.”

In another odd connection to the Chow case, Chow’s outspoken former attorney, Curtis Briggs, spoke at today’s press conference announcing the recall effort. Chow’s defense team, which included Briggs, Tony Serra, and Tyler Smith, claimed that Chow was unfairly targeted by the FBI for his political activities while the Mayor got off easy. The defense failed, and Chow was found guilty earlier this year of all 162 criminal counts he was charged with, but it appears that Briggs isn’t done with the Mayor just yet.

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