You may have seen the flyers floating around campus — bold red text, a photo of a woman in a red suit with slogans like “make San Francisco safe and clean” and “keep traditional family values” printed in both Chinese and English.
Perhaps you’ve seen the parade of cars driving around town blasting “Star-Spangled Banner” led by a decorated white Ford pickup. Maybe you’ve heard about the controversial London Breed billboard erected (and quickly taken down) in the South of Market Area that was widely condemned as racist by city leaders.
These are all examples of the campaign efforts of Ellen Lee Zhou, the only conservative candidate among the handful of long-shot mayoral hopefuls running against Breed this November. The SF State graduate and former instructor with Asian American Studies Departement strays from the predominantly liberal local political norm with pro-Trump, pro-gun and pro-life views, and recently called out political leaders alleging City Hall conspiracies.
“London Breed operates City Hall like a mob. London Breed is no different than the Mafia in San Francisco,” Zhou said, flanked by a crowd of sign-waving supporters during a rally Friday. “I’m no longer able to bear — and that’s why I’m coming out to run for mayor.”
Zhou, the sixth of seven siblings, grew up in rural China and moved to San Francisco in the late 80s with her family when she was 16 years old. She emphasized that her family waited 10 years in China to be able to immigrate legally. Only attending school through 8th grade, Zhou says she began working immediately and was thankful to receive a highschool education in the US.
After graduating from City College of San Francisco in the early ’90s with an associate degree in hospitality management, Zhou says she became a Christian and changed her life direction.
“God gave me a clear message: ‘Be a social worker and help people,’” Zhou said.
Zhou received her bachelor’s degree and later her master’s degree in social work from SF State, after which she spent the better part of two decades working as a social worker and later a behavioral health clinician. Along the way she served twice on San Francisco’s investigative panel the Civil Grand Jury, and held a position as a union steward for San Francisco government employees in the service industry. Zhou is also a member of the San Francisco Evangelical Free Church, and spent over 20 years as a Sunday school teacher.
In 2018 Zhou ran for mayor, receiving just over 9,500 first-choice votes — 3.8% of the total — putting her fifth overall in the special election prompted by Mayor Ed Lee’s death.
Zhou says throughout her career she worked directly with people experiencing homelessness and drug addiction. She cites “evil” liberal policies that have turned San Francisco into a place “worse than third world countries.”
Zhou has outlined a number of changes she hopes to make as mayor, among them, ending San Francisco’s sanctuary city status, cracking down on crime, educating residence to stay away from drugs, and teaching “children, youth and families to worship God.” In addition, Zhou says as mayor she will cut her salary in half, redirecting the money into government programs.
“When we have so many homeless dying on the streets, in my opinion, no public employee should make such huge salary,” Zhou states on her website.
Zhou says she wishes to establish a balance between the Democratic and Republican party within city politics, something she believes will reduce corruption. Some of her supporters agree.
“We need accountability, and the only way to get accountability is to have opposition parties,” said David Elkins, a supporter of Zhou. “I’m just tired of the one-party system, and I think that it’s not serving San Francisco, it’s not serving the state.”
When it comes to President Donald Trump, Zhou says she is a strong supporter.
“I am an educated person,” says Zhou, claiming broad knowledge of the president’s policies. “I am not brainwashed by the liberals.”
“State university students have been literally — some of them — brainwashed (into) hating trump,” said Zhou.
Eric Mar, an assistant professor with the Asian American Studies Department and previous San Francisco Supervisor, expressed surprise that Zhou had taught within the department at SF State. He called Zhou’s politics right wing, Trump-like and “despicable.”
Zhou taught an Asian American Community Health Issues class in fall 2015, according to the school website. Mar began teaching with the Asian American Studies Department a year after. Representatives from the department present during that time were unable to be reached for comment.
Kathie Lowry, who served as the foreperson on the 2016-2017 Civil Grand Jury and worked alongside Zhou, describes Zhou as a committed San Francisco citizen who is dedicated to improving the city.
“She speaks her mind and welcomes a challenge,” said Lowry, who noted that while she disagrees with Zhou’s politics, Zhou has “great integrity.”
Though Zhou may be more relevant in San Francisco’s Chinese press, her recent billboard drama garnered her increased media coverage.
The billboard erected depicted Breed, barefoot and wearing a red dress, kicked back in a chair smoking and holding a stack of cash. A thought bubble contained an image of people with number cards around their necks and a quote read “stop slavery and human trafficking [sic] in SF.”
A handful of city leaders convened near the billboard last week denouncing it as racist. A day later it was removed, reportedly by the billboard company Outfront Media.
“This racist ad is unacceptable and yet another despicable demonstration of the hate-mongering that is encouraged by the current White House administration,” stated Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee in a tweet.
According to Zhou, Breed and the billboard company colluded to remove the billboard to derail her campaign.
“Politically raping me, shame on you London Breed!” said Zhou Friday morning, standing under the blank space where her billboard once stood. “Not long ago you call me a terrorist because I am an NRA member, and now you call me a racist.”
Paul Taylor, a former California Senate candidate who claims to have designed the billboard, responded to allegations of racism by flipping the insult on Breed.
“London Breed is a racist because she won’t debate three white men who are running for mayor,” Taylor said.
According to Emil Guillermo, a columnist for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, though the imagery of the billboard is “coarse, vulgar and offensive,” it gets attention, which is why a “political unknown” such as Zhou employs it.
As Guillermo stated, Zhou probably won’t be elected and is likely more interested in establishing name recognition. Though Zhou doesnt fit a political stereotype, she is representative of a growing demographic in the city, according to Guillermo.
“What you’re seeing is the diversity of Asian Americans in 2019,” Guillermo stated. “There is a growing number of newer Asian immigrants who just don’t relate to the traditional liberal bent of most Asian Americans in SF.”