SAN FRANCISCO—San Francisco’s 2019 mayoral candidate, Ellen Lee Zhou, and the Asian American Freedom Political Action Committee’s lawsuit against Mayor London Breed and two billboard advertising companies has been dismissed. Breed, Clear Channel Outdoor LLC, and OutFront Media were sued by Zhou and the AAFPAC in November of 2019 when Breed allegedly coerced the companies into removing Zhou’s campaign billboards.
The billboards were regarded as being racist, sexist, and offensive by Breed and other elected officials such as David Chiu and Malia Cohen. One of Zhou’s billboards depicted Breed as a black woman in a red dress, reclined in a chair with her feet on a desk covered with stacks of money. The woman is holding a cigar in one hand and a bundle of cash in the other hand. Another billboard depicted Breed driving a bus that says “Werewolves of London Tours” next to cars with broken windows.
On October 20 of 2019, California State Senator, Scott Wiener tweeted: “This racist campaign billboard against Mayor @LondonBreed is disgusting & has no place in our political discourse. The candidate for Mayor who placed the billboard, Ellen Zhao, is a Trump supporter, so, while despicable, this racism isn’t surprising.”
However, when Zhou was interviewed on October 21, 2019, she argued, “We’re not talking about racism here. Whoever brought up that it’s racist is because they’re brainwashed.”
At a news conference on November 1 of 2019, a spokesman for Zhou’s campaign said, “This is a clear case of supression of political speech and it’s a clear violation of Ellen Zhou and the Asian American Freedom Political Action Committee’s civil rights.”
When Breed was re-elected in November of 2019 with 70.6 percent of the votes, Zhou filed the lawsuit against Breed for allegedly using her government position to coerce the companies into removing the billboards. Zhou, unable to provide evidence of “such significant encouragement” by Breed to have the billboards removed, had her case dismissed by U.S. District Judge William H. Orrick III on Tuesday, May 26. Orrick argued that there was no proof of threats of taking legal action or of any other negative consequences by Breed to “pressure and encourage” the companies to remove the billboards as claimed by Zhou in her lawsuit.
Zhou was ordered to pay Breed’s legal fees under California’s anti-SLAPP law. Breed’s legal fees amounted to $22,200.