Last month, AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), through its Healthy Housing Foundation, launched a blistering racial attack against a California State Senator over a bill protecting affordable housing in San Francisco. State Senator Scott Wiener introduced SB 50 calls for the creation of “new zoning standards for constructing housing near job centers and public transportation, along with protections against the displacement of renters and vulnerable communities living in those areas.” Labeling the legislation as “gentrification,” AHF likened Wiener’s bill to racist housing policies of the 1960s.
The AHF mailer said “Urban renewal means Negro removal,” continuing, “San Francisco is engaging in something called urban renewal, which means moving the Negroes out.” The AHF mailers told voters “SB 50 is a handout to greedy developers” designed to “displace working class communities of color” and “build luxury towers without adequate affordable housing.”
Wiener and dozens of local politicians and activists denounced the racist AHF campaign.
In an interview with the local ABC affiliate, San Francisco Mayor London Breed attacked the “offensive” AHF mailer. “I lived through it and it happened and we are still sadly living with the impacts,” said Mayor Breed. “This is a person, along with so many other people, who continue to take advantage of our community and use it for the purposes of propaganda. They have no idea what it feels like to have had to suffer over the years in a situation like this.”
According to SF Curbed, Amos Brown, president of the San Francisco NAACP, declared, “We don’t need anyone to pimp African American’s pain for petty political gain,” calling the ads insulting.
Jackie Flynn, director of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, said, “We resent these tactics that use our black faces and our history to manipulate the truth,” adding, “I encourage my community members to stay vigilant during these shady times.”
In a scathing editorial, the Bay Area Reporter said AHF, “has sunk to a new low that should disgust all participants in the debate.“ The paper said AHF and its CEO Michael Weinstein should “focus on germane arguments against the proposed legislation and not confuse the issues by employing blatant racial overtones by quoting a black gay icon out of context.“
AHF CEO Michael Weinstein was unapologetic. “‘We stand by it,’ said Weinstein about the mailer, after learning that many people found it offensive. ‘The truth may hurt, but the reality is that San Francisco has become a place that only rich, and mostly white people, can live in,’ said Weinstein, who says he is concerned about further gentrification.”
AHF ATTACKS FORT LAUDERDALE LEADERS & RESIDENTS
Michael Weinstein has launched similar attacks against residents opposed to his sixteen story building (aka Trantalis Tower) near downtown Fort Lauderdale. In addition to complaints over the size of the development and traffic issues, local residents are concerned over AHF’s lack of transparency over potential residents of “Trantalis Tower.” At his disastrous December press conference, Weinstein mocked residents who opposed his Fort Lauderdale project because, “I see cranes everywhere. If the drawbridge goes up as soon as it involves poor people, it doesn’t speak well for the community.” He said, “Why is the luxury building going up? I see them everywhere.”
Despite assurances that the development will not exclusively cater to those living with HIV/AIDS or the homeless, Weinstein tried to paint his opposition as bigoted. He repeatedly said residents referred to not wanting “those people” living nearby. Weinstein refused to give specific examples.
In addition to residents, AHF/Healthy Housing Foundation has targeted Fort Lauderdale Commissioner Ben Sorensen in numerous ads running on local television and YouTube.
In February, REDBROWARD revealed Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis was all smiles when he visited the AHF-tied progressive activists attacking Commissioner Sorenson in the television commercials. Even though Sorenson is a leading advocate for the homeless, he drew the ire of AHF after he listened to the concerns of nearby residents.
The ominous sounding “Meet The Faces Of Fort Lauderdale” ad claims Ben Sorenson “turned his back on those who need his help the most.” Yet, the people in ad are not the ones “who need his help the most.”
One of the “Faces Of Fort Lauderdale” we meet is local attorney Sean Ford. In his free time, Sean Ford is the Broward co-director of New Leaders Council (NLC). Another “face” belongs to local paralegal/law student Vanessa Villaverde. According to the NLC website, Villaverde is a member of the 2019 NLC Fellows class.
Last January, REDBROWARD exposed the role NLC played in a meeting held at Fort Lauderdale City Hall. For a candlelight vigil at City Hall, AHF filled two buses with employees of AHF, members of affiliated groups and even young Democrat Party leaders. The made-for-television vigil was orchestrated by AHF legislative affairs director Ebonni Bryant. In a post-meeting Facebook message, Bryant thanked several fellow members of the New Leaders Council (NLC) for their support.
Bryant is a former NLC official.
Stephanie Rosendorf, another NLC member, used her official Broward County e-mail address to spread word about the candlelight vigil. Rosendorf is the aide for Broward County Commissioner Nan Rich, a supporter of the AHF tower project.
According to the NLC website, the group is “the hub for progressive Millennial thought leadership.” NLC claims its training program “equips our leaders with the skills to run for office, manage campaigns, create start-ups and networks of thought leaders. NLC leaders take their activism back into their communities and workplaces to impact progressive change.”
Following the vigil, Ben Sorensen held a meeting to discuss the AHF project. Chadwick Maxey, the director of the NLC Broward chapter, spoke at this meeting. Claiming he was troubled by the lack of affordable housing south of the New River, Maxey gave alleged information on rental properties from the Apartments.com website. Even though he never revealed his affiliation with NLC, Maxey sat with Ebonni Bryant, Sean Ford, Vanessa Villaverde and other NLC members at the meeting.
During his failed January 2018 campaign for Fort Lauderdale City Commission, Chadwick Maxey received two campaign contributions from Jason King, the former AHF lobbyist/legislative affairs director. In a January interview with the Sun-Sentinel, Mayor Dean Trantalis called Jason King his “plus 1” and said King introduced him to AHF CEO Michael Weinstein.
Despite strict Federal regulations prohibiting political activity, it appears AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) forged close ties to NLC over several years. REDBROWARD obtained photographs showing numerous NLC events being held at AHF headquarters in Fort Lauderdale.
According to the Council of Non-Profits, “In return for its favored tax-status, a charitable nonprofit promises the federal government that it will not engage in ‘political campaign activity’ and if it does, IRS regulations mandate that the charitable nonprofit will lose its tax-exempt status.” The IRS does allow a 501 (c)(3) to engage in issue advocacy and voter education measures. According to the IRS, “certain voter education activities (including presenting public forums and publishing voter education guides) conducted in a non-partisan manner do not constitute prohibited political campaign activity. In addition, other activities intended to encourage people to participate in the electoral process, such as voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives, would not be prohibited political campaign activity if conducted in a non-partisan manner.”
Questions regarding Michael Weinstein using AHF funds for political gain have been raised in California.
Why do Fort Lauderdale politicians and business leaders want to work with Michael Weinstein and AHF? He has repeatedly attacked Commissioner Sorensen for daring to represent his constituents. When these residents raised legitimate questions about his “Trantalis Tower,” Weinstein told the media they were bigots. When will Fort Lauderdale leaders say “enough?” Why should Broward residents trust AHF? Weinstein’s groups have no problem using any means necessary to achieve their goals.
Weinstein saw no problem misusing the words of an African-American gay activist to further his goals. Despite the opposition in Fort Lauderdale, Weinstein’s groups continue to run the negative ads on YouTube. Last month, AHF sent expensive mailers to residents touting the need for “Trantalis Tower.” County records show AHF is buying surrounding properties in hopes of quieting neighbor complaints. And city records show the AHF lobbying team is visiting elected officials.
Can we trust our leaders if they trust someone like Michael Weinstein?