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Politics & Policy

Phil Ting is set for easy reelection to the Assembly. But some SF political clubs refuse to endorse him due to sex scandal

Assemblymember Phil Ting during a ceremony at the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center Plaza on Thursday, April 13, 2017, in San Francisco, Calif. The ceremony commemorated the beginning of the Golden Gate Bridge suicide deterrent system construction project. (Photo by Santiago Mejia/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

Phil Ting is one of the most powerful politicians in San Francisco, having represented the western side of the city in the State Assembly for a decade. With no serious competition in the June 7 primary election, he's virtually guaranteed to win the primary election and a sixth term in office this November. 

But some civic clubs who once supported him are not endorsing him this time around. They cite revelations from 2020 that Ting allegedly impersonated another assemblymember while paying for a date on a website called “What’s Your Price,” then subsequently had an extended affair with the woman, a domestic worker experiencing homelessness. Even more egregiously in the eyes of critics, he also had her testify for a bill aimed at protecting gig economy workers. 

It’s not the extramarital affair that is the problem, said Steven Buss, co-founder of GrowSF, a new civic group that sits on the moderate side of the local political equation and declined to endorse Ting.

“What I find really inappropriate is his abuse of power over this woman that he was having an affair with, and allegedly using the image of his coworker,” Buss said. “It’s a severe ethical lapse.”

Reached by email and asked about the allegations, Ting’s office did not confirm or deny them, instead referring to a 2020 statement where he apologized for the extramarital affair and asked for privacy for his family.

In addition to GrowSF, the San Francisco Women’s Political Committee, the United Democratic Club and the Chinese American Democratic Club—who have endorsed Ting in the past—have declined to endorse him in this election.

Mayor London Breed has not endorsed Ting either. That's unusual given Ting’s power and that he’s a shoo-in to win, political insiders say. 

Breed’s office did not respond to inquiries on why she did not endorse Ting. The Chinese American Democratic Club said the decision was partially due to the circumstances of the affair and partially because they felt Ting wasn’t present enough during the pandemic. The United Democratic Club and SF Women’s Political Committee said they do not comment on internal club deliberations, but two sources familiar with their endorsement discussions confirmed that it was issues surrounding the affair that cost Ting their support.

Ting met the woman, a South African immigrant named Carmel Foster, in 2016 on the What’s Your Price website, which is a competitor to other “sugar daddy” dating sites. According to a story in CalMatters, Ting purchased a date with her for $30 after first sending her a picture of a different assemblyman, and they continued to have a sexual relationship while Foster was scraping by on housecleaning jobs. 

Eventually, Foster testified for a bill aimed at protecting gig economy workers, but she later said she felt manipulated by Ting into testifying.

Reached by email and phone, Carmel Foster said the lack of endorsements for Ting were “too little, too late” and that she’s still angry about being asked to testify for a bill that she feels in the end would not help domestic workers like herself. Furthermore, she said she felt pressured into intimate acts she felt were degrading. 

“I was used worse than a rag doll,” she said.

Foster submitted complaints to both the State Assembly Legislative Ethics Committee, and the Workplace Conduct Unit, which was created in the wake of the #MeToo movement. But responses to the complaints that Foster shared with The Standard show that both units said her allegations did not fall within their jurisdiction. The two groups declined to comment.

Liz Liebman, a former board member of the SF Women’s Political Committee who helped oversee the endorsement process, said Ting should not have started a sexual relationship with an impoverished, vulnerable woman.

“He really abused his position of power in that relationship and is not taking accountability for it,” Liebman said, saying she was speaking on behalf of herself, not the SF Women’s Political Committee.