Hold onto your pearls, folks: The powers of Dede Wilsey may fast be waning. A consummate socialite who has long held sway over the deYoung Museum and the Legion of Honor as the board president and CEO of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Wilsey is expected to step down from those joint positions in the fall, a recently revealed move spurred in part by a scandal regarding a seemingly outsized severance check granted to a former employee without board authorization, and the subsequent firing of a whistleblower. And today we learn of another way in which Wilsey's world has shifted out of her control: The Chronicle writes that Wilsey was the largest donor in the recent election battle for the Democratic County Central Committee, giving $110,000 to help moderate, Ed Lee-supporting candidates succeed, which they did not.
As you may recall from our byzantine ballot, 60 candidates competed for that committee in a game of brutal musical chairs with just 24 seats on the committee available. Just three Wilsey-backed candidates won: Tom Hsieh Jr, London Breed, and Mary Jung. Meanwhile, the progressives scored 15 seats to the moderates 9, essentially taking committee control. Other major donors in the contest included Lee faithful Ron Conway with $64,000 and Twitter co-founder Evan Williams with $50,000 according to the Chronicle.
Wilsey considers herself “basically an independent,” telling Messrs. Matier and Ross that “I give to those persons I regard as the best candidates, regardless of political affiliation.” In past elections, she's ponied up more than $24,000 for Kamala Harris in state attorney general bids, also donating the maximum amount, $5,4000, to Harris' current US Senate bid. Some of Wilsey's donations have been problematic: Consider the donation to current supervisor Mark Farrell she made, helping elect him by a mere 252 votes in a move that eventually led to an Ethics Commission fine that he's fighting in court.
Also, it was Harris's state office's non-profit oversight division that recently had to audit the Fine Arts Museums' books, leading to the recommendation that Wilsey's lifetime appointment as board chair should not be in perpetuity.
The intrigue surrounding Wilsey has lead to increased coverage lately, including a critical article in the New York Times. In response, the Chronicle's art critic called such press a "pile-on." What would that make this latest Chronicle Matier and Ross piece, then?