The Buells, the Elitists Who Destroy Democracy in San Francisco

Harry S. Pariser
8 min readOct 31, 2020

I wrote this several years ago for a one-time presentation with the DSA Writer’s Group in San Francisco. Since then it is worth noting that Eleni Kounalakis, who lives in the same building as the Buells and was introduced to politics by Susie, is now Lieutenant Governor of California. Given the Buell’s backing of Gavin Newsom, it is perhaps not surprising that Newsom chose her as his running mate. She and her father Angelo spent $9 million to ensure her election.

Is this a corrupt system that serves only the wealthy or what?

2500 Steiner Street is perhaps the most important location of political significance in San Francisco. If you are visiting what is known as “Susie’s Building,” a co-op where apartments sell for tens of millions of dollars, you might find Susie Tompkins Buell residing in her 12th Floor penthouse suite amidst candles and incense burning in front of Buddhist statues. Dorthea Lange and Edward Weston photos adorn the walls. You will find her barking Jack Russells here as well. No dogs were allowed in the building when Suzy moved in, but, in her inimitable domineering fashion, she had the rules changed. Herb Caen once called her penthouse “the closest place to heaven without dying.”

2500 Steiner Street

The building has a long and storied history. Built in 1926, it had cells on the ground floor for seven Chinese servants who would do menial chores for our landed gentry. Today, countless thousands of Chinese work in sweatshops in China to manufacture the goods which provide some of the incredible largess that the building’s current occupants have at their command.

About Suzy and her sweatshops

But today’s occupants aren’t always there, as the wealthy of this era are global nomads. Some 25% might be seated in the family gallery of Congress when Nancy Pelosi is being sworn in for another term.

The invitations come because the residents are huge campaign donors to the corporate conservative branch of the Democratic Party. Guests often pay upwards of $250 for a reception on the 9th Floor. Those with yet more cash to burn can ascend to Apartment 12 where one can pay to play and meet the likes of Hillary Clinton, Schumer, Gephardt, Gore, Claire McKaskill, Kamala Harris and Obama. Candidates can come away with $250,000 or more for just a couple of hours of schmoozing.

Kamala Harris and Netanyahu
Harris shows her beaming support for Palestinan human rights and social justice.
Sam Lauter, infamous lobbyist with BMW, the son of Naomi Lauter who founded the West Coast branch of AIPAC is shown here posing with the Buell’s favorite candidate (aside from Hilary Clinton). Lauter was instrumental in the elitist privatization of Strybing Arboretum, now called the San Francisco Botanical Garden at Strybing Arboretum. (Locals now have to show an ID to enter and to pay for their guests. Entry on weekends is an atrocious $12, a fee structure ratified by the “progressive” Board of Supervisors. The Society, using non biodegradable posters printed at taxpayer expense, use minorities to woo visitors! Racism and elitism at its finest!

Hosting it all are Susie Tompkins Buell and hubby Mark Buell, the head of the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Commission. Buell, the man who has done more than any other single individual in San Francisco history to privatize and commercialize San Francisco’s parks, drives or is driven in with Susie from the palatial Bolinas estate — they have three large properties there — to hobnob with our elites. Susie calls Bolinas “my Woodstock” and loves to host her BFF and soulmate Hillary Clinton as well as daughter Chelsea and family. Tompkins Buell has told the Chronicle that “I have living karma.” CIA asset Gloria Steinem calls her “self-educated person in the best sense.” “I love these politicians, especially the women,” Tompkins Buell maintains. “I love them. I love them.”

Mark and Susie Buell
Mark and Susie Buell

Mark made a fortune in real estate. As he tells the story “In 1988 I ran for the (San Francisco) Board of Supervisors. I didn’t win, but I did pretty well for a first-time run, coming in ninth I think (out of 29 candidates). It was the year Angela Alioto and Terence Hallinan got in. I say this facetiously, but it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I would have been on Market Street today with a tin cup if I had been elected. Real estate was very good to me.”

The Mark Buell spiderweb of relationships (

Buell is notorious for his project to develop Mount San Bruno. Gray Brechin wrote that “There was the furor set off by a column of mine that Focus did print on what was about to happen to San Bruno Mountain. Development consultant and one-time supervisorial candidate Mark Buell wrote to the editor that he couldn’t “help but question an article which, in the first paragraph, uses the term ‘peculiar violence’ in reference to the surrounding urban area.” Brechin, who went on to write the classic tome “Imperial San Francisco”, was summarily fired.

Susie was once Susie Russell, a hippie clothing designer from a privileged background. Picking up another wealthy “bohemian” hitchhiker named Doug Tompkins proved pivotal. After starting North Face and selling it for $50,000, Tompkins joined her Plain Jane clothing company and came up with the name “Esprit de Corps” which was shortened to Esprit. “We were kids of the sixties and really took responsibility for what we created” Susie maintains. Doug claimed that “Women who wear Esprit are the new feminists.” Doug believed that consumerism, and the fashion industry, was leading to the destruction of our planet, so Esprit should introduce clothing that would outlast seasonal fads. Doug’s “buy only what you need” campaign eventually failed.

Doug enjoyed sleeping with the company’s female employees which was one factor in their 1989 divorce.

Susie sold her interest in Esprit for $150 million dollars. Then, against Doug’s advice, she sued the company for the taxes she had to pay and lost. The company banned her and her progeny from the premises. Tompkins went on to hook up with the female CEO of Patagonia and to purchase a slice of Chile which he and his second wife turned into a nature reserve, before dying in a kayaking accident. After recording sales of 3.25 billion Euros in 2008, the Hong Kong-based multinational has been sinking steadily.

Tompkins married Buell in 1996. Her daughter, disinherited by her dad, sued his estate by arguing that Chilean law prohibits such disinheritance of progeny. She lost. Susie is now active with the Emerge America superpac which attempts to elect neoliberal, corporate conservative candidates who appeal to the class interests of wealthy, liberal women.

One such candidate is Kamala Harris who Buell, in an admitted attempt to revenge himself on then DA Terrence Hallinan, helped propel into that office and then on to become Attorney General of California. He is now her presidential campaign treasurer.[note: At the time this was written.] Susie, who is now enamored of Harris, may do what she did with the Clintons, to whose campaigns she personally donated more than $15 million dollars. Susie maintains that “We need fierce and we need joy and we need her experience.”

The Susie Tompkins spiderweb of relationships (

In the 2018 mayoral election, Susie supported corporate conservative London Breed while Mark went to bat for corporate “progressive” Mark Leno. Corporate conservative Breed won, has served as an admirable mouthpiece for the elites, including moving the unhoused who dare to eke out a living on the public commons — a struggle to survive inconvenient with public events. So the order goes out to move them and confiscate their possessions (many of which are sold by the government). Well, they need revenue, as the likes of the Buells, unaccountably given their “ethical” stands, fail to pay their fair share of taxes.

Sean Elsbernd is a right-wing former Supervisor whom Feinstein sent from her office to manage Breed. These are authentic texts from London Breed, a supporter of Black Lives Matter (“I’m a Black Woman First”) . It is relevant to note that many of the unhoused, so brutally treated by city government, are Black.

Breed also helps out the struggling tech industry (in which the Buells undoubtedly have substantial investments). It is likely that she might be considered as Senator, should Harris actually win the election.

Anne Marie Conroy, the first Nepotism Supervisor (as the niece of then Mayor Frank Jordan) coached London Breed when she worked at toxic waste site Treasure Island (set to be developed to cater for gullible wealthy people).
From the Shrimp Boy Chow deposition.


What can you do about the fact that the fact that wealthy people (such as the Buells) have a stranglehold on the electoral system? These suggestions apply to anyone, wherever you are in the world.

Here are some practical suggestions:

  • Ignore election flyers you get in the mail and focus on reviewing independent information critical of all candidates (such alternative media, if it exists). Before you throw out those (often non biodegradable flyers), be sure to check who sent them to you. If there are realtors or corporations on the list, this is a sure sign that the given candidate is on the take.
  • As you learn about issues and problems, keep a list. When you have the opportunity, meet local candidates and ask their opinions. Rule out anyone who can not give you a genuine answer.
  • Read the voter guides. See who supports who and why. Read the ballot initiatives in the back.
  • If you live in a state such as California, be sure to avoid signing ballot initiatives unless the signature gatherers are unpaid. And ask as many hard questions as possible before signing.
  • Vote absentee, if available. This will allow you to take your time to fill out the ballot at home and then mail it.
  • Don’t vote for any candidate (or ballot initiative) which has or have TV ads. This is a certain sign that something is wrong, as ads are expensive and always lack depth. Frequently they are misleading.
  • If a candidate focuses on their background and upbringing (as opposed to issues), that is a sure sign they may be a fraud. While that is relevant, it is more important how they will vote.
  • Read any available websites that review candidates, such as Ballotopedia. Think critically. Remember to maintain pressure after election through phone calls to their offices, emails and letters to the editor.
  • Finally, watch what candidates they endorse. This will tell you a lot about their character!

And here are some more suggestions for change. While these are about San Francisco, they could be applied anywhere with a lack of public process prevails — almost everywhere in the “democratic” United States!

Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. — Frederik Douglas (1857)



Harry S. Pariser

Harry S. Pariser is a long time resident of San Francisco, CA. He is a writer (and author), artist and photographer.