THEY used to be good friends - now they are sworn enemies in a battle that has become the talk of San Francisco. The most influential Chinese-born official in the city is embroiled in a bizarre and bitter row with San Francisco's mayor that could end in the eventual destruction of both their political careers. Mr Ben Hom, a former banker with strong Hongkong financial ties, has launched a legal assault on Mayor Frank Jordan after the City Hall boss tried to oust the Guangdong-born official from his post as San Francisco's Redevelopment Commissioner. The irony is the issue that led to their falling out is that Mr Hom tried to boost the mayor's political coffers. Mr Hom, 52, filed a law suit claiming Mr Jordan had used his political office account for personal expenses, making the account ''in effect, a supplemental source of income for the politician and his wife Wendy Paskin''. The 11-page complaint lodged with the San Francisco Superior Court also alleged Mr Jordan had city employees run errands for his wife and do gardening work around their home. The mayor has heatedly denied the charges, calling them ''ridiculous''. The row between the two men erupted after Mr Hom refused Mr Jordan's request that he resign as president of the Redevelopment Agency, a powerful civil post Mr Jordan had appointed Mr Hom to last year, over alleged misconduct. The request was prompted because of allegations Mr Hom tried to get developers to contribute to Mr Jordan's office fund. In an apparent violation of San Francisco city laws, it is alleged Mr Hom sent out a fax to two developers, with a building project pending before his commission, asking they buy two US$1,000 (HK$7,780) tables at the fund-raiser he was arranging last month. The developers cried foul. Within days, word of Mr Hom's alleged indiscretion was ricocheting among the redevelopment agency, mayor's office and city attorney's office. Word of the allegations was also leaked to the press. Mr Hom was hastily called into the mayor's office, where he was met by Mr Jordan, two deputy mayors, redevelopment head Mr Ed Helfeld and two city lawyers. They laid out the allegations and asked for his resignation. He refused and fired off the law suit. Mr Hom, a mortgage banker and former bank president, said: ''Everyone at City Hall knows that Jordan, his wife and others have cut corners in political financing and spending. My action is an attempt to bring back a single standard for good government inSan Francisco.'' Mr Jordan hit back: ''I think Ben Hom is being ill-advised by his attorney. It is a sad commentary on what a person will do.'' Since the row erupted, Mr Hom has been suspended and his vice-president Ms Cynthia Choy Ong, also Chinese-born, has taken over the reins at the Redevelopment Commission. Mr Hom's lawyer Mr Fred Furth has pointed the political finger of blame at Mr Jordan. ''The mayor has asked again and again that his commissioners assist with fund-raising, telling them: 'I want you to involve your community and do business with your community'. That's exactly what Ben did,'' he said. Meanwhile, Mr Jordan has called for the city attorney to draw up formal charges for a dismissal hearing tomorrow. Mr Hom issued a statement saying he had served the city of San Francisco in various citizen capacities for nearly 20 years and had the trust and friendship of mayors and supervisors. But ''two weeks ago, my public career came crashing down. In the court of Frank Jordan's office, I was charged, tried, convicted and sentenced''. Insisting he had done nothing wrong, Mr Hom said: ''I don't want to go back. It's all politics there. Jordan is not seeking truth, he is seeking self-preservation. I want a hearing. I want a fair hearing. I want my honour back.'' The row has split the Chinese community. More than 300 members of the Chinese American community turned out waving banners proclaiming ''I believe you Ben,'' when Mr Hom held a meeting at the Chinese Cultural Centre auditorium. Mr Jason Wong, who moderated at Mr Hom's public forum, said he felt what was going on smacked of racism against the Chinese community in San Francisco by City Hall. ''There are many of us in this community who have faced it, who have felt and are feeling it today.'' But Mr Harold Yee, executive director of Asian Incorporated, is urging caution in the Chinese community before casting the mayor's actions as racist until all the facts are known. ''If it's racism, we'll handle it. But if it's not racism and racism is being used as a marketing tool, that too we'll deal with.'' Not all the Chinese American community is backing Mr Hom. Chinese for Affirmative Action executive director, Mr Henry Der, said: ''While most Chinese Americans feel that Hom should have a fair hearing, most active Chinese American civic leaders have become very leery of Ben Hom's Waco, Texas, strategy to combatFrank Jordan's charges. ''This scorched-earth strategy that's been fashioned by Ben's attorney has got into personal mudslinging. ''Chinese Americans don't care about that. It's not acceptable. That's not the way to defend oneself against these charges.''