Running for mayor is no small feat. It takes endless time, hordes of volunteers, and enormous piles of cash. Just ask Bevan Dufty, who has blown through hundreds of thousands of dollars in nearly two years of running (and who is arguably not one of the two or three frontrunners after all that effort). Or David Chiu, who passed up an offer to become district attorney while earning scorn from progressive kingmakers for supporting Ed Lee for interim mayor. Or Dennis Herrera, whose early fundraising lead may suffer after his campaign consultant, Alex Tourk, resigned last week following allegations of illegal lobbying.
The worst part for Dufty, Chiu, Herrera, and the half-dozen or so other favorites to succeed Lee in the November election? Their chances could turn to dust in an instant should Lee decide to enter the race, as some very special interests are said to want him to do (read: Chinatown power broker Rose Pak and former Mayor Willie Brown, who will stop at next to nothing to defeat state Sen. Leland Yee, the presumed favorite at this early date).
While Lee pledged to be a caretaker mayor and nothing more — "He has no plans to run," mayoral spokeswoman Christine Falvey said last week — there are hints that may change. A petition to draft him is circulating at City Hall, and polling company EMC is calling voters with questions, "seven or eight of which" deal with Lee, including asking voters if they'd favorably view him reversing his pledge. (That's according to voter researcher David Lee, who received one of the calls.) Such measures are expensive — a 10-minute poll like EMC's could run as much as $40,000, consultants say — meaning that powerful, moneyed interests are testing the waters for Ed Lee, and are spending handsomely to do so.
"This race is all about name recognition," David Lee says. And with the bully pulpit of Room 200, Ed Lee has more of that than any of his would-be competitors, many of whom would "be knocked out of the race" upon his entry, according to USF political scientist Corey Cook. This means the current contenders must raise cash and vie for media attention, all while trying to ignore the moneyed incumbent lurking in the shadows.
So will Lee or won't Lee? "That's the million-dollar question," Cook says. And which of the candidates stands to lose the most if he does? "All," Cook says, "because Ed Lee would likely win."