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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Leland Yee: Why He's Ahead in the Polls

Posted By on Thu, Jun 30, 2011 at 7:35 AM

click to enlarge People love to hate Leland and that always makes for a good front runner in a race
  • People love to hate Leland and that always makes for a good front runner in a race

Last week, we detailed a story about how state Sen. Leland Yee is pro-medical marijuana -- until he's not. As SF Weekly reported, Yee attended a medical marijuana meeting, telling pot smokers that he supports them all the way. But what he didn't explain was why he had opposed a Sunset District pot dispensary last year.

The doublespeak is par for the course, political insiders say. Yee, who has been climbing the political ranks for the last 15 years, is well-known for taking one position on an issue in Chinese and then taking the opposite stance when he's speaking to the English media.

In other words, Yee is a political chameleon, and it's certainly helping him in the San Francisco mayor's race, where he's been pandering to progressives and moderates.

"He will say anything to anybody, and he is inconsistent with his own views," one Democratic political consultant told SF Weekly.

But aren't most politicians like that?

Still, Yee has managed to rise through the ranks in politics while being criticized for flipflopping on important issues. He was chided, for instance, for saying he would support the LGBT community and then voting against transgender benefits when he was on the Board of Supervisors.

In the latest example, campaign strategists say they were shocked when Yee went on record chastising the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency for giving the agency's outgoing chief, Nat Ford, a "golden parachute" of a departing payout. Yee told reporters that he was disgusted by the $384,000 severance package Ford collected while Muni suffers from major cuts. 

But then the Bay Citizen called Yee out, asking him if he cared so much about Muni, why he had voted to take $80 million away from the transit agency last year. Yee replied: "The dollars that were taken were clearly something the city was okay with."

Perhaps his unclear positions are catching up with him. As consultants note, Yee should be kicking ass in this race based on name recognition alone. But various polls show he's hanging in the 16 percent range, only slightly ahead of City Attorney Dennis Herrera and Supervisor David Chiu.

What's odd is that Yee managed to score the endorsement of the building tradesmen and the California Nurses Association -- powerful groups that have vehemently opposing views on the controversial California Pacific Medical Center's plans to rebuild. But then again, it's not that odd, considering Yee hasn't taken a clear position on the issue, according to his opponents.

Jim Stearns, campaign consultant for Yee, told us that the state senator has given his position on CPMC many, many times. "Should be built, but must fit community, patient needs, and guarantees of fair treatment for employees," Stearns wrote in a quick e-mail.  

Corey Cook, a political science professor at the University of San Francisco, says Yee isn't necessarily "unpopular" as he is polarizing, in part because he's neither progressive nor moderate. 

"Clearly there is a segment of the political community that isn't fond of him, thus the murmurings of a 'stop Leland Yee' campaign," Cook told SF Weekly. "The challenge, running in a ranked-choice election, is that it is often difficult for someone perceived as polarizing to win second- and third-choice votes."

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About The Author

Erin Sherbert

Erin Sherbert

Erin Sherbert was the Online News Editor for SF Weekly from 2010 to 2015. She's a Texas native and has a closet full of cowboy boots to prove it.


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