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Monday, August 8, 2011

Ed Lee: Why's He Running?

Posted By on Mon, Aug 8, 2011 at 12:45 PM

Hello, Champ...
  • Hello, Champ...

A married man caught in the arms of a mistress has to do more than utter "I changed my mind." So will Ed Lee.

Lee today officially broke the pledge that he would not seek a full term -- the very thing that got him the job of mayor (and, naturally, put him in position to break his pledge). Lee's supposed noninterest in being a full-time mayor also led to the so-called period of harmony at City Hall he now ostensibly hopes to prolong. 

Many questions are raised by today's well-orchestrated announcement. Here are two: Why? And, most crucially, how will voters respond?

The Means of Ascent

It's hard to get straightforward answers about the machinations of Lee, a man conjured into power by, among others, Willie Brown and Rose Pak -- two of the city's more powerful conjurers.

In Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part II, Prince Hal's ascension to the throne, though tainted by corruption, leads to an epiphany and a period of pure, honest rule. Well, the play's the thing -- but reality is different. Lee was pushed into power once by his influential buddies and now it appears they've done it again.

click to enlarge Yes, we'll be using this image a lot in the days to come
  • Yes, we'll be using this image a lot in the days to come
"A lot of folks are going to raise questions about was it right for him to break his pledge or not. For me, that's not the inquiry," city attorney and mayoral candidate Dennis Herrera told SF Weekly. "For me the question is not 'Is Ed Lee an honest man?' For me it's 'Is Ed Lee his own man?' He didn't want to be interim mayor, he spoke with powerful individuals, and he made himself available. He said he didn't want the position, he spoke to powerful individuals, and he decided to enter the fray."

An interesting point. Herrera then released an almost verbatim statement as the above in a press release. That's interesting, too.

Yee Olde Bogeyman

While voices within City Hall have touted the certainty of Lee running

for months, his fellow candidates only counted on it as an

inevitability in the last two or three weeks, after the interim mayor

began getting cute when asked by the media about his desire to run (and, we're told, evasive when asked in private).

For much of that time, the conventional wisdom was that Lee was being leaned upon to run because the notion of state Sen. Leland Yee as mayor was too much to stomach for Pak, Brown -- and, for that matter, Lee as well. But, despite spending millions on his unopposed state Senate campaign, Yee was only barely atop the polls in the mayoral race. Other candidates were outdoing his fundraising totals. In short, Yee was beatable, and by candidates other than Ed Lee.

With the Yee bogeyman less of a factor, it appears the reason Lee is running is that the folks who put him in office enjoy having him in office. And so does he. "I think he likes the job," says consultant Jim Ross. He recalled an anecdote of Lee holding court at a recent event, joyously handing out his business card -- which is emblazoned with an image of the grinning mayor with the World Series trophy. "He was saying, 'Does your city have one of these?'"

Supervisor Sean Elsbernd noted that he's been getting plenty of calls pushing him to support Lee -- but not from Pak or Brown. "I've been hearing from leaders in the business community, the nonprofit world, the neighborhoods," says the supe, who has yet to endorse any mayoral candidate. "I know it's easy to make it simple to say it's all Rose and Mayor Brown. But it's bigger.

"I had my first conversation with City Administrator Lee about a year ago this time about being a potential interim mayor. And he flatly rejected it. He told me to stop thinking about it. And now he's the frontrunner. If I sound confused, I am."
Trust Me

Lee is also taking credit for inducing a return to Eden within the rapturous world of City Hall. For the supervisors who helped Lee push through the legislation he now touts as his achievements, this is a very gray Monday. David Chiu must be feeling a bit like a man who helped install the wiring for the guy who'll now flip the switch on his electric chair.

Expect the so-called good times at City Hall to end. "Many of this year's successes have been predicated on the trust in the working relationship Ed and I have," says Chiu. "It will be harder for San Franciscans and my colleagues to take Ed at his word." 

And yet, the ephemeral -- yet jolly -- Lee seems to be doing just fine with potential voters, even though his achievements are limited and he's clearly broken the terms of the deal that put him in power. A recent KPIX poll reveals that 59 percent think Lee "should run for mayor." Only 25 percent think he shouldn't. 

The 35 percent plurality against the field Lee has in that poll is good -- but hardly overwhelming for a sitting mayor. Still, in the nicey-nicey world of ranked-choice voting, it's hard to foresee a likely scenario in which his opponents can topple him. An Anyone-But-Ed campaign doesn't seem probable. Unforeseen damaging allegations or one candidate "going nuclear" could tip the race -- but who benefits remains uncertain. 

The smart money is on Ed Lee. So's the real money.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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