What Would an Ed Lee Administration Mean for Sustainable Transportation?

Ed Lee with Human Rights Commissioner Zula Jones. Photo: Luke Thomas, ##http://www.fogcityjournal.com/wordpress/##Fog City Journal##
Ed Lee with Human Rights Commissioner Zula Jones. Photo: Luke Thomas, ##http://www.fogcityjournal.com/wordpress/##Fog City Journal##

During a dramatic eight-hour Board of Supervisors meeting last night, seven supervisors, including President David Chiu, Bevan Dufty, Eric Mar and Sophie Maxwell, lined up late in the session to support City Administrator Ed Lee for interim mayor. It prompted an angry outburst from outgoing Supervisor Chris Daly, who declared that it would be “the biggest fumble in the history of progressive politics in San Francisco.”

In the end, the supervisors agreed to continue the meeting and a decision on appointing a successor mayor to Friday at 3 p.m. Whoever the current board appoints (it requires six votes) would have to be confirmed by the new board. Four new supervisors are being sworn in Saturday. Even then, all the cards, at this point, seemed to be stacked to favor Lee, who was in Hong Kong and not available for comment.

In several interviews, some transit advocates and others who have worked with the former Asian Law Caucus managing attorney over the years offered nothing but praise, saying that even though some of outgoing Mayor Gavin Newsom’s staff might remain in place — something Daly and other progressives predict would mean more of the “same ole’, same ole‘” — Lee would set a different tone and get work done.

“He comes out of a strong civil rights background so I think he would look at transportation from an equity point of view and a transportation justice perspective,” said Supervisor Mar, who is supporting Lee. “Even though he has been a bit distant, in city government, from civil rights or community organizations that’s where his values are in supporting a better transportation system, especially for lower-income people and working families.”

Lee, who would become the city’s first Asian American mayor, has more than two decades of experience in city government, serving as the city’s first Whisteblower Ordinance investigator, executive director of the Human Rights Commission, the director of City Purchasing, and before his current job, was director of the Department of Public Works. When he was reappointed City Administrator in October, the Mayor’s Office praised him for “reducing the size and cost of city government and reducing the vehicle fleet.”

Malcolm Yeung, the public policy director at the Chinatown Community Development Center, knows Lee through his many years of work at the Asian Law Caucus.

“His time at the Asian Law Caucus really launched, I think, what is now the progressive movement in Chinatown,” said Yeung, who has worked as a tenants rights attorney and credited Lee with starting a housing rights position in addition to taking on cases involving employment discrimination and workers rights.

“I feel incredibly confident that Ed Lee is going to work with every element of this city, including the Board of Supervisors,” said Yeung. “Ed knows the city like no one else. He knows it better than (former Board President) Aaron Peskin, he knows it better than the Board of Supervisors, and having someone with that kind of knowledge in the mayor’s seat is going to be another incredible benefit.”

Yeung credited Lee with helping to champion the Chinatown Alleyway Master Plan, saying he used his position at DPW to secure funding.

Tom Radulovich, the executor director of Livable City, described Lee as “a really good public servant” and said he’s been a big supporter of Sunday Streets, helping to make introductions in Chinatown. He said Lee has always been great to work with and is very “professional, even personable.”

“He’ll be more focused on service delivery and fixing problems in government instead of running a press release factory,” said Radulovich. “He’s self-deprecating and he’s easy to work with and it’ll be very different than what we’ve had coming from the Mayor’s Office for awhile.”

The big downside could be that Lee may be hesitant to do anything bold on the sustainable transportation front. Daly’s concerns, along with some other progressive supervisors, are that Lee’s staff would reflect downtown interests and that little would change in the Mayor’s Office.

“He would be the quintessential caretaker mayor. He would keep every old Willie Brown and Gavin Newsom staffer from the Mayor’s Office and would run the exact same agenda as Newsom,” Daly told reporters after last night’s meeting.

He added: “This Board of Supervisors ostensibly has a majority of members from the progressive camp. That means on the tenant side of landlord-tenant issues. That means on the neighborhood side of major development issues. That means on the green side of environmental issues whereas the Newsom administration has been on the other side and that’s where Ed Lee’s caretaker administration would have stayed.”

Daly, who is ending his career as District 6 supervisor this week, pointed much of the blame on Chiu, calling him a traitor to progressives and promising to “politically haunt” the Board of Supervisors President.

Chiu has not responded to requests for interviews but his aide, Judson True, said the District 3 supervisor would continue to aggressively pursue Transit First policies and work with Lee to advocate for sustainable transportation. Chiu, however, is still rumored to be on the short list of candidates to replace Kamala Harris as District Attorney.

  • Nick

    Isn’t a caretaker Mayor what every average San Franciscan has been clamoring for? Elect them for 8 years I say.

    San Francisco to Chris Daly: Lose our number.

  • Morton

    Nick, you’re right, we need a neutral, non-political mayor for the good of the City. We deserve it.

  • Michael Smith

    Yes, during the biggest fiscal crises San Francisco has ever faced what could possibly be better than a lame duck mayor who won’t have the authority to actually get avything done? Brilliant!

  • @Nick and Morton: You guys voting Bloomberg in 2012? What is a neutral, non-political mayor? I’d argue we need *more* politics, as in more political parties (remember when Mirkarimi (and I think Jane Kim?) were Greens?) in local, state, and national government. What irritates us about politicians isn’t that they are *political*, its that they don’t have the guts to get things done, to make hard decisions, etc. Its not because of politics itself–that’s a bigger term and idea than anti-political soundbites would have us believe. One could argue that Obama has gotten into so much political trouble because he tried to play at neutral, bi-partisan caretaker for so long…

    – J

  • Morton

    Justin,

    I guess it depends what you mean by “political”.

    If by “political” you mean someone with personal political ambition and a partisan viewpoint, then that would be fine if they had been elected and had a mandate for such policies.

    But that isn’t the case here. Like it or not, the voters of this City voted Newson. So, IMO, they should get a temporary Mayor who won’t change Newson’s policies too much. Newsom isn’t leaving because he is unpopular and was voted out. In fact he’s leaving because he was proven popular again.

    But in November, if a candidate stands on the platform you suggest, and he wins, he will be legitimately entitled to push forward such an agenda. And you won’t have to worry about an incumbent standing in his/her way.

    Meanwhile, yes, we do need someone decisive. Do we know Lee isn’t? And to meet Michael’s Smith’s point, there are some serious problems to attack. Do we know Lee cannot attack those issues? He can, just not in a political way that is much different from Newsom. No popular mandate.

  • Alex

    Wait. What? Ed Lee is Rose Pak’s marionette. THE Rose Pak… THE Rose Pak who saddled us with this subway to nowhere. As long as Lee is beholden to that behemoth, Ed Lee is the very institution you folks seem to want to change so much. That whole group of them: Rose Pak, Slick Willie, Newsom, Chiu… they’ve all agitated for the single most wasteful and ill-conceived transit projects. Let’s not forget how badly Newsom dicked over transit riders this year. Lee is simply more of the same, tired cronyism. Despite this, there’s somehow a question about what Ed Lee would mean for sustainable transportation? Really? Is it April Fool’s already?

    Perhaps on the debate surrounding the civil rights of three-toed tree sloths and seven legged arachnids in the lower haight, Mister Lee might enact some radical changes. As for transportation issues, he’s going to stay the course at best.

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