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.