When City Administrator Ed Lee is sworn in as interim mayor later this week, he will make history as the first Chinese-American mayor of San Francisco.
The moment has long been in the making by Chinatown political powerhouses, who for years played a key role on backroom politics, but are now center stage.
In addition to having a Chinese-American mayor, a Chinese-American is serving a second two-year term as Board of Supervisors president, and there are three other Asian-Americans — Jane Kim, Carmen Chu and Eric Mar — on the board.
The election of the board president on Saturday exhibited the kind of power the Asian-American community can wield in local politics. Outflanking the progressives and the moderates in just two rounds of voting, they placed David Chiu in the top seat for a second term.
This political power base is also acting as a formidable force in determining the winner of the November mayor race. With a number of declared candidates, including two Asians, the appointment of the interim mayor was seen as chess move in the larger game of the November election.
State Assemblyman Leland Yee and City Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting, along with others, have both thrown their hat in the ring, with Yee being viewed as the most electable Asian candidate at this time. Chiu is expected to announce a run soon.
But with the appointment of Lee as interim mayor, and Chiu possibly entering the race, the wind has been sucked out of Yee’s sails. And it was no mistake.
Rose Pak, a longtime political heavyweight in Chinatown and a close ally of former Mayor Willie Brown, who openly bragged that she secured Lee’s appointment, made it clear on Saturday that the actions taken were a clear signal to Yee.
“Anybody but Leland Yee [for mayor], I’ve said that from the start,” Pak said shortly before the vote on board presidency Saturday. When pressed, Pak suggested the issue was a matter involving “moral turpitude,” but did not elaborate.