What a long, strange week it has been — and because it involves San Francisco politics, it is about to become weirder.
Or, to put it in clearer terms, the reality show we know as the San Francisco Board of Supervisors is about to film a new episode titled “Two and a Half Mayors.”
Barring a minor miracle or a hostage situation involving Supervisor Chris Daly, the board Friday will confirm City Administrator Ed Lee as the interim mayor to succeed Gavin Newsom. None of this will matter much because Newsom will still be mayor until he (allegedly) will be sworn in as California’s lieutenant governor Monday — two days after four new San Francisco supervisors will take the oath of office at City Hall.
This is somewhat important in that it will be up to the new board to confirm Lee’s appointment at its first meeting next week, something it is almost certain to do.
And all this last-minute maneuvering — which has left progressives on the board mumbling and angry — also will likely involve a new district attorney, a new board president and a new supervisor representing Russian Hill and North Beach.
Lee, a City Hall fixture for decades, will become the most unlikely candidate to succeed Newsom, though perhaps the best person hardly mentioned for the job. As both a human rights director and the former head of the Department of Public Works, Lee knows just about every city worker and every pothole in San Francisco. And he is not a politician and he is a very nice guy — which is why most people thought he would never take the job.
He could hardly be blamed for that. By taking on the mayor’s job for a year, Lee, who was just reappointed to a five-year term as city administrator, is walking away from at least $1 million — though it appears a deal will be in place to return him to that post after his interim role is finished.
So how did Lee emerge as Newsom’s replacement against such bigger names as Sheriff Mike Hennessey and former Mayor Art Agnos? For that you can thank San Francisco’s ever-present identity politics, the one that measures gay versus straight and black versus white.
In Lee’s case, it was Asian versus not, as his nomination all but demanded that two of his Asian-American colleagues on the board — David Chiu and Eric Mar — join with the deciding cast or face years of explaining to Chinese power brokers how they did not support one of their own for The City’s top political post.
The move, which clearly caught the so-called progressive board majority by surprise, has deep ramifications. Word is that Chiu can have the open district attorney job if he wants it, and depending on whom Newsom chooses to replace him, there will likely be six votes to elect moderate Supervisor Sean Elsbernd as the new board president next week.
The board’s theatrics, which consumed more than eight hours Tuesday, left the ever-bombastic Daly threatening to “haunt” Chiu and his like-minded cronies looking defeated.
“We’ve been played,” Supervisor John Avalos said.
Outflanked is more apt, since Newsom knew that by extending his term one week it would force the board to play out various scenarios, most of which involved the more liberal supervisors trying to replace him with one of their own. Hennessey, with 30 years of popular public service, was considered a passable candidate for the centrists at City Hall, but Agnos was not — since homeless encampments at the Civic Center bring back onerous memories.
So finding someone who could gain six votes — and cross political lines — was the final move, and it brought up the strangely San Francisco situation where gay, Hispanic Supervisor David Campos nominated Hennessey, a straight Irish Catholic, and Elsbernd, a straight Irish Catholic, nominated Lee, an Asian-American.
Newsom, who has never received enough credit for his political savvy, laid out almost this exact scenario to me three weeks ago. Now we will have to see how his instincts serve him in the more barren terrain of Sacramento.
The supervisors, though, did have a few nice moments saying goodbye to those departing — before promising political payback to the grave.