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Norman Yee elected as Board of Supervisors president

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Supervisor Norman Yee stands during public comment on the nomination for President of the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Norman Yee was elected Board of Supervisors president Tuesday, ending weeks of speculation and lobbying over who will serve in the second most powerful position at City Hall.

The result was not a complete surprise. With a progressive majority on the board following November’s election, a progressive was guaranteed the post, not a moderate. But infighting among the left-leaning board members carried on for weeks over who would gain the top board spot.

Supervisor Hillary Ronen waged the most public campaign for the post, while Supervisor Rafael Mandelman also sought the position.

Yee, however, emerged the victor after picking up the backing of influential leaders from the Chinese community, including Wing Hoo Leung, president of the Community Tenants Association.

The board voted for Yee over Ronen for president in an initial 7-4 vote. Yee voted for himself along with Supervisors Sandra Fewer, Ahsha Safai, Vallie Brown, Aaron Peskin, Rafael Mandelman and Catherine Stefani.

That vote was rescinded by Supervisor Gordon Mar, who initially supported Ronen, in an attempt to reach unanimity and show unity behind Yee. The final vote, however, was 10-1 with Ronen voting in the opposition.

After the vote, Yee, 69, said he would strive to reach consensus over “personal differences” and that he has “an urgency to make as much impact as I can in my last two years as supervisor so that I can make a difference in the lives of my grandchildren.”

Yee was nominated for the post by Fewer, who previously served with Yee on the Board of Education.

“I have always known Supervisor Yee to lead with integrity, thoughtfulness and deep compassion,” Fewer said. “He will work to defend the most vulnerable communities, as he has done all of his career.”

Fewer continued, “I believe that Supervisor Yee will further this collective progressive vision through strong, compassionate and steady leadership as the President of the Board of Supervisors.”

The board president vote came after three new supervisors were sworn into their seats, Mar in District 4, Matt Haney in District 6 and Shamann Walton in District 10.

Haney nominated Ronen for the post. Mandelman was not nominated.

Some involved in the discussions said the potential vote outcome remained “dynamic” hours before the noon meeting, while backers of Yee expressed confidence they had the votes.

In a post on Medium the day before the vote, Ronen alleged that sexism was playing a role in the board’s decision. “When women openly seek leadership positions, people often attack our personal traits that they had previously complimented,” Ronen wrote. “It’s no different right here in San Francisco. Several of my colleagues have questioned my own likability, temperament, and passion for the first time — and only after I put myself forward as a candidate for board president.”

Peskin said before the vote that “there are many narratives.”

“There are narratives around gender, there are narratives around race, there are narratives around age and experience,” he said.

Dozens of members of the public turned up to speak in Ronen’s support. They argued she would provide more aggressive progressive leadership and emphasized the importance of having a woman in the role. Ronen said she wanted the presidency because she felt “a sense of urgency to make change.”

Haney said that Ronen was “compassionate, bold, a fighter. That feels what we need right now in our city.”

But Fewer countered: “This is not about individual power. This is so much about collective power.”

Yee’s victory came in part through the support of moderates like Safai. Safai said that the recent deaths of Mayor Ed Lee and Rose Pak has left a void in leadership in the Chinese community and having a Chinese American board president “at this moment is what weighs the most heavily on me.” Safai noted that Yee was born and raised in Chinatown.

The position is for a two-year term. While past board presidents have been able to secure re-election for multiple terms, Yee is termed out of office in two years, opening up the field for somebody new in 2021.

As board president, Yee will set the tone of the legislative body and largely determine its working relationship with Mayor London Breed, who is up for re-election this November to a four-year term. He has led on senior, child care and pedestrian safety issues since first elected to the District 7 seat on the board in 2012, which represents the West of Twin Peaks neighborhoods.

Shortly after the vote, Breed issued a statement congratulating Yee. “I look forward to working with President Yee to create more housing for all San Franciscans, help our homeless residents get the care and shelter they need, and keep our streets clean and safe,” Breed said.

As leader of the board, the president assigns supervisors to positions on board committees, shaping their political careers. The most influential of these assignments include chair of the budget and land use committees. The board president also has greater sway over proposed legislation and nominates some city commissioners.

Past presidents include Malia Cohen, who was elected in November to serve on the state’s Board of Equalization, Breed and Assemblymember David Chiu.

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