For a while, the new political law in San Francisco was “Hands off Mayor Ed Lee.” The progressive opposition that routinely growled and snipped at the ankles of former Mayor Gavin Newsom was nearly silenced.
But last week, political reality came crashing down on the mayor, who suddenly no longer seemed untouchable.
The man who made the term “city family” fashionable suddenly had a family feud under his roof that even the neighbors could hear.
The Board of Supervisors unanimously adopted a resolution opposing his exploration of New York City’s stop-and-frisk policy, which critics say encourages racial profiling. His re-appointment of Michael Antonini to the Planning Commission was held up by supervisors amid heated debate. A key vote on the proposed multibillion-dollar California Pacific Medical Center project was postponed for two weeks amid the threat of defeat. And the mayor hasn’t been able to secure a compromise between dueling proposals to replace The City’s payroll tax with a levy on gross business receipts. A proposed ballot measure intended to end ranked-choice voting for mayoral races was shot down.
All of this as Lee has been dogged by perjury allegations since his June 29 testimony during misconduct proceedings against Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi.
Supervisor John Avalos has noticed a political shift and believes it can partly be traced back to that testimony.
“It shows the mayor to be somewhat vulnerable,” Avalos said, noting that Lee seemed to have been “brought down to the earth.” He quoted a colorful lyric by Bob Dylan — “Even the president of the United States sometimes must have to stand naked” — to describe the mayor’s current plight.
Supervisor Scott Wiener said Lee’s losses last week were not a reflection of his political strength, but he did suggest that the grace period is over.
“A mayoral honeymoon is never going to last forever,” Wiener said. “Whether you’re Dianne Feinstein, Willie Brown, Gavin Newsom or Ed Lee, you will have times when you have disagreements with the board.”
Last week also seemed to indicate that the board’s more left-leaning faction is healing from the blows suffered more than a year ago when it failed to appoint a progressive caretaker mayor and lost key district elections and the board majority.
“It’s been more than a year,” said political analyst and San Francisco State University lecturer David Latterman. “Now they are pushing back. We are seeing now stark policy disputes, and we are seeing the left more asserting itself.”
Lee was appointed as a caretaker mayor in January 2011 and immediately was credited with bringing civility to City Hall, building consensus around a successful pension reform measure and passing a payroll tax break for the mid-Market Street area in an effort to keep Twitter in San Francisco.
After those successes, he was elected in November to a full four-year term under the campaign slogan of “Ed Lee Gets it Done.”
But then Salesforce.com canceled plans to develop a massive Mission Bay campus, and a giant development deal associated with the America’s Cup took on water and sank.
However, Lee has had several significant accomplishments, including balancing San Francisco’s first two-year budget and courting the Warriors in an attempt to move them across the Bay to The City’s waterfront, which Lee called his “legacy project.”
Now all eyes at City Hall are focused on whether Lee can deliver on the CPMC project, a proposed $2.5 billion hospital development.
“Ed Lee’s entire term will be defined by this,” Latterman said.