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Pomp and circumstance at City Hall

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San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee speaks at City Hall on Friday during his inauguration. (Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner)

Mayor Ed Lee was inaugurated to his second full term Friday, but the mood at City Hall was far from jubilant. Amid the official celebration many came to make their grievances known, adding boos and angry shouts to the ceremony.

With Lee’s poor re-election showing in November, mustering just 55 percent of the vote without any organized opposition, a series of City Hall protests against his administration, growing calls to oust Police Chief Greg Suhr, Aaron Peskin’s reemergence enlivening the progressives and a general groundswell of grumbling over the continued official disregard for the disenfranchised in The City, this has certainly not been Lee’s favorite year.

The landscape got no cheerier in the first week of 2016, when District Attorney George Gascon in his second inaugural address compared Lee’s administration to some of the most corrupt San Francisco has ever seen, putting the current mayor in some pretty impressive company.

At the Hall of Justice event Wednesday, Gascon vowed to use his second term to root out systemic public corruption in The City and push forward with needed criminal justice reforms.

“Whether police, politician or powerhouse, we must rein-in misconduct in the public realm,” he said. “The only thing worse than violating the public trust is to let that violation go unanswered.”

And, just before the new year, Lee’s order to departments to cut services amid San Francisco’s record prosperity did not go down very well. The Ethics Commission was the first to push back. At a Tuesday hearing, the committee seemed incredulous that the mayor would so brazenly seek to undercut services needed for a functioning city.

It was an encouraging sign from the commission’s new director, LeeAnn Pelham, just two days on the job, signaling a more aggressive Ethics Commission than The City has been accustomed to under former director John St. Croix. The occasion of choosing a new director has forced a debate at the commission about its role in The City — whether it should be a passive arbitrator of potential conflicts or proactively buck trends it sees as troubling. Its performance this week suggests the latter, and that’s a great sign of things to come if it can keep its nerve.

The fact that the mayor controls the purse strings for the the very body charged with investigating ethical (mis)conduct in city business has been a longstanding conflict of interest. Hopefully, this nascent and quickly growing political opposition to Lee can force change in how the commission is funded to ensure its independence and muscle. For a watchdog to have bite, it can’t be made to heel by the very government it is charged with safeguarding.

Ethics Commissioner Peter Keane said at the meeting, “The City has slid into a fair amount of corruption, tremendously soft corruption but corruption. It’s pay to play. It’s a game of bribery.”

It’s not a new story. But the anger has taken time to build. Back in June 2014, the civil grand jury raised a red flag on how business is done in The City, reporting: “San Francisco officials at all levels have impeded actions intended to establish a culture of ethical behavior, and that the focus needed to ensure accountability and anti-corruption standards needs greater leadership.”

On Friday in the City Hall rotunda, Gov. Jerry Brown administered the oath of office to Lee, both of them shouting to be heard over the chorus of boos from protesters disrupting the proceedings.

When he was done, Brown ominously told the mayor: “I’ll leave you to your fate.”

Unfortunately, at least for the duration of Lee’s next term, that fate is bound with that of The City.

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