It was only a year ago that a tiny “Recall Ed Lee” contingent gathered on the steps of City Hall while a large swath of Chinese San Franciscans stood across the street, calling the effort to oust San Francisco’s first Chinese-American mayor racist and misguided.
How times have changed.
Fringe members of The City’s conservative Chinese community, dubbed the “Chinese Tea Party” by some Chinese progressives, are now pushing for an Ed Lee recall.
Why? I’ve got one word for you: cannabis.
Mayor Lee signed into law Wednesday cannabis regulations that include a mandatory 600-foot buffer between schools and cannabis outlets, and between each pot shop. The regulations take effect Jan. 6, days after the voter-approved Proposition 64 legalizes marijuana statewide.
The more conservative Chinese community members wanted a severe curtailment of pot shops citywide.
Now that same group is apparently speaking out, splashed across full-page color ads, in two of San Francisco’s largest Chinese-language newspapers to call for the mayor’s ouster.
The World Journal and Sing Tao Daily ran the anti-Lee ads at least three days each this week.
“San Francisco is bound to have more drug addicts,” the ad in Sing Tao Daily reads. “Law and order problems will worsen.” The ads called out Mayor Lee in particular for allowing the legislation’s passage, calling it “disappointing” and a “violation of his election promise” to represent the Chinese community, according to a translation of the ads.
Notably, the Department of Elections does not show any formal recall efforts registered with The City. No registration also means there’s no way to trace who paid for the ads.
The Mayor’s Office said the cannabis legislation was the result of months of community input and that “being mayor requires you have to do what is in the best interest of the entire city for the short-term and long-term.”
The recall ads come as Mayor Lee’s approval ratings have dipped to 38 percent. It’s also a rare move for the Chinese community, which has stood by Mayor Lee’s controversial decisions, like his Uber and Lyft curb space pilot program.
This may only be a few folks voicing their anger. Yet, they’re backed by big money.
“Those full-page ads are tens of thousands of dollars, that’s no joke,” said David Ho, a consultant and known political kingmaker.
It’s unclear who paid for the ads, but the community members shown in them — presumably in opposition of Mayor Lee — have also roasted Ho in local Chinese media because of Ho’s cannabis support. As a progressive, Ho is ideologically distant from the mayor.
“They think I’m some far-left, gay-loving, church-hating, drug dealer who wants to corrupt their youth,” Ho said.
Those same community members featured in the ads are — or at least were — the political allies of Pius Lee, chair of the Chinatown Neighborhood Association and a power broker with strong ties to the mayor. All along, Pius Lee has depended on these community members to back his political demands of Mayor Lee, including the push for Muni to drop cannabis ads.
But Pius Lee depends on his access to the mayor, too. And if he continues to align himself with these vocal community members, he’d be viewed as directly opposing Lee.
Politically, then, Pius Lee is in a tough position. He made his choice this week.
On Thursday morning, Pius Lee held a news conference denouncing the recall effort. “There is no legal ground to recall Mayor Ed Lee,” Pius Lee said, “and it is unfair to recall him.”
Pius Lee pointed out that the mayor could not veto the legislation, which was approved by a veto-proof, 10-member supermajority of the Board of Supervisors.
“There is another way to overturn the recreational marijuana ordinance,” Pius Lee said, suggesting anti-cannabis organizers introduce a ballot measure for stricter regulations.
Though Pius Lee told me he would support a ballot measure, he also said he wouldn’t organize it himself. Because, of course, he wouldn’t want to cross the mayor.
“This is only a suggestion,” Pius Lee said.
On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at facebook.com/FitztheReporter.