Ed Lee's choice to run for mayor opens political floodgates

After years of perpetual and often-childish bickering at City Hall, interim Mayor Ed Lee has presided over an era of calm that some call progress. Voters knew little about this polite and well-regarded bureaucrat when he was selected to baby-sit the final year of Gavin Newsom’s term. At the time, all most people cared about was that San Francisco’s first Chinese-American mayor wasn’t a politician and had no re-election ambitions. Peace had come to The City.

For the latest on Mayor Ed Lee's announcement, go here.

As Ed Lee formally declares his candidacy for mayor at City Hall today, few San Franciscans really know where his politics or loyalties lie. But by entering the race and going back on a pledge not to run for a full term, he will set in motion a frenzied reassessment of his ideology and accomplishments.

Politics being politics, the scrutiny has already begun. Political insiders grew wary once the Progress for All committee launched the citywide “Run, Ed, Run” campaign with everything except a candidate. Lee emphasized his independence and initially reaffirmed his I’m-not-running pledge. But questions arose over his connection to “Run, Ed, Run” supporters such as Chinatown power broker Rose Pak and former Mayor Willie Brown.

Five mayoral candidates have called for an ethics investigation into the committee’s relationship with the waste hauler Recology, which sent two employees to gather signatures for “Run, Ed, Run” around the time it won a decadelong $112 million contract under Lee’s watch. Last week, former supervisor and Judge Quentin Kopp asked the U.S. Attorney to investigate the relationship between Recology and Run, Ed, Run.

The controversy belies Lee’s image as a political innocent, said former Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin. “He leans toward where power is,” Peskin said. “It’s not really about being liberal or conservative, it’s about power for the sake of power.”

Lee’s ideology is equally ripe for exploration. While some view his work as a tenant-advocacy lawyer as proof that he’s progressive, his support for a mid-Market Street business tax break aligned him with moderates.

His supporters say he just wants what’s good for The City.

“What you see is what you get,” said state Democratic Party Chairman John Burton. “He’s a very decent human being. He’s a short Chinese guy with a mustache and a crumpled suit.”

Former Supervisor Chris Daly opposed Lee’s appointment and called it the “biggest fumble in the history of progressive politics in San Francisco.” He hasn’t changed his tune.

“Ed Lee equals a dorky, Chinese version of Willie Brown,” Daly said. “Progressive and moderate are not useful terms here. Just dorky, Chinese Willie Brown.”

Now that Lee seems ready to enter the fray, his likely opponents say many of his accomplishments as mayor were actually set in motion before he arrived.

“I don’t know what Ed’s accomplishments are, besides being a nice guy,” said candidate and former Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier. “And he is a nice guy. That’s why we put him there.”

Such criticism does not surprise Progress for All co-chairwoman Shelley Bradford-Bell.

“This all sounds like it’s coming out of some of the camps who are upset he’s getting into the race,” Bradford-Bell said. “And I expect that will continue.”


Meet Ed Lee

Edwin Mah Lee
Age: 59
Family: Wife Anita and two adult daughters, Brianna and Tania
Residence: Glen Park
Politics: Registered Democrat who voted in all but two recorded elections, April 2008 and November 2002

Work experience
1979-89: Managing attorney for Asian Law Caucus
1989-91: Assistant to Mayor Art Agnos
1991-96: Director of Human Rights Commission
1996-2002: Director of purchasing and services for San Francisco
2002-05: Director of Department of Public Works
2005-2011: City administrator
2011-present: Interim mayor of San Francisco

Sources: San Francisco Elections database, Department of Human Resources

Accomplishments during Lee’s tenure


  • Payroll tax exemption in mid-Market Street, aimed at Twitter, passes Board of Supervisors 8-3


  • Negotiates city employee pension reform measure for November ballot


  • At his request, supervisors back off trying to ax Care Not Cash homeless program
  • Signs massive redevelopment plan for Treasure Island after unanimous Board of Supervisors approval</li>
  • Signs development deal to remake Parkmerced after narrow Board of Supervisors approval


  • Signs The City’s budget following relatively little turmoil

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