San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee downplays Willie Brown connection

Now that Mayor Ed Lee is officially running for a full term, his rivals have already begun questioning the company he keeps. Shortly after Lee announced his decision Monday, City Attorney Dennis Herrera, a mayoral candidate, sent out a statement suggesting Lee would not be his own man in San Francisco’s highest office.

Scroll down to see video of Mayor Ed Lee's visit to The Examiner offices.

“Ed Lee told us he didn’t want to be interim mayor. But powerful people insisted he do it, so he did,” Herrera said. “Then Ed Lee told us he didn’t want to run for mayor. But powerful people insisted he run, and now he is.”

It was at least in part a not-so-subtle allusion to Lee’s old boss, ex-Mayor Willie Brown, the symbol of patronage politics in The City. Brown used his Jan. 9 column in the San Francisco Chronicle to boast that he was first in suggesting Lee should be appointed interim mayor to finish the term of newly elected Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.

“Some columnists report the news, some of us make it,” Brown wrote.

During Brown’s mayoral tenure from 1996 to 2004, he was dogged by allegations of cronyism, culminating in a five-year FBI probe into municipal corruption at City Hall. He was never indicted, and insisted the investigation was politically motivated.

In an interview with The San Francisco Examiner on Tuesday, Lee said he speaks to Brown about once every two to three weeks, but was quick to add that he also talks to plenty of other former mayors. Lee, who has managed various city agencies as an unelected appointee over the past two decades, said Brown would have no more influence on his decisions than any other ex-mayor would.

Under Brown, Lee was promoted twice — from Human Rights Commission director to director of purchasing, then to head of the Department of Public Works.

“I have spent 22 years in five city departments as head of those departments, and for four mayors,” Lee said. “I have been an independent thinker. I’ve had to be.”

Along with Chinatown power broker Rose Pak, Brown attended the Progress for All political committee’s Run, Ed, Run events encouraging Lee to enter the race before he was officially a candidate. At the Run, Ed, Run campaign headquarters kickoff in June, Brown characterized Lee as being above politics and wanting only what’s best for The City.

“Ed Lee is not like you and me,” Brown said at the event. “He cares about people.”

Calls to Brown on Tuesday were not immediately returned.



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