San Francisco’s mayoral race finally has some life in it

Amid all the accusations, emotions, shouting and general consternation that has greeted Mayor Ed Lee’s decision to continue on as mayor, some things are worth noting.

We now have a real mayoral race in San Francisco, something that didn’t exist until this week as the nine main hopefuls for the job waited in the wings for someone to breathe life into the campaign. With Lee’s official announcement Monday, that gust blew in like a hurricane.

Lee’s entrance not only provides the other candidates with momentum as they shift into attack mode, it also gives us a rare glimpse into the convoluted, Machiavellian politics that make up San Francisco — a place rife with pettiness, jealousy, weird alliances, long rivalries and chaotic dysfunction.

And did I say fun? Oh, yeah, this one has potential as a screwball comedy.

Let’s start with the counter viewpoint. One could argue (at least one that’s not running for mayor) that Lee’s decision to run is a selfless act based on a career of public service. He knew he would be painted as a moving target if he jumped in, he had a cushy, well-paying, five-year appointment as city manager waiting for him and all he had to do was step aside and maintain his reputation as Ed Lee, nice guy, man of his word.

And there really are untold hundreds of people who have been begging him to run based on two factors: He’s been doing a good job as mayor and he’s not Leland Yee.

Say what you want about Yee — and the record shows that there is much to say — our state senator engenders fear among other politicians because he doesn’t lose campaigns, and yet as long as he’s been in office, no one is quite sure what to make of him.

Lee, on the other hand, is predictable. Some might say plodding. They can count on what he’ll do or say — that is, until this week.

So behind the attack ads that will begin today and the anger from the other camps, there is a history here that plays a big part in the whole Run, Ed, Run campaign, the reason Lee got the interim job and why so many people are genuinely hurt by his decision.

After Gavin Newsom was elected lieutenant governor and went looking for a replacement, Lee wasn’t even in the picture. But Art Agnos, Willie Brown and Mike Hennessey were, names that set off an unusual chain reaction.

Former San Francisco Mayor and longtime U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein made it her personal crusade to try to make sure former Mayor Agnos — whom she despises for previous transgressions — didn’t get the job.

Brown saw the opening and lobbied for it, but couldn’t get the votes. That left Sheriff Hennessey, who had the six votes to get the appointment until Lee’s name surfaced as a safer choice for moderates.

Right up to the vote, then-supervisors Michela Alioto-Pier and Bevan Dufty were backing Hennessey until some last-minute meetings with Newsom and others in his inner circle. The lobbying effort worked — based on Lee’s word that he would only serve out the remaining year — and they got Supervisor David Chiu to get on board under the same premise.

So mayoral candidates Alioto-Pier, Dufty and Chiu put Lee in the Mayor’s Office, and now they feel betrayed that he doesn’t want to get out. Brown’s role in the backing of Lee’s campaign has been well-­documented, and their long connection may prove to be Lee’s biggest liability in the race.

That will be the main thrust from his opponents, which is why he’s probably fortunate that some things didn’t happen before his announcement. Sources close to the Run, Ed, Run campaign told me that at one point, there was talk of filming a commercial with Brown and Newsom — two former mayors — promoting Lee’s candidacy. But Newsom could not be convinced.

Now that Lee has said yes, he’ll have to sell voters on the idea that he can say no to those interested parties who have brought him to this point. At the same time, his opponents will try to portray him as one of the last remaining survivors on Crony Island.

It will be fun — new alliances are already forming.

Bay Area Newsken garciaLocalNews ColumnistsSan Francisco

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