Ed Lee announces run for San Francisco mayor
San Francisco interim Mayor Ed Lee announced this morning that he will run for the job in November, upending a crowded mayoral field and reneging on a promise to fill out only the remainder of the term to which he was appointed.
Surrounded by a crush of media cameras, the mild-mannered Lee filed papers at the city's election department and emerged to answer questions about trust and broken promises that will likely shadow him for the remainder of the campaign.
The former tenants rights activist turned long-term city administrator said he had changed his mind only recently, persuaded by elected officials, including U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California), and many city residents that he owed it to San Francisco to press ahead in his trademark cooperative style.
"We've changed the tone of government," said Lee, flanked by his family. "I really feel good about it and I don't want to let it go."
Lee said he never intended to run when the Board of Supervisors named him to the seat vacated by now-Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom in January. His pledge to be a caretaker and not enter the political fray was a key condition of the votes in his favor.
Two current supervisors and two former ones are vying for the seat. Most disappointed among them is Board President David Chiu, who offered a swing vote crucial to Lee's ascent and has supported key mayoral policies, saying many times that he believed Lee was "a man of his word" and would not run.
Lee's understated manner and drama-free approach to problem-solving have proved a marked contrast to the contentious battles between moderates and progressives that have plagued recent administrations. The political theater has at times paralyzed accomplishments.
But today Lee ticked off a host of achievements over the last seven months that resulted, he said, from his "deliberate effort to reach out" and listen to all constituents and colleagues.
Among those: persuading Twitter and other tech companies to stay in the city, promoting a local hire rule, passing a balanced budget despite inheriting a nearly $400-million deficit, hiring a popular police chief, negotiating a pension reform proposal and securing the America's Cup race.
"I have been part of changing the way city government is run and I have been striving to do this for 21 years," said Lee, whose Chinese roots made him the city's first Asian American mayor. "Things have changed at City Hall over the past seven months and because of that I've changed my mind."
Lee credited Feinstein in part for persuading him last month that the city needed his continued steady hand. She became the city's last interim mayor after the 1978 assassination of George Moscone, an appointment that catapulted her into a long political career.
But critics and a number of pundits have said Lee's act of becoming a politician by entering the race will instantly tarnish his above-the-fray glow.
One citizen was ushered hollering out of the elections office today after demanding that Lee step down for filing his papers "under false pretenses."
Lee's entrance into the race will also subject his backers to fierce scrutiny. Three separate efforts to persuade Lee to run were launched in recent months. One, Progress for All, which conducted a polished "Run Ed Run" campaign, is the subject of an ethics commission hearing today. The committee was free from campaign limits because it was not affiliated with a candidate.
The San Francisco Chronicle has reported that the organization's small group of donors is closely allied with former Mayor Willie Brown or Chinatown power broker Rose Pak -- both long criticized for a backroom-dealing political style. Brown and Pak were key to talking Lee into taking the interim post at a time when he insisted he'd rather hang on to his job as city administrator.
Lee said Monday that while he enjoyed the "Run Ed Run" posters that caricatured his iconic bushy mustache, he was not in any way allied with the campaign.
Lee has retained powerhouse political consultant Ace Smith to run his mayoral campaign. He will attend his first debate tonight and said he planned to do plenty of quiet explaining to the nine other leading candidates -- particularly to the current and former supervisors who backed his appointment to the interim post. He also pledged to listen patiently to even his fiercest critics.
"I will not change the way I do business," he said. "I will continue to be Ed Lee, reaching out and cracking my sorry jokes."
-- Lee Romney in San Francisco
Photo: San Francisco interim Mayor Ed Lee speaks to reporters after he filed paperwork to run officially for mayor. Credit: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images