City Hall gets a new mayor and D.A., an empowered board president — and a new political reality
Pak was seated front and center — literally and figuratively — during the board's Jan. 7 vote for Lee and its Jan. 8 vote for Chiu, following media reports that it was she and Brown who persuaded Lee to take the job and city leaders (particularly Newsom, Chiu, and outgoing Sups. Bevan Dufty and Sophie Maxwell) to give it to him.
It all seemed sneaky and unsettling to board progressives, who questioned what kind of secret deal had been cut, even as they voiced their respect for Lee's progressive roots and long history of service to the city. The sense that something unseemly was happening was exacerbated on Jan. 4 when Dufty abandoned a pledge of support for Sheriff Michael Hennessey — who five progressive supervisors supported for interim mayor — and left the meeting to confer with the Mayor's Office before returning to announce his support for Lee.
Sups. David Campos, Ross Mirkarimi, and Avalos pleaded with their colleagues for time to at least talk with Lee, who was traveling in China since he reportedly changed his mind about wanting the interim mayor job. Maxwell was the only Lee supporter in the 6-5 vote for delaying the interim mayor item by a few days so the supervisors could speak with Lee by phone.
Pak and other Chinatown leaders put together a strong show of force by the Chinese American community at that Jan. 7 meeting, where the board voted 10-1 for Lee, with only Daly in dissent. Afterward, some of Lee's strongest supporters — including the Rev. Norman Fong and Gordon Chin with the Chinatown Community Development Center — admitted that the process of picking Lee was flawed.
"Part of the problem was Ed's because he couldn't make up his mind. The process was bad," Fong told the Guardian after the vote. Although Fong said he knows Lee to be a strong and trustworthy progressive, he admitted that the way it went down raised questions: "Some people were concerned about who he'll listen to."
Specifically, the concern is that Lee will be unduly influenced Brown and Pak, who each represent corporate clients whose interests are often at odds with those of the general public. And both operate behind the scenes and play a kind of political hardball that runs contrary to progressive values on openness, inclusion, and accountability.
"If there is a phone call from Willie Brown to Rose Pak, Ed Lee is going to go along with it," predicted a knowledgeable source who has worked closely with all three, recalling the way they did business during Brown's mayoral administration. "There was no real discussion of issues. The fix was always in."
But Pak insisted that there was nothing wrong with the process of selecting Lee, and that all concerns about the nomination were driven by anti-Asian racism. "You have a plantation mentality," Pak told the Guardian as she held court in front of a crowded press box before the Jan. 8 meeting. "The Bay Guardian has never given people of color a fair shot."
While Newsom, Chiu, and Pak-allied political consultant David Ho all insisted "there was no deal" to win support for Lee, Pak seemed to revel in the high-profile role she played, with Bay Citizen reporter Gerry Shih labeling her "boastful" in his Jan. 6 article "Behind-The-Scenes Power Politics: The Making of Ed Lee," which ran the next day in The New York Times.
"This was finally our moment to make the first Chinese mayor of a major city," Pak reportedly told Shih. "How could you let that slip by?"
Chiu downplayed Pak's influence, telling the Guardian that Lee was his top choice since November, and telling his colleagues before the Jan. 7 vote, "Ed is someone who does represent our shared progressive values." But he also made it clear that helping the city's progressive movement wasn't what drove his decision.