Ed Lee has been mayor for six weeks. Does his administration represent a change — or more of the same?
Although rumors had been circulating that Lee might seek a full term, he told the Guardian he's serious about serving as a caretaker mayor. "If I'm going to thrust all my energy into this, I don't need to have to deal with ... a campaign to run for mayor."
Adachi offered an interesting take on Lee as caretaker: "Somewhere along the way, [Lee] became known as the go-to guy in government who could take care of problems," Adachi said, "like the Wolf in Pulp Fiction."
Sounding rather unlike Harvey Keitel's tough-talking character, Lee noted, "One of my goals is to rebuild the trust between the Mayor's Office and the Board of Supervisors. I think I can do that by being consistent with the promises I make."
Lee's vows to keep his promises, mend rifts with the board, and stay focused on the job could be interpreted as statements intended to set him apart from Newsom, who was frequently criticized for being disengaged during his runs for higher office, provoking skirmishes with the board, and going back on his word.
The new mayor also said he'd be willing to share his working calendar with the public, something Newsom resisted for years. Kimo Crossman, a sunshine advocate who was part of a group that began submitting requests for Newsom's calendar in 2006, greeted this news with a wait-and-see attitude. "I've already put in a request," Crossman said. "Politicians are always in support of sunshine — until they have to comply with it."
THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
Pointing to the tropical elephant-ear plants adorning his office, Lee noted that elephants are considered lucky in Chinese culture. With the monstrous issues of pension reform and a gaping budget deficit hitting his mayoral term like twin tornadoes, it might not hurt to have some extra luck.
Pension reform is emerging as the issue du jour in City Hall. A round of talks on how to turn the tide on rising pension costs has brought labor representatives, Sup. Sean Elsbernd, billionaire Warren Hellman, City Attorney Dennis Herrera, labor leaders, and others to the table as part of a working group.
Gabriel Haaland, who works for SEIU Local 1021, sounded a positive note on Lee. "He's an extraordinarily knowledgeable guy about government. He seems to have a very collaborative working style and approach to problem-solving, and he is respectful of differing opinions," Haaland said. "Where is it going to take us? I don't know yet."
Lee emphasized his desire to bring many stakeholders together to facilitate agreement. "We're talking about everything from limiting pensionable salaries, to fixing loopholes, to dealing with what kinds of plans we can afford in the health care arena," he noted. Lee said the group had hashed out 15 proposals so far, which will be vetted by the Controller's Office.
A central focus, Lee said, has been "whether we've come to a time to recognize that we have to cap pensions." That could mean capping a pension itself, he said, or limiting how much of an employee's salary can be counted toward his or her pension.
Since Lee plans to resume his post as city administrator once his mayoral term has ended, he added a personal note: "I want to go back to my old job, do that for five years, and have a pension that is respectable," he said. "At the same time, I feel others who've worked with me deserve a pension. I don't want it threatened by the instability we're headed toward and the insolvency we're headed toward."
BRACING FOR THE BUDGET
If pension reform is shaping up to be the No. 1 challenge of Lee's administration, tackling the city budget is a close second. When Newsom left office, he passed Lee a budget memo containing instructions for a 2.5 percent reduction in most city departments, part of an overarching plan to shave 10 percent from all departments plus another 10 percent in contingency cuts, making for a bruising 20 percent.