Mayor's race gets interesting as barbs fly
In yet another twist, former Mayor Art Agnos — whom progressives had looked to as a potential appointee to the vacant mayor's seat back in December, before Lee was voted in to replace former mayor and Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom — delivered a surprise endorsement of City Attorney Dennis Herrera shortly after Lee declared. The decision was particularly significant since Agnos first hired Lee to serve in city government, and has a long history of working with him.
"[Herrera] is an independent person who will empower neighborhoods ... and won't be beholden to power brokers," Agnos said. He also told the Guardian he wasn't surprised that Lee had opted to run, given the role former Mayor Willie Brown and influential business consultant Rose Pak had played in orchestrating Lee's appointment.
"Anybody who is an astute political observer saw the signs from the very beginning," Agnos said. In response to a comment about his unique vantage point as a would-be caretaker mayor, he said, "I would've kept my word and not run for reelection."
Intense focus on Lee's flip-flop, and on the Progress for All-backed "Run, Ed, Run" effort that was the subject of an Ethics Commission discussion that same week, stemmed at least in part from the threat the incumbent mayor represents to other candidates. A CBS 5-SurveyUSA poll suggested he became an instant front-runner.
Yet questions about "Run, Ed, Run" — some raised by observers unaffiliated with any campaigns — also served to spotlight the candidate's longstanding ties with backers closely connected to powerful business interests that stand to lose big if their links to city government aren't preserved.
Retired Judge Quentin Kopp issued an open letter to District Attorney George Gascón Aug. 1 urging him to convene a criminal grand jury to investigate whether illegal and corrupt influencing had occurred when Pak — a close friend of Lee's and a key driver behind the "Run, Ed, Run" effort — reportedly recruited executives of Recology to gather signatures urging Lee to run.
Recology, which handles the city's waste, was recently awarded a $112 million city contract, and Lee's scoring of the company and recommendation to raise rates in his previous capacity as city administrator benefited the company. Brown received substantial campaign donations from Recology in previous bids for mayor. Kopp is the coauthor of a ballot initiative asking San Francisco voters if the company's monopoly on city garbage contracts should be put out to bid.
"A criminal grand jury is vital in order to put people under oath and interrogate them," Kopp said. "They would put Willie Brown under oath, put Pak under oath, put [Recology President Mike Sangiacomo] under oath, put [Recology spokesperson Sam Singer] under oath ... That's the course of action that should be pursued by this."
Although Kopp told the Guardian that he hadn't yet received a response from Gascón, DA candidates Sharmin Bock, Bill Fazio, and David Onek nevertheless seized the opportunity to publicly and jointly call for Gascón to recuse himself from any investigation into Progress for All. Gascón has a conflict of interest, they argued, since he reportedly sought Pak's advice when deciding whether to accept Newsom's offer to switch from his previous post as police chief to his current job as top prosecutor.
The Ethics Commission determined unanimously Aug. 8 that the activities of Progress for All, the committee that was formed to encourage Lee to run, had not run afoul of election laws despite director John St. Croix's opinion that it had filed improperly as a general purpose committee when it ought to have been a candidate committee, which would have placed caps on contribution limits.
"The Ethics Commission has spoken, and they've supported our position," Progress for All consultant Enrique Pearce of Left Coast Communications told the Guardian.