The one-time conservative supervisor is gaining broad progressive support. But who is Leland Yee, really?
The sense of fiscal conservatism — of holding the line on taxes, but mandating open and fair contracting procedures and tight financial controls — was a hallmark of much of his political career. When the Guardian endorsed him for re-election to the board in 1992, we wrote that "there's real value in his continuing vigilance against administrative fat and favoritism in contracts."
Over the next four years, Yee worked with then-Superintendent Waldemar "Bill" Rojas, a deeply polarizing figure who pushed his own personal theory of "reconstitution" — firing all the staff at low-performing schools — and later was enmeshed in a scandal that led to prison time for a contractor he'd hired. Yee told me he was the only board member to vote against hiring Rojas, but people who were watching the board closely back then say he didn't always stand up to the superintendent.
He also became what some say was a bit too close with Tim Tronson, a consultant hired by the district as a $1,000-a-day facilities consultant. Tronson wound up getting indicted on 22 counts of grand theft, embezzlement, and conspiracy in a scheme to steal $850,000 from the schools, and was sentenced to four years in state prison.
In 1998, when some school board members wanted to build housing for teachers on property that the district owned in the Sunset, Yee led the opposition — with Tronson's help. At one meeting at Sunset Elementary School, Yee went so far as to say, according to people present, that "Tim Tronson is my man, and I rely on him for advice."
Yee acknowledged that he worked closely with Tronson to defeat that housing project. "He was the facilities manager," Yee explained, "and I said that I trusted his judgment."
Yee has either a great sense of political timing or exceptional luck. He ran for the Board of Supervisors in 1996, facing one of the weakest fields in modern San Francisco history. He was the only Chinese candidate and one of just two Asians (the other, appointed incumbent Michael Yaki, barely squeaked to re-election). In an at at-large election with the top five winning seats, Yee came in third, with 103,000 votes.
He was never a progressive supervisor. In 2000, the Guardian ranked the good votes of what we referred to as Willie Brown's Board, and Yee scored only 43 percent. He was against campaign finance reform. He supported the brutal gentrification and community displacement represented by the Bryant Square development. He voted to kill a public-power feasibility study and opposed the Municipal Utility District initiative. He opposed a moratorium on uncontrolled live-work development.
In 2002, Yee was one of only three supervisors to oppose Proposition D, a crucial public-power measure that would have broken up PG&E's monopoly in the city. He stood with PG&E (and then-Sups. Tony Hall and Gavin Newsom) in opposition to the measure, then signed a pro-PG&E ballot argument packed with PG&E lies.
When I asked him about that stand, Yee at first didn't recall opposing Prop. D, but then said he "stood with labor" on the issue. In fact, the progressive unions didn't oppose Prop. D at all; the opposition was led by PG&E's house union, IBEW Local 1245.
Yee was particularly bad on tenant issues. He not only voted to deny city funding for the Eviction Defense Collaborative, which helped low-income tenants fight evictions; he actually tried to get the city to put up money for a free legal fund to help landlords evict their tenants. He opposed a ballot measure limiting condo conversions. He opposed a measure to limit the ability of landlords to pass improvement costs on to their tenants.