The one-time conservative supervisor is gaining broad progressive support. But who is Leland Yee, really?
There's a lively infrastructure of community-service programs, some of which get city money. There's also a sense that any mayor or supervisor who wants to work with the Chinese community needs to at least touch base with the Chinatown establishment.
Yee doesn't do that. "He doesn't give a shit about them," David Looman, a political consultant who has worked with many Chinese candidates over the years, told me.
Yee's Asian political base is outside of Chinatown; he told me he sees himself representing more of the Chinese population of the Sunset and Richmond and the growing Asian community in Visitacion Valley and Bayview.
Pak is connected closely to Brown, who Yee often clashed with. For Pak, Brown, and their allies, strong connections to City Hall mean lucrative lobbying deals and public attention to the needs of Chinatown businesses. Then there's the nonprofit sector.
CCDC and other nonprofits do important, sometimes crucial work, building and maintaining affordable housing, taking care of seniors, fighting for workers rights, and protecting the community safety net. Yee, Pak said, "has never shown any interest in our local nonprofits. We all work together here, and he doesn't seem to care what we do." Yee told me he has no desire to see funding cut for any critical social services in any part of town. But he has also made no secret of the fact that he questions the current model of delivering city services through a large network of nonprofits, some of which get millions of taxpayer dollars. And the way Pak sees it, all of that — the nonprofits, the business benefits, the contracts — are all at risk. "If Leland Yee is elected mayor," she told me, "we are all dead."
I ran into an old San Francisco political figure the other day, a man who has been around since the 1970s, inside and outside of City Hall, who remains an astute observer of the players and the power relationships in the local scene. At the time we talked, he wasn't supporting any of the mayoral candidates, but he had a thought for me. "This town," he said, "is being taken over by a syndicate. Willie Brown is the CEO, and Rose Pak is the COO, and it's all about money and influence."
That's not a pleasant thought — I've lived through the era of political machine dominance in this town, and it was awful. In the days when Brown ran San Francisco, politics was a tightly controlled operation; only a small number of people managed to get elected to office without the support of the machine. Developers made land-use policy; gentrification and displacement were rampant; corruption at City Hall turned a lot of San Franciscans off, not only to the political process but to the whole notion that government could be a positive force in society.
A few years ago, I thought those days were over — and to a certain extent, district elections will always make machine politics more difficult. But when I see signs of the syndicate popping up — and I see a candidate like Ed Lee, who's close friends with Brown, leading the Mayor's Race — it makes me nervous. And for all his obvious flaws, at least Leland Yee isn't part of that particular operation. If there's a better reason to vote for him, I don't know what it is.
YEE HOME PURCHASE RAISES SUSPICIONS
Rose Pak has a question about Leland Yee. "How," she asked me, "did the guy manage to buy a million-dollar house on a $30,000 City Hall salary?"
Pak isn't the only one asking — numerous media reports over the years have examined how Yee raised a family of four and bought a house in the Sunset on very little visible income. And while I'm not usually that interested in the personal finances of political candidates, I decided that it was worth a look.