How a career bureaucrat became interim mayor and blossomed into a full-blown politician
The drumbeat began within just a couple months, with downtown-oriented politicos and Lee supporters urging him to run for mayor in the wake of a successful if controversial legislative push by Lee, Chiu, and Sup. Jane Kim to give million of dollars in tax breaks to Twitter and other businesses in the mid-Market and Tenderloin areas.
In mid-May, Pak and her allies created Progress for All, registering it as a "general civic education and public affairs" committee even though its sole purpose was to use large donations from corporations with city contracts or who had worked with Pak before to fund a high-profile "Run, Ed, Run" campaign, which plastered the city with posters featuring a likeness of Lee.
Initially, that campaign and its promotional materials were created by Pak (who refuses to speak to the Guardian) and political consultant Enrique Pearce (who did not return calls for this article) of Left Coast Communications, which had just run Kim's successful D6 victory over progressive opponent Debra Walker, along with Pak protégé David Ho.
During that campaign, the Guardian and Bay Citizen discovered Pearce running an independent expenditure campaign called New Day for SF, funded mostly by Willie Brown, out of his office, despite bans of IEs coordinating with official campaigns. That tactic would repeat itself over the coming months, drawing criticism but never any sanctions from the toothless Ethics Commission. Pearce was hired by two more pro-Lee IEs: Committee for Effective City Management and SF Neighbor Alliance, for which he wrote the book The Ed Lee Story, a supposedly "unauthorized biography" filled with photos and personal details about Lee.
Publicly, the campaign was fronted by noted Brown allies such as his former planning commissioner Shelly Bradford-Bell, Pak allies including Chinatown Community Development Center director Gordon Chin, and a more surprising political figure, Christina Olague, a progressive board appointee to the Planning Commission. She had already surprised and disappointed some of her progressive allies on Feb. 28 when she endorsed Chiu for mayor during his campaign kickoff, and even more when she got behind Lee.
Olague recently told us the moves did indeed elicit scorn from some longtime allies, but she defends the latter decision as being based on Lee's experience and willingness to dialogue with progressives who had been shut out by Newsom, noting that she had been asked to join the campaign by Chin. Olague also said the decision was partially strategic: "If we get progressives to support him early on, maybe we'll have a seat at the table."
Right up until the end, Lee told reporters that he planned to honor his word and not run. During a Guardian interview in July when we pressed him on the point, Lee said he would only run if every member of the Board of Supervisors asked him to, although about half the board publicly said that he shouldn't, including Sup. Sean Elsbernd, who nominated him for interim mayor.
And then, just before the filing deadline in early August, Lee announced that he had changed his mind and was running for mayor, the powers of incumbency instant catapulting him into the frontrunner position where he remains today, according to the most recent poll by the Bay Citizen and University of San Francisco.
Lee the politician
With his late entry into the race and decision to forgo public financing and its attendant spending limits, one might think that Lee would have to campaign aggressively to keep his job. But most of the heavy lifting has so far been done by his taxpayer-financed Office of Communications (which issues press releases at least daily) and by corporate-funded surrogates in a series of coordinated "independent" groups (see Rebecca Bowe's story, "The billionaires' mayor").