The selling of Ed Lee - Page 3

How a career bureaucrat became interim mayor and blossomed into a full-blown politician

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A recent hagiography of Ed Lee has been distributed liberally on peoples' doorsteps.

That has left Lee to simply act as mayor, where he's made a series of decisions that favor the business community and complement the "jobs" mantra cited relentlessly by centrist politicians playing on people's economic insecurities.

Yet Lee has been elusive on the campaign trail and to reporters who seek more detailed explanations about his stands on issue or contradictions in his positions, and his spokespersons sometimes offer only misleading doublespeak.

For example, Lee's office announced plans to veto legislation by Sup. David Campos that would prevent businesses from meeting their city obligation to provide a minimum level of employee health benefits through health savings accounts that these businesses would then pocket at the end of the year, taking $50 million last year even though some of that money had been put in by restaurant customer's paying 5 percent surcharges on their bills.

Although Campos, the five other supervisors who voted for the measure, four other mayoral candidates, and its many supporters in the labor and consumer rights movements maintained the money belonged to workers who desperately needed it to afford expensive health care, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce said it was about "jobs" that would be protected only if businesses could keep that money.

Lee parroted the position but tried to push the political damage until after the election, issuing a statement entitled "Mayor Lee Convenes Group to Improve Health Care Access & Protect Jobs," saying that he would seek to "develop a consensus strategy" on the divisive issue — one in which Campos said "we have a fundamental disagreement" — that would take weeks to play out.

After a frustrating back-and-forth with Lee Press Secretary Christine Falvey by email, it's still unclear how to resolve the contradiction between whether businesses could seize these funds or whether they belonged to employees, with her latest statement being, "The Mayor absolutely wants these funds spent on providing access to quality primary and preventative health care because this is the business's obligation under HCSO. Making sure that these funds go to pay for health care is the most important objective."

Similarly, when police raided the OccupySF encampment on Oct. 5, Lee's office issued a statement that was a classic case of politicians trying to have it both ways, expressing support for the movement and its goal to "occupy" public space, but also supporting the need to police to clear the encampment of those same occupiers.

But now, in the wake of a repeat raid on Oct. 16 that has inflamed passions on the issue, the question is whether Lee can run out the clock and retain the office he gained on the promise of being someone more than a typical politician.