Sneaky campaign to draft Lee sullies political environment

Interim Mayor Ed Lee says he doesn't want to run, but his allies are putting pressure on him to change his mind.
Rebecca Bowe

At a time when City Hall is taking on several important issues – from the budget and pension reform to massive projects such CPMC's mega hospital and housing project and the redevelopment of Parkmerced and Treasure Island – an ambitious cabal of political operators bent of convincing Mayor Ed Lee to break his word and run for office is poisoning the environment under the dome.

A series of unfolding events over the last week makes it clear that Sup. Jane Kim's campaign team – political consultants Enrique Pearce and David Ho, Tenderloin shot-caller Randy Shaw, and their political benefactors Willie Brown and Rose Pak – are orchestrating another campaign to convince Lee to run for office, apparently abandoning the mayoral campaign of Board President David Chiu.

The Bay Citizen reported that Pearce was pursuing creation of a mayoral campaign that Lee could simply step into, while blogger Michael Petrelis caught Pearce creating fake signs of a grassroots groundswell for Lee over the weekend. That effort joins another one by the Chronicle and a couple of downtown politicos to create the appearance of popular demand for Lee to run despite a large field of well-qualified mayoral candidates representing a wide variety of constituencies.

And then today, Shaw joined the effort with a post in his Beyond Chron blog that posed as political analysis, praising the John Avalos campaign – an obvious effort to ingratiate himself to the progressive movement that Shaw alienated by aggressively pushing the Twitter tax break deal and Kim's candidacy – while trying to torpedo the other mayoral campaigns, calling for Lee to run, and offering a logic-tortured take on why the public wouldn't care if Lee breaks his word.

Pearce and Ho – who sources say have been aggressively trying to drum up support for Lee in private meetings around town over the last couple weeks – didn't return our calls. Kim, who is close to both Chiu and Avalos, told us she is withholding her mayoral endorsement until after the budget season – which, probably not coincidentally, is when Lee would get into the race if he runs.

Fog City Journal owner Luke Thomas, who Petrelis caught taking photos for Pearce over the weekend – told us Pearce's Left Coast Communications, “hired me in my capacity as a professional photographer to take photographs of people holding 'Run Ed Run!' signs and should not be construed as an endorsement of the effort to draft Ed Lee into the mayor's race.”

In an interview with the Guardian last week, Lee reiterated his pledge not to run for mayor – which was the basis for his appointment as a caretaker mayor to finish the last year of Gavin Newsom's term – but acknowledged that Pak and others have been actively trying to convince him to run. Pak has an open disdain for candidate Leland Yee and fears his ascension to Room 200 would end the strong influence that Pak and Brown have over the Mayor's Office and various department heads.

“I am not running. I've told people that. Obviously, there is a group of good friends and people who would be happy for me to make a different decision, so they're going to use their time trying to persuade me. I've told them I'm not interested and I have my personal reasons for doing that but they're not convinced that someone who has held this office for five months and not fallen into a deep abyss would not want to be in this office and run for mayor. I've been honest with people that I'm not a politician. I've never really run for office nor have I ever indicated to people that I'd like to run for mayor of San Francisco. That's just not in my nature so it's been a discussion that is very foreign to me that has been very distracting for me in many ways because I set myself a pretty aggressive piece of work that this office has to get to. The way I do it is very intensely. I do meet a lot of people and seek their input before I made a decision,” Lee told us.

Even Sup. Sean Elsbernd, who nominated Lee for mayor, told the Chronicle that he doesn't support the effort to pressure Lee into running and he feels like it could hurt sensitive efforts to craft compromises on the budget and pension reform. When asked by the Guardian whether he would categorically rule out a run for mayor, Lee told us he would.

“I've been very adamant about that yet my friends will still come up to me and they'll spend half their time talking to me about it. And I say thank you, I'm glad you're not calling me a bum and trying to kick me out,” Lee told us, noting that Pak – a longtime ally who helped engineer the deal to get Lee into office, for which Chiu was the swing vote, parting from his five one-time progressive supervisorial allies in the process – has been one of the more vociferous advocates on him running.

Asked whether there are any conditions under which he might change his mind, Lee told us, “If every one of the current supervisors in office asked me to run and those supervisors who are running voluntarily dropped out.” But Avalos says he's committed to remain in the race, and his campaign has been endorsed by three other progressive supervisors.