By Luke Thomas
January 5, 2011
Amidst all the drama, theatrics, subterfuge and intrigue, what did San Franciscans learn following last eve’s yet-to-be-confirmed nomination of City Administrator Ed Lee as interim mayor to replace Lt. Governor-elect Gavin Newsom?
Termed out Supervisor Bevan Dufty deserves an Oscar nomination for his acting performance. Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, depending on who you ask, is not and never has been a progressive. Former Mayor Willie Brown and Rose Pak are the behind-the-scenes puppeteers pulling the political strings in San Francisco development politics, and progressive hopes of taking back room 200 in November have been dealt a temporary blow.
Before the voting began, it was already known City Administrator Ed Lee, a soft-spoken bureaucrat with strong ties to Newsom, Pak and Brown, already had the required six votes to win the nomination. Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, who nominated Lee, approached the press box to wager a bet that Lee would win the nomination over Sheriff Michael Hennessey who, at the time, was leading with five votes to Lee’s four votes.
Having punted during the first round of voting, claiming he “didn’t want to preclude other individuals from being considered,” Dufty was now in a position to decide who would be appointed interim mayor. Rather than just vote how he intended to vote (for Lee), Dufty called for a 20-minute recess and strode over to the mayor’s office with fellow faux fence sitter Supervisor Sophie Maxwell (both termed out on Saturday) in tow.
Following their meeting with Newsom and Chief of Staff Steve Kawa, Dufty returned to Board chambers and announced he would be casting the deciding sixth vote for Lee.
“No. Sophie was with me, so you can ask her that I did not either raise the notion of being endorsed (for mayor), nor has that been discussed,” responded Dufty when asked if he had been “offered anything” in return for his deciding vote for Lee. “I swear that was not in my head, nor what we discussed.”
As in most things political, maximizing a candidate’s probability to win a mayoral election rests heavily on popular citywide support, or remaining loyal to the established and moneyed power brokers who can help a less popular candidate buy an election. Hennessey, a popular independent who has no such establishment ties, could not have helped in the same way as the Newsom/Brown/Pak machine in Dufty’s quest to win the mayor’s office in November.
As for Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, loyal to Pak and by extension to Brown and Newsom, did not skip a beat in not upsetting his benefactors. His vote remained firm with Lee throughout. The question remains unanswered as to whether Chiu will accept Newsom’s offer to appoint him to DA to replace Attorney General-elect Kamala Harris, or whether he will roll the dice and attempt to hold on to the Board presidency with a view to running for mayor against Dufty, Senator Leland Yee and City Attorney Dennis Herrera.
Seemingly more incensed by Chiu’s vote for Lee than Dufty’s, Supervisor Chris Daly blasted Chiu: “We ostensibly had a progressive majority on this Board of Supervisors,” he said. “We had an opportunity and we made the biggest fumble in San Francisco political history. The blame probably goes to many places, but certainly it rests squarely on the shoulders of President David Chiu and I’m willing to point others out as well.”
“I will haunt you,” an infuriated Daly said, staring at Chiu. “I will politically haunt you for the biggest fumble in the history of San Francisco politics. It’s on like Donkey Kong.”
“Shame on me,” added Supervisor John Avalos. “We got played.”
In the end, Supervisor David Campos and Avalos saved the day for the progressive camp, successfully garnering six votes to push back a final vote to Friday, providing Board members a temporary reprieve and an opportunity to discuss with Lee, after previously stating he had no interest in being interim mayor, why he is now interested in the placeholder post.
“This decision is not supposed to be about partisan politics,” Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier, who voted for Lee, said with a straight face. “It’s not supposed to be about putting a progressive or having a shot at a power grab. We’re supposed to be putting someone in office who is going to represent the City and County of San Francisco and who is going to do it well.”
“I would like to applaud Supervisor Dufty and I would like to applaud the president of this Board for the stands they have taken,” Alioto-Pier added.