Wagging the Dog

Written by Chris Daly. Posted in Opinion, Politics

Published on June 15, 2011 with 6 Comments

Former District 6 Supervisor Chris Daly. Photo by Luke Thomas.

By Chris Daly

June 15, 2011

It’s never bad business to have the seated Mayor drop by your establishment with a bit of tchotchke, and yet, I was less than excited when I saw Mayor Ed Lee walk through the door at Buck Tavern last week. It’s not that I don’t like Ed Lee well-enough on a personal level– I otherwise wouldn’t hesitate to warmly greet him with a bar stool and a cold Clausthaler. It’s just that timing of Lee’s visit to our little opposition watering hole felt too much like a shrewd political maneuver of someone poised to run for office.

Think about it. Just a week after submitting his budget and fresh off of negotiating a deal on pension reform; just days after revelations that a political consultant with close ties was staging an Astroturf campaign to draft him into the race; and at the very moment legislation authorizing the biggest demolition of rent-controlled housing in San Francisco history was being transmitted to his desk, Ed Lee was at my bar looking magnanimous—bearing gifts for one of his most vocal critics.

On Background

By last Wednesday, I had more than a little help reading the tea leaves. The previous Friday night, Enrique Pearce, David Ho, and Supervisor Jane Kim came by Buck Tavern with the express purpose of working over the progressive clientele for Ed Lee, arguing the he would be a much better second choice for the orange and the black than State Senator Leland Yee. Two parts of this Ed Lee Mod Squad bought me a drink and spent the better part of an hour bashing Yee and extolling the virtues of Lee, while Jane’s Julie Barnes was left for others and more vapid conversation. I pushed back by asking why Ed Lee wouldn’t consider vetoing the Parkmerced demolitions. Neither Pearce nor Ho would budge on my cross-examination.

Just the next day, Pearce was caught outside of Rainbow Grocery staging a phony photoshoot for the Run Ed Run Astroturf operation. In a series of text exchanges I had with David Ho immediately following Rainbowgate, I expressed my discontent with their Mod Squad style of politics, with Ed Lee’s positions on the most important issues, and with the new dynamics of City Hall politics that has shut out progressives. While David Ho has a history as a stalwart progressive campaigner, including logging significant hours on my 2006 reelection, he now fancies himself as the heir-apparent to Rose Pak. His new vision is to engage moderate Chinese politics from a position of power in order to influence it slightly left. But in order to assume this position, Ho has had to break ranks with progressives to help install our new anti-rent control Mayor and Board President. He’s had to try to clean up the messes made by Willie Brown’s dirty money. And he’s had to compromise strong relationships forged with progressives through tough campaigns. Justifying his betrayal of former close ally, John Avalos, Ho responded, “I think I can keep downtown from attacking him.” And I was able to witness another card pulled from the sleeve of Chinatown’s next shot-caller– getting the Mayor to have a drink at Buck Tavern.

David Ho (right) with Jane Kim and Mark Sanchez. File photo, 3/10/06

So when I got the call from Ed Lee’s scheduler last week, I knew that he was being sent in to try to quell the opposition. And I don’t really like quelling, especially when it’s to move an agenda that is decidedly anti-progressive.


I had a serious belly chuckle when I previewed the Let Ed Be page. In a creative way, it mocked the Draft Ed Lee group’s use of Facebook, while exposing the real players behind the effort. Coined “The Not-so Fab 4”, Willie Brown, Rose Pak, Michael Yaki, and Enrique Pearce occupy the positions of John, Paul, George, and Ringo. (For me, the fact that Enrique occupied Ringo’s position was pure icing.)

Top Left: Willie Brown: the former Mayor and current lobbyist/columnist helped orchestrate the appointment of Ed Lee to the post of interim Mayor. Before this coup, many believed that Willie's brand of pay to play politics had been exited from City Hall. Top Right, Rose Pak: the head of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, Pak is a powerful political insider. Thought to be the mastermind behind the appointment of Ed Lee and the money behind the draft Ed Lee campaign. Bottom Right: Michael Yaki, a former Supervisor appointed by Willie Brown and lobbyist, made the first headlines with his "Draft Mayor Ed Lee Organizing Committee." Bottom Left: Enrique Pearce, a political consultant with close ties to Rose Pak and Willie Brown, is the grease behind the latest Run Ed Run campaign. Last year, Pearce got in hot water for apparently coordinating an independent expenditure funding by Willie Brown to support a candidate whose campaign he was running.

To say the least, the cast of characters behind the phony campaign are sleazy. But the most disgusting thing about the contrived “Run Ed Run” campaign is not that it has been manufactured by powerful special interests and their turncoat political operatives. It’s that it is an affront to the genuine optimism and grassroots energy that many of us have witnessed here in San Francisco during Mayoral contests. My first experience in the candidate electoral arena was in 1999 with Tom Ammiano’s write-in candidacy for Mayor. While we may not have won this David v. Goliath battle, the campaign was transformational. Hundreds of new activists were created and the politics of the City were turned on its head—leading into a near progressive sweep of Willie’s hand-picked pols in the following year’s Board races. Likewise, the Gonzalez experience of 2003 re-energized progressives in this City, engaging thousands in the fight for our City. And right now, some of the very same energy and optimism can already be seen on the Avalos campaign. The Astroturf Run Ed Run campaign is cynical in its stark contrast.

The Demolition Mayor

Taking office, Ed Lee tried to mitigate the negative feelings created by the coup inside the Board Chambers. Like Brown and Newsom before him, Lee tried to take the progressive mantle. Referencing his years as a tenant rights attorney at the Asian Law Caucus, Lee boasted, “I was a progressive before there was a progressive faction in this town.” Unlike Brown or Newsom, Lee had some basis for the claim. As a Law Clerk and Staff Attorney with the Asian Law Caucus during the epic fight to save the International Hotel from demolition, one could assume that Ed Lee developed sensitivity to the plight of those who have been threatened with the demolition of their homes. But despite this history, despite the fact that every major tenant organization opposed the development deal, and despite a Bay Guardian editorial calling for a veto, Ed Lee refused to even meet with the San Francisco Tenants Union before signing into law the most sweeping demolition of rent-controlled housing in history. Ed Lee even denied a request made by tenant groups to meet on the item before taking action– Lee signed the demolitions into law as soon as they hit his desk, politically removing himself as a target, but leaving petition as the last recourse for those of us who want to save rent control.

What may be more telling than Lee’s demolition pen is the total lack of surprise about Lee’s position by those who are waging the fight to save rent control. When I brought up the idea of pushing for Lee to veto, Dean Preston from Tenants Together who penned the most scathing review of David Chiu’s support for the Parkmerced demolitions, was significantly more reserved about Lee, “it’s MOEWD (Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development) that’s been leading the charge on this, and (there’s) no indication to date that Lee has any intention of stopping it.” Ted Gullicksen was equally pessimistic, “If it passes at the Board, we’ll just go and collect signatures.” So tenant advocates viewed David Chiu, who has only recently lifted a finger for tenants in his renter-rich district, as a better target than the former tenant rights attorney.

How sad.

But not surprising. It’s Lee’s close connection to Willie Brown that has helped him navigate the world of San Francisco politics. And for Willie, everything in politics is about relationships and transactions. One of Willie’s closest allies, Marcia Smolens, was the lead lobbyist for Stellar Management, the Parkmerced project sponsor. And it’s even been rumored that Willie was on Stellar’s payroll as well. To date, Ed Lee’s never said no to Willie, and it wasn’t about to start with one of the biggest development proposals in San Francisco.

Mayor Ed Lee, Business As Usual

If you look at the record, despite the accolades from the usual suspects, little has changed with the Ed Lee administration. Most staffers remain, including downtown’s Chief of Staff, Steve Kawa. Ed Lee may show up monthly at the Board of Supervisors, but when petitioned on some of the most important issues– with saving the recycling center, the Twitter tax break, and most recently with Parkmerced, it has been business as usual.

And nothing could be more business than usual than the prospect of Ed Lee saying that he’s heard from “the people,” that he should change his mind and run for Mayor. Certainly there are some regular San Franciscans who like Ed Lee and his approach to the job, which has been superior to the ever-petulant Gavin Newsom. But the truth is that Ed Lee would never have been appointed the post if it was known that he’d give into the powerbrokers trying to push him into the race. And if Lee doesn’t say no now to Pak and Brown and the lobbyists and consultants that surround him, when will he ever?

In fairness to Ed Lee, his refrain has been consistent. In his own words, “I indicated at the outset that I was not going to be a candidate for Mayor.” “I am sure I am not going to run. This has not been my agenda and it never has been.”

But if Lee does “change his mind” and enter the race, we may never know if this whole thing was a ruse designed to keep powerful special interests in power. But whether or not we are now witnessing the tail wagging the dog, we know for sure that Ed Lee is not progressive. The forces behind him are the same pay-to-play players that San Francisco rejected back in 2000. As they try to bring back the days of Willie Brown, we must always speak truth to power, while we organize a genuine grassroots movement from our communities to build a City that seeks social and economic justice for all.

Chris Daly

Chris Daly is the Political Director for SEIU Local 1021, a union of over 50,000 public sector and non-profit workers. He served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors from 2001-2011 and owns and operates The Buck, a bar and grill on Market Street.

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Comments for Wagging the Dog are now closed.

  1. @Eric,

    The Twitter deal originated under Newsom. The specifics of the deal were worked out under Lee’s administration.

  2. Richmondman, this article is not about the “progressive” supervisors, it is about Ed Lee who signed a corporate tax break into law, repealing a tax that was passed unanimously by a post-dot.com bubble board and signed by Gavin Newsom and who proposes a tax hike on San Franciscans for the November ballot.

    Ed Lee is pleasant, however these policies are not.

  3. As I recall, the Twitter deal originated in the mayor’s office. So the Lee administration is fully culpable.

  4. Marc – you fail to mention the Progressive Supervisors who created and passed the Twitter deal and sent to Ed for his rubber-stamp approval. Where is your criticism of them? If they don’t pass it, there is nothing for him to do. So saying Ed “gave” this deal to twitter distorts the facts.

  5. How civil of Mayor Lee to give Twitter and “Farmville” Zynga a $50,000,000 tax break while supporting a sales tax increase on San Franciscans in November!

    These are Democrats, not Republicans, right?

    Or does “just getting things done” translate into Obama’s taking the Republican agenda as an opening gambit and then compromising rightwards from there?


  6. Chris,

    No one in this town plays dirtier at politics than you do. It’s a real ‘pot/kettle’ for you to attack Pearce on that score.

    Downtown’s candidate (my prediction) will be Mark Leno.

    Adachi for Mayor!!

    go Giants!