Ed Lee is a decent public servant, a straight-shooter with strong integrity -- a trait that got him in trouble with Mayor Willie Brown.
In 1996, Lee was in charge of certifying minority contractors to do business with the city. Brown -- who liked doling out lucrative city contracts to political pals -- wanted Lee to certify a couple of the mayor's friends for trucking contracts. Lee reportedly refused because the cronies didn't meet all the city standards. Despite intense pressure from Willie Brown, Lee held firm. Brown -- not used to being told "no" -- assigned someone from his administration to "monitor" Lee's HRC operation. Eventually Brown "promoted" (Read: pushed out; see Matier & Ross item here near bottom) Lee to City Purchaser. Brown later put him in charge of San Francisco's Department of Public Works.
Lee is a protege of Chinatown dynamo Rose Pak. The foul-mouthed political activist ("mother f...er" is one of her favorite expletives) wields a heavy club in city politics. The former SF Chronicle reporter is also close to Willie Brown, who despite being out of office for seven years, still pulls a lot of strings in city politics.
You can be sure Lee wouldn't be on the verge of being mayor without the blessings of Pak and Brown.