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Legal And Political Realities May Render Ed Lee Detractors All Bark, No Bite

| January 7, 2011
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The recessed San Francisco Board of Supervisors meeting is back on this afternoon, and it should be a dilly — the Super Bowl of public access cable TV in terms of interest and — one has to say — hype. (You can watch it live here at 3 p.m.)

The only item on the agenda? Picking an interim mayor to follow Gavin Newsom, who will finally move on to Sacramento to take the reins of lieutenant government, but only after he puts his stamp firmly on the choice of his successor in San Francisco.

Scott Shafer puts today’s vote in perspective in this conversation with Joshua Johnson, pointing out that today’s vote is, as Newsom spokesman Tony Winnicker told Shafer today, “essentially symbolic.”

Of course, some on the current Board don’t see it that way. Listen to this interview of Supervisor John Avalos, a member of the board’s progressive bloc, by KQED’s Rachel Dornhelm on Monday.

Rachel Dornhelm interviews John Avalos

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“Whatever we do tomorrow,” Avalos freely acknowledges, “is not going to be as important as what we do on Saturday the eighth or after Saturday the eighth,” (when Newsom officially leaves office). “(The interim choice) would not really be appointed until there’s a vacancy in the mayor’s office.”

“So at this point ” Dornhelm later suggests, “it would be more of an advisory kind of pick.”

“It would be an appointment that would have to be ratified at a later date, and with a new board it could be a different appointment,” Avalos responds, declining to characterize the vote as “advisory,” “symbolic,” or any other pejorative that might diminish the urgency of even holding a vote.

If Avalos feels it’s important for the outgoing board to make its feelings known on who the temporary mayor should be, fellow progressive supervisor Chris Daly apparently thinks it’s a matter of the utmost significance.

On Tuesday, when supervisors appeared poised to vote for City Administrator Ed Lee, Daly threw an epic fit, labeling the choice “the biggest political fumble in the history of progressive politics in San Francisco.”

That is awfully hyperbolic, considering the impermanent nature of the vote and the interim mayor’s carefully preordained political status — in order to mollify mayoral hopefuls on the board — as a mere caretaker with no ambitions of parlaying his provisional status into a run for election in November, 2011.

The statutorily unsanctioned nature of tonight’s vote makes it hard to even conjure up a good term for Lee’s status if he wins. “Temporary interim mayor”? “Provisionally designated lame-duck choice?” And even if Daly — who at least managed to wrangle a recess out of the Board before it officially voted for Lee on Tuesday — has over the last couple of days managed to peel off the two votes necessary to quash Lee’s tentative ascension, is there really any chance that Lee will not eventually be confirmed by the new Board, which will include four new members?

The Bay Citizen today ran an excellent behind-the-scenes look at just how Lee, who had not been mentioned in any of the pre-vote speculation, emerged as the candidate to beat. Long story short: Former mayor Willie Brown and influential Chinese-American political activist Rose Pak, in league with the Newsom administration, engineered the nomination.

It seems unlikely to me that this politically potent team would have floated Lee without making sure that they at least had the votes on the incoming Board. In fact, Pak is so confident that Lee will be the next mayor, she told KQED’s Tara Siler yesterday that Lee’s nomination was a “done deal, no ifs ands or buts.”

Pak was attending a press conference set up by the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, set up to show support for Lee from the Chinese-American community. Pak defended Lee’s progressive credentials and criticized his detractors on the Board:

Rose Pak defends Ed Lee against the criticism of progressive supervisors

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But this article from the SF Appeal yesterday takes some issue with that:

Ed Lee has close ties to Pak, who has close ties to Willie Brown and Newsom…And if Ed Lee retains Newsom’s chief of staff Steve Kava, as he is almost certain to do?

“It means Willie Brown and Rose Pak run City Hall for another year,” said one local politician. “Just like they have for the last 15 years.”

That’s something Daly would agree with. “Why not cut out the middleman and just make Rose Pak the next mayor?” Daly is quoted as saying in the Examiner today.

Maybe. But can he do anything about it? Seems unlikely. But I guess we’ll know by Saturday.

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