Will Lee or Won’t Lee? SF Mayoral Race Analysis, Part II
Lee stood smiling next to (Chiu), a mayoral candidate who has desperately sought to keep Lee out of the race.
As soon as the event finished, Lee and Chiu — close political allies just six months ago — spoke separately to a throng of reporters on the sidewalk, several yards apart.
Meanwhile, also today, about one hundred supporters of the “Run Ed Run” campaign rallied on the steps of City Hall, KQED’s Mina Kim reports. With great fanfare, they revealed – one digit at a time – the 51,063 signatures they’ve collected to try and draft Lee to run for mayor.
On Friday I talked to political analyst and academic Corey Cook about the potential candidacy of Lee, which looks increasingly more likely each day. Cook said if Lee enters the race, he’d so as the favorite, as long as he could offer an adequate explanation as to why he broke his vow not to run.
Lee would also have to overcome losing the apolitical halo, Cook said, that has worked to his advantage in brokering deals on important issues like the budget and pension reform. Listen to Part 1 of that interview here.
In Part 2, below, Cook talks about whether Lee’s ability to govern would be diminished by what some candidates would certainly consider to be a betrayal; about how the Chinese vote might shake out; and on the various narratives that have emerged concerning Lee’s change of heart in the absence of an explanation from the man himself.
An edited transcript follows each audio clip.
Corey Cook on Lee’s ability to govern should he win
In the mayoral election, you’ve got two sitting supervisors running, the city attorney, and the assessor. So if Lee does win, what about his ability to govern effectively? Can he be as effective as a lot of people think he has been if the good will he’s had till now is dissipated?
Politics is about relationships. A large part of executive leadership is being able to build trust among other elected officials. That’s part of what the essence of a mayor or a governor or a president does. Your formal power is limited and part of the resources you bring to the office are your ability to show that you’re somebody who can be respected and trusted.
He has room certainly to be able to rebuild those relationships. But those candidates were told to their faces that he wasn’t running. So there is a sense of betrayal to some extent among the candidates who were assured that he wasn’t interested. And when that’s the President of the Board of Supervisors or the City Attorney or the Assessor, that’s pretty significant.
There was a lot of clarity at the outset that Lee was only being appointed because he wasn’t interested in running and was going to be interim. Frankly, up until the last couple of weeks he was assuring people he wasn’t going to run while they were out raising money and going door to door. Some of these folks have been in this race a year already and have received nothing but assurance that he wasn’t going to be in the race.
Those relationships can be mended but it does call into question whether he can govern effectively. This would be the first real governing challenge for him. He had some advantages in dealing with the budget, including that he was going to do it in a non-partisan, non-political way because he wasn’t a candidate for office. Now that he becomes effectively a typical elected official, that does change the dynamics of the board immediately.
On how the Chinese community might vote with four Chinese-American candidates in the race
With Lee, there would be four Chinese-American candidates in the race. Who do you think the Chinese community and political leadership would support?
Each of the four Chinese candidates in their political careers has gotten substantial support from the Chinese community. There’s clearly a split within the community, as part of the movement behind getting Ed Lee in the race is an effort to stop Leland Yee; I think, that’s been very clear.
I don’t know exactly how to draw those lines, though. I would be surprised frankly, if Ed Lee gets in the race, if all of the other candidates remain. I think there will be some sorting out; because the political space gets so crowded that some of these candidates will have to revisit their campaigns to determine whether they’re truly viable or not. I think certainly Leland Yee will stay in the race, the other candidates I’m not sure.
It is clear from past voting patterns that the Chinese community is highly mobilized, and there’s a lot of evidence of identity voting. This is a sizable voting bloc that will matter in the election. If this emerges into a full-fledged conflict within the Chinese political elite between Ed Lee as a candidate and Leland Yee as a candidate, I don’t know if that means voters will ultimately rank one first and one second or if there will be a clear split and folks will be left off the ballot entirely.
On emerging narratives damaging to a Lee run
What are the some of the reasons people are speculating about as to a Lee run?
As Ed Lee’s public flirtation with running for office has evolved, there’s been a series of narratives that have sprung up about what’s been going on and why. Frankly, a lot of it has been very unfair to Ed Lee. But he’s not publicly said what’s going on in his thinking. So as a result… (people say) it’s all about Rose Pak, it’s all about Willie Brown, it’s all about stopping Leland Yee…
So there are a couple of perceptions that he has to battle. One of them is that he really doesn’t want to be mayor. In Oakland, we had a mayor (Ron Dellums) who was drafted to run, a community who collected signatures and convinced him to run. And ultimately it turned out he wasn’t that interested in being mayor. And as a result there was a giant void in city hall. So I think there are folks in town who are saying you do have to actually run to be mayor, you have to express a desire to do that.
And so one of the questions is how engaged will he really be in this election if he’s insisted he’s not interested in running.
Similarly I think people have questions about who this group is, how they raised money, who they’re raising it from and what interest they have. And are they having undue influence in convincing him to run?
And I think the third narrative that’s arising: Is this really just a raw political calculation that he would beat Leland Yee? And when you hear all that stew of rumor and innuendo buzzing around, it contributes to that narrative that there’s somebody who is pulling strings behind him.