Most of new San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee’s challenges are well-known, from having to close a budget deficit to preparing for the 2013 America’s Cup sailing race. But one of his challenges has been largely overlooked: Lee will be the first mayor in history to have to appear before members of the Board of Supervisors every month to answer questions they have for him.
This significant moment in political history was not lost upon Lee, who even joked about it during his swearing-in ceremony Tuesday. “And yes, [Board of Supervisors President David] Chiu, I will sit down with you shortly to work out the details of question-and-answer session,” said Lee, drawing laughter from the audience.
Although Lee will be the first mayor to have to submit to “question time,” ex-Mayor Gavin Newsom was its original inspiration and target. The brainchild of Newsom rival and former Supervisor Chris Daly, mayoral question time was seen as a political tactic to blast Newsom in the public arena.
In 2006, voters passed a question-time ballot measure pushed by Daly and supervisors scheduled the mayor to appear at every third board meeting of the month. But because the measure was not binding, Newsom simply never showed up. Newsom and his allies said it would just be “political theater.”
Newsom’s refusal prompted one of the more memorable political attacks. A band of people dressed up as chickens haunted Newsom’s appearances, sending the message that the mayor was simply too afraid to face the board.
Daly then placed a binding measure on the 2007 ballot, but Newsom helped raised $250,000 to defeat it.
But in November, voters were asked again to support another question-time measure. This time, without an aggressive campaign against it — Newsom had his eye on becoming lieutenant governor — voters approved the measure. The board must now work out a format for the public Q&A session.
Under consideration are such things as setting a time limit and whether questions must be submitted in writing in advance, according to a Tuesday memo from the board’s clerk.
Legislation establishing the specifics is expected to be introduced in the coming weeks. But Lee is expected to show up to talk to board on Jan. 25 anyway under the existing policy.
Supervisor Scott Wiener, who opposed the proposal the three times it was on the ballot, said it was a Daly tactic to “embarrass” the mayor, but without those political dynamics it could prove useful. “It’s incumbent on the board to make it as productive as possible,” he said.