Mud was slung freely, along with accusations of voter fraud and campaign money laundering. But years from now, the 2011 San Francisco mayoral race is likely to be better remembered for its obsession with Ed Lee’s mustache, the curious involvement of otherwise irrelevant rapper MC Hammer and a pingpong match between rival candidates.
Despite the daily rancor and meanness of it all, these moments of levity kept local politics in step with the overarching brand of goofiness that has defined San Francisco for decades. At times, the race resembled little more than a high school popularity contest, but in the end, it was Lee who coasted to victory without incident.
In his first foray into electoral politics since high school, the mayor appeared to keep his corny sense of humor all the way through campaign season.
Launched in June, the campaign had balloons, buttons, throngs of supporters and signs depicting Lee as a cartoon character. It had everything a good campaign should — except for Ed Lee, the candidate, who didn’t enter the race until August.
Thanks to a fortunate mnemonic device, Board of Supervisors President David Chiu got a ready-made mascot for his campaign. One rainy morning, Muni riders were greeted by the Wookiee.
During the mayor’s monthly question time — the scripted exercise in which supervisors provide prepared questions and the mayor responds with prepared answers — Supervisor John Avalos asked how question time itself could be more “substantive” and “dynamic.” Lee responded by challenging Avalos, who was also running for mayor, to a “substantive and dynamic” game of table tennis in Chinatown that coming weekend. Avalos accepted, but the match ended up a dud when no winner was determined.
A cash-laden independent group pushing Lee’s candidacy gathered a slew of celebrities to vouch for the mayor in a Web video to the tune of the seminal early-’90s hip-hop gem by Oakland’s MC Hammer. Supporters of Supervisor John Avalos later created a satirical countervideo using Enrique Iglesias’ 1999 hit, “Bailamos,” featuring a predictable tune using the supervisor’s name.
Limping around City Hall with a sprained ankle, influential Chinatown maven and unabashed Lee supporter Rose Pak became the center of attention when she claimed that despite her injury, she would like to “kick Dennis Herrera’s ass.” Herrera — the city attorney — went hard at Lee with attack ads in September.
Marginal candidate Phil Ting — The City’s assessor-recorder — released a video warning against “para-mayoral” activity, like the sudden growth of mustaches, Wookiees in bedsheets and the daughter of candidate Bevan Dufty, who appeared with her father in a campaign spot.
A seemingly overzealous independent group supporting Lee used blogs, newspaper stories and Lee’s high school yearbook to slap together a fawning 132-page biography that it dropped en masse on doorsteps. The retrospective, titled “The Ed Lee Story: An Unlikely Mayor,” drew a scathing counter-narrative crafted by state Sen. Leland Yee’s campaign titled, “The Real Ed Lee.”