Mayor Ed Lee has left San Francisco for the week, and he has left voters, mayoral candidates and city officials with one of the biggest political enigmas of the year: will he or won’t he run?
What had, at one time, been a definitive “I’m not running” has now morphed into uncertainty. On Friday, he said, “I have not made that decision,” before flying off to Washington, D.C.
Left behind is City Hall, where the Board of Supervisors is likely to approve a $6.8 billion budget with only minor clashes and has already unanimously approved Lee’s contentious pension reform measure for the November ballot.
But with the era of so-called civility in full swing at City Hall, some wonder if the two branches will once again clash if Lee jumps into the race, breaking a promise to those who put him there.
Lee was reluctantly thrust into office last January after then-Mayor Gavin Newsom was elected lieutenant governor. He was a reluctant choice for mayor due to his concerns that he would lose his former job as city administrator. A waiver has since been granted to allow him to take that job back with the caveat that he doesn’t run for mayor.
He has since gained the support of the Board and has gained in popularity, in part, because of his straightforward demeanor. But that reputation began to waver when the “Run, Ed, Run” campaign sprouted up in recent months. The committee has already collected tens of thousands of dollars in limitless donations to pay for signs, consultants and a website all in favor of Lee being elected in November and Lee has done nothing to stop it.
“If Mayor Lee seeks a full term in November, it will complicate his working relationships at City Hall,” said political consultant Alex Clemens. “But how deeply, and for how long, are yet to be determined. Like every decision in politics, there are upsides and downsides – but before we know exactly what they’ll be, he must make a public decision.”
Supervisors voted him interim mayor, with the thinking that he wouldn’t run, are now being pressured to give Lee a pass. One of the six supervisors to put Lee into office is Supervisor Sean Elsbernd. He has been approached by several people, many of whom already support other candidates, urging him to support Lee’s run.
“I would not find it difficult to work with him,” Elsbernd said. “Politicians change their minds all the time.”
Supervisor John Avalos is running for mayor and was not one of the supervisors approached to support Lee. He was also one of the votes against Lee becoming interim mayor in January.
“No matter what happens, I want to have a good working relationship with Ed Lee,” Avalos said. “He’ll be working in city government if he runs or not, and what I want is harmony.”
Avalos admits, however, that harmony may be relative. While there have not been public fights such as those between former Supervisor Chris Daly and Mayor Gavin Newsom, there are disagreements. The fight over three ballot measures – killing Care Not Cash, demolition of housing units and privatization of public parks – have marked a line in the sand.
The deadline for Lee to file to run is Aug. 12, but many are hoping he’ll break the suspense now.