As Ed Lee finishes his second month as San Francisco’s interim mayor, it is clear that the non-politician with in-depth understanding of how San Francisco government works has the potential to leave a significant mark on The City.
With 21 years of experience as a high-level San Francisco public service official — most recently city administrator — Lee knows exactly what is creating the most important immediate problems. More significant, he has quickly demonstrated his desire to tackle untouchable issues oft-ignored in San Francisco politics.
In a February meeting with The San Francisco Examiner editorial board, Lee outlined his strategy of concentrating on the highest-priority problems during his one year as “caretaker” mayor before returning to the city administrator post.
At the top of Lee’s list were balancing the massive $360 million budget deficit, halting the runaway growth of city workers’ pension costs, hiring an outstanding new police chief, and obtaining maximum city benefits from the America’s Cup yacht race preparations.
“I know that they want a mayor — at least for this year — to just implement those things and make sure that they’ve gotten done in the best way,” Lee said. “That’s what I’m all about. From day one, just rolling up the sleeves and saying … I want to actually carry out those promises.”
Now Lee is plugging away with The City’s convoluted cast of power players, taking meeting after meeting with the opposing stakeholders on pension reform and municipal spending, tamping down the levels of confrontation that have long interfered with much-needed solutions.
In the meantime, he has already managed to quietly make changes on smaller issues that weren’t even on his top-priority list. On Thursday, The Examiner reported that Lee was providing a business calendar, showing more meeting details and information than the calendars of prior Mayors Gavin Newsom and Willie Brown. Lee will also appear before the Board of Supervisors for a regular question time, something Newsom refused to do throughout his tenure.
Earlier in February, this newspaper covered Lee’s push against the embarrassing add-back ritual at the finale of the budgetary process, which traditionally let supervisors strip cash from items they dislike in the mayor’s June 1 draft budget and funnel the money to preferred purposes — most often district nonprofits with political clout. Lee insisted on getting all add-back requests immediately, so the legitimate needs of core service providers could be handled with greater transparency and accountability.
“No more charades,” Lee told The Examiner. Perhaps what’s been needed for moving effectively against The City’s toughest problems is a mayor without noticeable ambitions for higher office or for re-election, focusing on managing The City rather than his public image.