A self-described “blue-collar politician,” the 63-year-old Norman Yee is set to become the oldest member of the Board of Supervisors when he’s sworn in Jan. 8. He said he wants to bring a thoughtful, independent style with a mix of progressive and moderate politics to his new job.
Yee is a father of two daughters and his wife teaches at City College of San Francisco. He will be leaving his Board of Education post — where he most recently served as president — to represent the moderate District 7, which comprises the neighborhoods west of Twin Peaks. In November, he was victorious over labor-backed candidate F.X. Crowley, who was also backed by termed-out Supervisor Sean Elsbernd.
Yee said he is not bringing a political agenda to City Hall.
“I’m really good at listening to what the problems are and trying to solve them,” he said. Pedestrian safety and small businesses will be immediate areas of focus, Yee said.
Yee describes himself as thoughtful, yet some might call it guarded. He said he has not decided on his legislative aides and would not reveal any names of candidates.
Born and raised in Chinatown, Yee speaks fondly of his youth when he ran his father’s grocery store in Noe Valley. He would later receive a civil engineering degree from UC Berkeley, only to realize his passion was helping kids.
Yee was first elected to the school board in 2004, but prior to that he served as executive director of Wu Yee Children’s Services for 16 years. There, he reshaped the operation.
“I care about social issues, but I’m also fiscally responsible,” Yee said. “You don’t grow an organization from $200,000 to $10 million without being fiscally responsible. I don’t spend money unless we have it.”
In San Francisco, a political litmus test is one’s progressive or moderate values. Yee appears to be trying to have a foot in both camps. However, he has already distanced himself from his moderate predecessor, Elsbernd.
Yee said he would have supported free Muni passes for low-income youths, which Elsbernd opposed. And Yee said he supports Supervisor Jane Kim’s proposal to give $840,000 from The City’s budget reserve to the school district, which Mayor Ed Lee has opposed.
“I don’t know what his logic is,” Yee said of Lee. “We might disagree on that one.”
And while he is open to all points of view, Yee said he makes decisions independently. He said he was offered campaign advice from both former Mayor Willie Brown and Chinatown power broker Rose Pak. Yee said he also had been approached by ex-Mayor Gavin Newsom early in his school board tenure.
“My reputation is a certain way,” he said. “Gavin tried to do that, influence me in the beginning. He found out real quickly I am not his boy. I tell that to everybody. I grew up that way. I grew up very independent.”