Bush: Voters like Lee, but not the job he's doing 

San Francisco voters may like Mayor Ed Lee, but by a significant margin, they don’t approve of his job performance, according to a poll commissioned by Friends of Ethics.

When asked, “Do you approve or disapprove of Mayor Ed Lee’s job performance?” 38 percent of voters approve and 46 percent disapprove, with 16 percent not sure.

That’s a different result than the usual popularity poll, a wiggly question that doesn’t ask about job performance. It is not far from results in December’s poll by KPIX (Ch. 5) that also asked the more direct question on job performance. Voters then gave him a 47 percent job-approval rating and a 35 percent job-disapproval rating, with 18 percent unsure.

The shift of 9 percent from approve to disapprove over the past four months is unsurprising considering the increased dissatisfaction over The City’s major challenges.

Lee’s low numbers are true in almost every supervisorial district. Voters don’t rank him above 50 percent in any of the 11 districts. In some districts, he faces noteworthy disapproval rate. He fares worst in Supervisor Katy Tang’s District 4 (28 percent approval, 50 percent disapproval), Supervisor London Breed’s District 5 (32 percent, 51 percent) and Supervisor John Avalos’ District 11 (19 percent, 63 percent). Lee gets a higher job-performance rating in Supervisor Mark Farrell’s District 2 (41 percent, 47 percent), Supervisor Jane Kim’s District 6 (43 percent, 25 percent) and Supervisor Scott Wiener’s District 8 (39 percent, 41 percent).

The Friends of Ethics poll looked at whether voters view money as having too much sway at City Hall. Voters overwhelmingly believe that money determines City Hall policies.

By a 65 percent-to-16 percent margin, voters say “special interests have too much influence over San Francisco politics” and only 16 percent believe the Ethics Commission has succeeded in limiting the power of money in politics. Voters support banning lobbyists from giving gifts or contributions to elected officials (79 percent), banning contractors, lobbyists and developers from picking up the tab for elected official’s travel (82 percent), would end the loophole that allows officials to take contributions in any amount from any source for committees they control (80 percent), ban officials from participating in decisions that affect their donors (69 percent), and would support removing from office those officials at the Planning Department, the Port of San Francisco and the Department of Building Inspection who violate the laws they are supposed to enforce (80 percent).

Those questions were prompted by the fact that in all cases those are things now allowed in San Francisco law (though not in many other cities) and are regularly taking place at City Hall.

In November 2000, voters passed with 83 percent a ban on officials accepting contributions, gifts and other perks from lobbyists, contractors and others who seek City Hall favors. Three years later, through a series of all-but-hidden changes that rewrote city ethics laws, that prohibition was eliminated.

Today, businesses seeking favorable financial terms ranging from Uber and Airbnb to construction companies and groups like the San Francisco Association of Realtors are contributing to the travel costs of City Hall’s official family. Lee far outdistances other officials, with more than $165,000 donated for his trips, including $10,000 for a three-day trip to Paris. The mayor, supervisors and other officials obtained more than $26 million in contributions for favored projects. Among those writing checks were Recology, PG&E, Lennar, Kilroy Realty, San Francisco Waterfront Partners, Coca Cola and others who had pending financial interests that won support from the officials making the request.

All of this is taking place at a scale never before seen in City Hall.

Voters appear willing to accept Ed Lee as mayor for the next four years, but they want change — and may turn to the Board of Supervisors, as they have in the past, to bring about changes that a mayor won’t. If not, they may take to the ballot as they have on the waterfront heights, Coit Tower and 8 Washington St. and may do on Airbnb. This time, they may well re-enact a ban aimed at pay-to-play politics like the one passed in 2000, but which City Hall managed to remove.

Larry Bush writes in CitiReport and was a speechwriter and policy adviser for former Mayor Art Agnos. He is a founder of Friends of Ethics, a volunteer group working with the Ethics Commission to improve its performance.

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