Despite baggage, Ed Lee’s run for mayor just may be a cakewalk 

It only took a few short minutes for supporters of Mayor Ed Lee to watch their candidate’s slogan change from cute to critical.

It used to be “Run, Ed, Run.” Now it’s “Beat Me.”

In both a figurative and a drumlike sense, that’s what the race for San Francisco mayor has become — a campaign in which all the pretenders to the throne are now singularly focused on its current occupant.

Lee’s decision to jump into the race has twisted what had been a straight-laced lineup of posers attempting to somehow find their way beyond 10 percent. No candidates seemed to gain traction because they were afraid to take strong stands under our ridiculous system of ranked-choice voting.

Lee’s entrance has changed all that. He now takes on the role of human piñata, the person onto which the others will latch for having the temerity to do exactly what they are already doing. It’s just that he said he wouldn’t and now he’s changed his mind.

A broken promise in politics? Say it ain’t so.

As the undeniable front-runner, Lee was going to be the mustachioed bulls-eye under any scenario. The fact that his opponents have spent the last eight months praising him for the job he’s done as mayor just makes the campaign that much richer.

Still, he will have to do some explaining. Not about his so-called broken promise, but about his ties to what many see as the shady characters that were behind the plan to get him to run in the first place.

First up would be Willie Brown, the Chronicle pseudo-columnist and former mayor who has been working as a part-time campaign consultant and sometimes lobbyist to get Lee, who worked as Brown’s head of the Department of Public Works, to jump in the race.

If Brown had a conflict of interest before, the interest rate has just doubled — and the Chronicle is now a partner in the scheme.

Brown’s good buddy, Chinatown maven Rose Pak, has been pivotal to Lee’s behind-the-scenes campaign, and you can bet the house money that their presence will become the main arsenal of the attacks already coming their way.

This view was aptly summed up by City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who issued a statement attacking Lee for doing what the other candidates have feared for months: giving in to the power of the office.

“To my mind, Ed Lee’s biggest problem isn’t that he’s a dishonest man — it’s that he’s not his own man,” Herrera said in the statement. “If Ed Lee is elected mayor, powerful people will continue to insist on things.”

Harsh. If that’s the worst that can be said of someone running for mayor this November, Lee is going to have the time of his life.

Several supervisors — especially the two who also are in the mayor’s race — were highly critical of Lee’s decision, suggesting that we may be seeing some rocky relations between the legislative and executive branches of government in the next few months. So, essentially, they could work just fine with Lee when he wasn’t a candidate, but now that he is, they can’t.

How’s that for a thoughtful response to leadership?

Yet there is still a campaign to wage, and Lee has to see whether he can jump over all the hurdles his opponents are desperately trying to throw his way. It’s fairly certain that none of the candidates can win an outright majority, so the big factor is whether Lee can win some of the second- and third-place votes that will determine who sits in Room 200 starting in January.

The campaigns were already talking to each other about what alliances they could form to see how they might help each other win. Now those discussions will likely turn to see how they could aid each other to get Ed Lee to lose.

But that’s going to take some doing, because if everybody agreed that Ed Lee was a nice guy who was doing a bang-up job as mayor, how are they going to tell people that he no longer deserves the job?

Because he broke an election-year promise? Because he said no when he meant yes?

That little smile he wears just got bigger.

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Ken Garcia

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