Ed Lee can run, but can’t hide from questions if he runs for San Francisco mayor 

As Mayor Ed Lee appears poised to declare his candidacy for mayor, the San Francisco political machine is working overtime to react to the game-changing announcement.

Part of that means Lee — who has never run for public office — may be facing an unprecedented amount of scrutiny from opposing political campaigns, and political pundits say his inability to clearly state his intentions is already hurting his credibility.

“Frankly, his announcement and how he explains to voters why he changed his mind about running is central to how this plays out,” said Corey Cook, a political science professor at the University of San Francisco. “The challenge over the last couple of weeks is that he’s never clearly explained why. In its absence, everyone else has explained why.”

The major explanation Lee needs to make to voters is why he changed his mind from unequivocally not running to on the verge of deciding to run. Lee was reluctantly thrust into office by a divided Board of Supervisors in January and with the behind-the-scenes maneuvering of then-Mayor Gavin Newsom, former Mayor Willie Brown and Chinatown power broker Rose Pak.

His appointment was made on the premise that he was a caretaker and would not run for office in November. That promise has already been exploited by state Sen. Leland Yee’s mayoral campaign, which posted a video clip online of Lee unequivocally promising not to run. The video ends with a plea to voters: “Help Ed keep the promise. Say NO to Run Ed Run.”

One of the supervisors to whom he made the promise was Michela Alioto-Pier. Alioto-Pier entered the mayor’s race on the belief that he would not run, according to her campaign spokesman, Sterling Clifford.

“Michela would definitely be disappointed if he decided to run,” Clifford said.

But not everyone is waiting to pounce on Lee if he makes the decision to run. Eric Jaye, a veteran consultant who is running Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting’s mayoral campaign, said Lee’s entrance into the race would only offer another choice for voters, a good thing in a democracy.

“Will he get a lot of tough questions, sure, but he’s mayor now and he gets a lot of tough questions already,” Jaye said. “As a candidate you can make a lot of promises, but as a mayor you have to keep them.”

Lee is currently out of town visiting family in Washington state. The deadline to file as a mayoral candidate is Aug. 12.

bbegin@sfexaminer.com

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Brent Begin

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