Ed Lee having fun as San Francisco's mayor – and being the non-candidate 

Over the years, I’ve been to numerous places with Mayor Ed Lee, from illegal garbage-dumping sites to hidden homeless encampments.

But one place you’ll never catch me with Lee is at a poker game, allegedly friendly or not.

I’ve learned that it’s best not to bet against someone who is holding all the cards, which Lee — much to everyone’s surprise — always seems to have.

There’s a lot more to this whole Run, Ed, Run campaign than Lee would have us believe, and that comes from someone who has never been much of a true believer.

In the past few months, I had several opportunities to ask Lee whether he intends to run in November despite assurances that he would not, and each time Lee has carefully and thoughtfully said he has no plans to do so — and up to now I have taken him at his word.

This is pretty easy to do with Lee, who, with a countenance somewhere between Gumby and the Sphinx, brings a certain Yoda-like quality to the job that people find refreshing.

And then there is his push to reclaim his old post as city administrator, which kept him out of the limelight yet still paid him $250,000 per year, a fair amount of money to do a job that few people understand. To that end, he got the Board of Supervisors to approve a charter amendment allowing him a safe return, further quieting the murmurs that Lee was indeed going to make a November run.

But a growing number of people are going out of their way to make sure that Lee will be a factor in the mayor’s race at the same time he is downplaying any thoughts of jumping into it. He claims he’s hardly even been paying attention to all the fuss — the websites, the ads, the posters, the daily questions.

Yet how often do supporters open a campaign office for someone who is not in a race? Why would your biggest backers start a signature-gathering effort on behalf of someone who is vowing to leave as quietly as he entered?

“I’m not focused on campaigning or running for office,” Lee told reporters over the weekend. Perhaps — but hundreds of others are.

This is the brilliance of Lee’s “I’m not running” campaign. It provides the illusion of the mayor standing in place while the ground is moving underneath us — or in this case, the 30-some people who believe they are actually competing to be the next mayor.

For starters, Lee doesn’t have to campaign for the job he claims little interest in because he’s already doing it. And the polls suggest that he’s doing it awfully well. There’s nothing like a powerful incumbent reminding people how hard he’s working to fix all The City’s problems while others only offer promises.

The mayor doesn’t have to file papers with the Department of Elections until Aug. 12 if he just happens to change his mind. And with so many people telling him to please do just that, what person wouldn’t want to cave in to the demands of the people?

Some public officials have said they would be upset if Lee went back on his word not to run. But they have never been mayor of San Francisco, which is almost like being an NFL quarterback, without the boos.

After all, anyone can change their mind — and Ed Lee is being drafted.

And the real beauty of the fact that Lee is not running, is that he may not have to. He can go the write-in route, which doesn’t start until mid-September, just in time for playoff baseball and the traditional beginning of the political season.

If you don’t think Lee can win as a write-in candidate, then you must not be from around here. Lee has gone from steady career administrator to instant rock star since he took over Room 200 in January. He’s become Gavin Newsom without the gel and the attitude.

Lee would never say as much, but he’s having fun being mayor — almost as much fun as not running to keep his job.

A lot of people have bets on this race. But only one guy is playing with house money.

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Ken Garcia

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