City Administrator Ed Lee could be named San Francisco interim mayor as early as 3 p.m. Friday, but will have to wait until Mayor Gavin Newsom is sworn in as California lieutenant governor — at 1 p.m January 10 — to assume office.
Seven members of the Board of Supervisors pledged to support Lee at a marathon meeting Tuesday. Six votes are needed to win the office, but a final vote on the matter was continued to Friday in order to allow sitting supervisors to discuss the appointment with Lee.
Lee is currently traveling in Hong Kong and will return to San Francisco on Sunday, according to Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, who spoke with Lee earlier on Tuesday.
The incoming Board of Supervisors — four new members are to be sworn in at noon Saturday — will also have to ratify Lee’s selection before Lee can become the city’s first Chinese-American mayor.
Lee’s selection was received as a major blow — and worse, a betrayal by one of their own — by the city’s progressives, who hoped to name either Sherrif Michael Hennessey or former Mayor Art Agnos to succeed Newsom.
“This is the biggest fumble in San Francisco political history,” said Supervisor Chris Daly, a progressive stalwart who is termed out this week. “And it rests squarely on the shoulders of David Chiu.”
Chiu defended Lee as a progressive pick. “Ed Lee’s entire history has reflected our shared progressive values,” Chiu said of the former civil rights attorney. “We’ve worked together to protect tenants, to push a transit-first city, for achieve affordable housing for low income housing. He has fought his entire life for the marginalized and the disenfranchised.”
“We had an embarrassment of riches,” Chiu added, referring to the field of nominees for interim mayor, which included Chiu’s onetime mentor Aaron Peskin and former Mayor Art Agnos as well as Hennessey and Lee. “Ed was the best of the best.”
Lee is aligned with Chinatown power broker Rose Pak. Pak is seen as having sway over Chiu as well as incoming District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim, who succeeds termed-out Daly.
Hennessey received five votes in early voting Tuesday night, one short of the magic six. But after arriving in Board chamber around 9 p.m. Tuesday, Hennessey watched himself lose out to Lee after Supervisors Bevan Dufty and Sophie Maxwell — who had cast votes against Lee in earlier rounds — emerged from a closed-door meeting with Mayor Gavin Newsom, wherein Newsom “convinced” the supervisors to support Lee, Dufty told The Appeal.
“I had a conversation with the mayor, and I asked some questions about Ed,” said Dufty of the impromptu — and decisive — late-night vetting session for Lee, who was months ago Dufty’s first choice for the matter, the termed-out supe noted.
If confirmed, Lee would retain Newsom’s current chief of staff Steve Kava, according to City Hall insiders, and David Chiu — who was elected to office in 2008 with strong support from the city’s progressives, including former Board President Aaron Peskin — is being strongly considered for the vacant District Attorney position according to supervisors.
If Chiu vacates his position, Newsom would appoint a successor, likely either moderates Joseph Alioto, Jr. or Claudine Cheng, both of whom lost to Chiu in 2008.
“Shame on me,” said Supervisor John Avalos, who supported Hennessey. “We got played.”
Chiu denied taking any kind of deal for the DA position from Newsom in exchange for supporting Lee, and told the Appeal that “I’m still a progressive.”
Lee received support from the city’s moderates because he is a “caretaker” mayor, a city bureaucrat rather than a politician who will not seek election in his own right in November. Bevan Dufty, Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting and state Sen. Leland Yee are among the politicians who have declared candidacy.
Joining Chiu in supporting Lee, who would be the city’s first Asian-American mayor, were moderate mayoral allies Sean Elsbernd, Michela Alioto-Pier, Carmen Chu as well as Maxwell, Dufty and progressive Eric Mar.
Lee, who manages the city’s emergency management system, would inherit an estimated $400 million budget deficit. He is a personal, if not a political friend to the Board’s once-vaunted progressive majority, which, stunned after Tuesday’s political defeat and in flux ahead of Saturday’s changing of the guard, is at a crossroads.