City Administrator Ed Lee is the choice of Mayor Gavin Newsom for interim mayor and not the choice of 2/3 of the city’s progressive establishment, but he’s “progressive” nonetheless.

Or so the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce would have you believe. During a noontime luncheon/press conference Thursday — in which Lee’s first public statements on his ascension to Room 200 were issued, through intermediary Rose Pak — the word “progressive” was uttered numerous times by varied group of speakers, ranging from Chinatown Community Development Center executive director Gordon Chin, to Haight-Ashbury activist Calvin Welch and Chinese for Affirmative Action director Vincent Pan.

Lee has been the heir apparent to Mayor Gavin Newsom, who is expected to take the oath of office for lieutenant governor a week late, since late Tuesday night. Tuesday was when seven members of the Board of Supervisors – but notably not progressives Chris Daly, John Avalos, Ross Mirkarimi and David Campos – pledged to support Lee for the interim post over Sheriff Michael Hennessey.

“To all you progressives out there — he [Ed Lee] is a progressive,” said the Rev. Norman Fong, a longtime Chinatown figure and activist in progressive politics. “You don’t need to be loud and Donkey Kong all the time — he’s the calm, cool type.”

Maybe, but Ed Lee has close ties to Pak, who has close ties to Willie Brown and Newsom, as the picture accompanying this article — snapped at last year’s Martin Luther King Day breakfast by an anonymous photographer — would suggest. And if Ed Lee retains Newsom’s chief of staff Steve Kava, as he is almost certain to do?

“It means Willie Brown and Rose Pak run City Hall for another year,” said one local politician. “Just like they have for the last 15 years.”

Lee does have progressive bona fides: he was a staff lawyer with the Asian Law Caucus for 10 years, litigating on behalf of low-income tenants and sweatshop workers before he became director of the Human Rights Commission under Mayor Frank Jordan in 1991. During Lee’s tenure at the HRC, however, the Commission was the subject of an FBI investigation, among other concerns local online writer Greg Dewar’s raised regarding Lee’s past on his blog today.

Lee became director of the Department of Public Works under Brown in 2000 and was elevated to city Chief Administrative Officer by Mayor Gavin Newsom in 2005.

Still, Lee chose to speak to the public for the first time through Pak, a non-governmental official with partisan politics, and that is enough to raise eyebrows. Lee, as a city official, has a city office and staff, and since the interim mayor appointment is city business — not connected to a political campaign — he could have legally used his city staff to issue Thursday’s statement. And he should have, according to one local prominent political consultant.

“He’s being selected because he’s supposedly not a political person, and his first act is an overtly political move,” the consultant said. “This is going to cast a pall over his entire term in office.”

“This would make Willie Brown blush.”

There was little doubt who ran the show Thursday. Pak served as master of ceremonies and Pak took the credit for convincing Ed Lee to take the job, she told the Appeal.

“My role was to convince him to take it,” she said. “He changed his mind on Sunday.”

Lee is scheduled to return to the United States on Sunday. The incoming Board of Supervisors, who are sworn in at noon Saturday, must ratify his appointment (which, according to Pak, is a “done deal. There’s no if,” she said.). Newsom has until 1 p.m. January 10 to swear in Lee.

Lee’s own statement to the media follows, in its entirety, below.

“I am honored to be considered for the position of Interim Mayor. The Mayor, various supervisors and members of the public have approached me about serving in this position. I love this city, and will agree to serve as Mayor, if that is the will of the Board of Supervisors. And I agree to do this on behalf of the people of San Francisco that I have served for over 30 years.

“Our collective challenge clear [sic]. We must balance the City’s budget without jeopardizing the social services our people depend on. Fundamentally, it is our responsibility to address the budget shortfall and set a path for reviving the local economy. If appointed, I pledge to spend my energies to balance the budget, create jobs, and make our city more financially secure. And, I will do my best to accomplish these goals without disrupting basic city services.”

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