lee.debate.jpgDuring his transition from mild-mannered bureaucrat to the first Asian-American mayor of a major American city, Ed Lee was fond of telling city voters that he was not a politician, a mantra he repeated as late as August. Turns out Lee hasn’t been much of a city voter, either.

The city’s interim executive and overwhelming favorite in the November 8 election lived in the East Bay for a period of time, and did not participate in a mayoral election until 1999, records at the Department of Elections show.

Edwin M. Lee first voted in a San Francisco election in June 1997, according to voter registration records (these records are not available in electronic form, but can be viewed in person at City Hall). The first time the mayor cast a ballot in a mayoral race was during Willie Brown’s 1999 reelection campaign, when Lee voted in both the November general and the December runoff elections, according to records.

As an impoverished lawyer working for the Asian Law Caucus, Lee needed to find a cheap place for his family to live, according to campaign spokesman Tony Winnicker.

As city purchaser and director of the Human Rights Commission, “he couldn’t afford to live in The City then,” Winnicker said. “Previously, he voted in Oakland, and has been a regular voter in SF since becoming a permanent resident.”

It’s not exactly certain when Lee moved to San Francisco, where both of his children “attended public schools,” according to Lee’s biography on his campaign Web site.

A report in the Chronicle published in February says the Lees moved to San Francisco in 1995. Winnicker gave a date of 1997, but said he’d check in with Lee to verify.

Not participating in the democratic process until 1997 means that Lee, an professed San Francisco Giants addict, missed out on supporting the 1996 ballot measure that kept the Giants from moving to Florida and put them in their bayfront home at AT&T Park, considered by many the finest arena for baseball in America.

Lee has not missed an election since 1997, voting in 31 elections since then. Former mayor Willie Brown, for his part, has missed six primary elections since 1996, according to voting records.

Living in the East Bay does mean that Lee, the future head of the Department of Public Works, missed votes on bonds to rebuild streets and sewers, votes that allowed the city to expand Moscone Center, to sell bonds to rebuild the earthquake-damaged Beaux Arts City Hall, and to create the Ethics Commission.

Though perhaps to his credit, he also missed the 1996 votes that increased city pension benefits, a key election issue in 2011, and the 1994 vote that allowed city workers to engage in collective bargaining.

“It is what it is — you can only go off of what the city records say, right?” said activist David Ho, who is working on an independent expenditure committee dedicated to turn out Chinese voters for Lee, and is closely associated with the Chinese Chamber of Commerce’s Rose Pak.

Other candidates have in the past contested the city’s voting records. For example, the city has no record of City Attorney Dennis Herrera voting in the 1992 election, when the mayoral candidate was a delegate for Bill Clinton, the Examiner reported.

There’s also no record of former mayor Willie Brown, who first held elected office in San Francisco in the 1960s, voting before 1992; however, records for elections held since then are considered accurate, Department of Elections staffers said Tuesday.

Want more news, sent to your inbox every day? Then how about subscribing to our email newsletter? Here’s why we think you should. Come on, give it a try.

Please make sure your comment adheres to our comment policy. If it doesn't, it may be deleted. Repeat violations may cause us to revoke your commenting privileges. No one wants that!