Ed Lee Still Will Be Ed Lee, but Which Ed Lee

Debra J. Saunders

8/9/2011 12:01:00 AM - Debra J. Saunders

Beware any candidate who tells you he is not a politician -- after he refers to himself in the third person. That would be San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, who on occasion now refers to himself as "Ed Lee."

In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle's John Cote on Sunday, Ed Lee asserted, "I am not a politician." Ed Lee also told Cote: "Ed Lee is not changing. I've changed my mind, but I'm still the Ed Lee that (people) know."

The change to which Ed Lee referred is his decision to go back on a pledge made in January, when then-Mayor Gavin Newsom wanted Ed Lee (then the city administrator) to become interim mayor. Ed Lee agreed he would not run in the November election.

That pledge clinched his approval by the Board of Supervisors. That pledge helped Ed Lee win the early support of three then-supes -- David Chiu, Bevan Dufty and Michela Alioto-Pier -- who now are running for mayor. Call those three trusting souls what they must be calling themselves: suckers.

No worries, Ed Lee told the Chronicle, he's still Ed Lee. During a Chronicle editorial board meeting Monday, Ed Lee referred to himself as Ed Lee three times. He assured the board, "I'll do my best to still be Ed Lee." He said that sentence twice, more than 10 minutes apart but word for word.

When City Hall solons start referring to themselves in the third person -- using both first and last name -- you know the power has gone to their heads. For one thing, only a politician thinks people don't want the politician to change.

Now, it's OK that Ed Lee is a politician. He is the mayor. City Hall is about politics. Sometimes politicians -- and non-politicians -- have to take back something they said because it is the smart thing to do. Ess Eff voters can decide how important Ed Lee's reversal is. Maybe what he can do is more important than what he did not do.

Clearly, the public likes what it has seen in Ed Lee. A CBS 5-SurveyUSA poll shows him in first place with 35 percent of the vote. Alioto-Pier, Dufty and City Attorney Dennis Herrera draw support from 10 percent of voters apiece -- and they've been out campaigning.

While other candidates were out stumping, Ed Lee passed a tough budget, hammered out a pension compromise and worked to keep employers in the city. Most importantly, there hasn't been as much bickering in City Hall with Ed Lee ensconced in Room 200. Ed Lee believes his tenure has changed the tone in city politics.

Thing is, Ed Lee's decision not to run in November brought harmony because it ruled him out as a rival at the polls. It put Ed Lee above petty factions. In staying out of election politics, Ed Lee seemed selfless. He set a standard.

He told the Chronicle in January that he wanted to keep his pledge not to run. "One of the things I want to restore in the city is trust," he said. "So that I could look supervisors in the eye and say, 'If you say you're going to do something and I say I'm going to do something, you can trust that it'll get done.'"

And now that's gone, Ed Lee.