Ed Lee, San Francisco's Very Establishment Mayor

Debra J. Saunders
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Posted: Sep 27, 2015 12:01 AM
Ed Lee, San Francisco's Very Establishment Mayor

To the naked eye, San Francisco City Hall appears to be a hotbed of progressive experimentation. The Board of Supervisors has flirted with allowing 16-year-olds to vote in some city elections, opposed banning sex-selection abortions and unanimously approved the infamous "Due Process for All" ordinance, which directs local law enforcement not to honor federal immigration officials' detainer requests unless an inmate has a violent felony conviction in the past seven years.

Take a closer look, however, and you see The Special City has a conservative side.

Mayor Ed Lee is running for re-election, yet he faces no serious opposition. And you can't get more establishment than Ed Lee.

Lee became mayor in January 2011, when Mayor Gavin Newsom, newly elected as California's lieutenant governor, picked the city administrator to serve as interim mayor. Lee pledged not to run for the office in November, which cinched him approval from the Board of Supervisors. Then, at the urging of San Francisco's political machine, Lee decided he had to run for mayor. That November, under ranked-choice voting, Lee trounced a crowded field, which included three supervisors who had voted to approve hizzoner's interim stint as mayor.

If nothing else, Lee's path to winning Room 200 in 2011 shows that he knows how to get things done.

This go-round, Lee has so much juice that no elected official dare oppose him. How did that happen in a city government filled with ambitious progressives? "I think he gives the voters a sense of confidence that, even in a turbulent city like ours, he's a steady hand at the wheel," campaign spokesman P.J. Johnston replied in an email.

I'd credit the machine that backs the mayor, as well as the difficulty in challenging an incumbent mayor under the ranked-choice voting rules. But also, when Lee came to the San Francisco Chronicle for an editorial board meeting Wednesday, I saw that on the issues that matter most to this nonresident, rare is the City Hall pol with a better understanding.

Homelessness

This year, the city opened the Navigation Center, a 75-bed facility that provides support services and treatment to steer chronic homeless people off the street and into housing. Lee wants to open four or five more centers, as they represent "the best example of our city's compassion."

He's right. The Navigation Center promises to do more for service-resistant adults, but it only can help people who want to be helped. Lee at least recognizes that law enforcement has to play a role here -- and he's willing to tell people they cannot live on the streets. He knows how to straddle the issue. Advocates assert that if the city simply provided housing for those without it, there would be no homelessness. Lee plans to dedicate 500 housing units solely for the homeless -- even as he cautions, "I don't want to be the attractor for everybody who's got a housing crisis in their life."

Stench and the City

The first step to solve the city's foul smell is to recognize there is a problem. When I wrote about San Francisco's public urination and defecation problem in July, City Hall was defensive. On Wednesday, Lee said he had spent the past month walking around the city and talking to people. Early this year, the city initiated the Pit Stop program of mobile bathrooms. Lee has hired staff to monitor public toilets, so "there shouldn't be excuses for people to defecate in front of others. That should be not acceptable." City Hall has to do more to fight the forces that turned Ess Eff into a toilet. I think Lee knows that.

Sanctuary City

In 2013, the supes unanimously approved the "Due Process for All" ordinance, which shields all but violent felons from deportation. Lee denies that the policy shielded an undocumented immigrant with seven felony convictions (none of them violent) who has been charged with the murder of a young San Francisco woman. At least he said he is prepared to support a fix proposed by Supervisor Mark Farrell. And I should note that in 2013, Lee pushed to allow for the deportation of those convicted of violent felonies. In San Francisco, that's as good as it gets.