Mayor Ed Lee has always talked about bringing the city together, about avoiding division and harsh conflict. And now that he’s won a four-year term, he’s must address a wide range of city problems that in the past haven’t responded well to consensus and compromise.
He’s going to have to do it in the wake of an election in which the centrist candidates all finished low in the pack — and the strongest progressive actually won more votes than anyone else on Election Day. And his victory comes at a time when there’s more concern over economic inequality than this country has seen since the 1930s — represented most visibly by the large and growing OccupySF encampment.
The mayor received huge financial support — in the hundreds of thousands of dollars — from some of the same people and businesses that the Occupy movement is targeting. Some of his campaign contributors have an conservative economic agenda that’s way to the right of the center of San Francisco politics. And some of his closest allies (and strongest supporters) are, to put it kindly, ethically challenged. So it’s not going to be easy for the mild-mannered mayor to lead the city — and if he wants to be successful, he needs to work with and not ignore the left.
There are a few critical steps that would show the people who opposed him that he’s not a captive of big-business interests and that he can be trusted:
1. Appoint a real progressive to Sheriff-elect Ross Mirkarimi’s District Five supervisorial seat. If Lee is really mayor who’s above petty politics, the chief criterion for the appointment shouldn’t be loyalty to Lee or Willie Brown or Rose Pak et al. District Five supported Avalos over Lee by a solid margin (in the Haight, Avalos got twice as many votes as Lee). The district has been represented by two people, Matt Gonzalez and Mirkarimi, both of whom were elected as Green Party members. It’s almost certainly the most left-leaning district in the city, and deserves a supervisor who represents that political perspective. Most of the qualified people who fit that description supported a candidate other than Ed Lee for mayor.
2. Don’t send the cops to roust OccupySF. The movement has support all over the city and is making an historic statement. It’s probably the most important political demonstration in San Francisco since the 1960s. A mayor who has any shred of a progressive soul should recognize that the most important issue facing this city and this nation is the wealth and income gap and help OccupySF make its voice even louder.
3. Present a plan for more than a “cuts only” budget. Yes, the sales tax measure lost, putting a hole in the city budget, and yes, it will be a year before a credible new revenue measure can go on the ballot. But now is the time to start bringing people together to look at what comprehensive tax reforms might be more appealing than a regressive sales tax.4. Don’t give away the city to the One Percent. A developer wants to build 160 condos for the very, very rich on the waterfront at 8 Washington. Mayoral ally Rose Pak supports the project. It’s about as blatant an example as possible of something that only benefits multimillionaires, and it will be one of the first major land-use decisions Lee will have to grapple with. Making his opposition clear would demonstrate his independence.
5. Support public power and community chocie aggregation. And appoint SPUC commissioners with visible, credible public power credentials. PG&E has maintained its illegal private power monopoly in San Francisco for decades by muscling mayors to appoint only PG&E-friendly commissioners who keep City Hall safe for PG&E.
6. Run an open administration. Both previous mayors, Gavin Newsom and Willie Brown, were openly hostile to the press, hostile to open government and and supremely arrogant. Lee has a different personal style and he ought to show that he respects the Sunshine Ordinance by directing his departments to abide by the rulings of the Sunshine Task Force. That’s what good government would look like.