By Robin Hindery
The Associated Press
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — City supervisors on Friday overwhelmingly backed City Administrator Edwin Lee to be the interim mayor, a move that could lead to San Francisco’s first Asian American leader.
During its final meeting, the outgoing Board of Supervisors voted 10 to 1 to name Lee to the post being vacated by Gavin Newsom, the state’s newly-elected lieutenant governor.
The vote was nonbinding, however, because Newsom has not yet left office. The pick must be confirmed by the new board, which has four incoming members scheduled to take office this weekend.
But even without the newcomers’ support, the board still has the six votes needed to confirm Lee if the carry-over members stay consistent.
“It’s crystal clear now that Ed Lee will become mayor,” Newsom said Friday. “Unless people start flipping, the core six [votes] will be here.”
If confirmed, the 58-year-old Lee would become the first Chinese American to lead the city, which is more than one-third Asian.
“The Chinese community in San Francisco has never had this opportunity before,” said Supervisor John Avalos. “It’s very, very meaningful.”
Newsom called Friday’s decision an “extraordinary moment.” The results of the vote elicited a loud applause from the audience, which included many Asian Americans. But one person who wasn’t there to celebrate was Lee himself, who has been vacationing overseas.
His first public comments about the prospect of becoming mayor came last Thursday when he released a statement through the Chinatown Community Development Center. He states that he would accept the interim position if asked.
“I love this city and will agree to serve as mayor, if that is the will of the Board of Supervisors,” he said. “And I agree to do this on behalf of the people of San Francisco that I have served for over 30 years.”
Deputy City Administrator Ann Brown called his decision to steer clear of the negotiating process “classic, understated Ed Lee.”
“My guess, knowing him, is he’s doing it out of a sense of what he thinks will be best for the city during this period of transition,” Brown said of Lee’s willingness to take on a role he never actively sought.
Newsom described Lee as “the only candidate that did not ask for the position,” and called his selection a “recruitment.”
If confirmed by the new board, Lee would join another history-making Asian American across the Bay, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, who on Jan. 3 became the first Asian American woman to take the helm of a major U.S. city.
Quan said she has known Lee for decades, having worked with him to bring Asian American Studies to the University of California, Berkeley in the 1960s.
“I think very highly of him,” she said in an e-mail last Friday. “I believe he has what it takes to be a good interim mayor.”
One of those skills is an ability to build consensus and bridge ideological divides, said Brown, who has worked with him for nearly five years. As mayor, Lee would be in charge of more than 50 departments and 26,000 employees.
“He’s really, really good at bringing people together and defusing situations, so that people come away feeling like they were heard,” Brown said.
In his statement, Lee said he would focus his attention on balancing the budget without jeopardizing vital social services. The city faces a $379 million deficit.
Lee, who has a law background, began his public service career in 1989, when former Mayor Art Agnos named him investigator for the city’s first whistleblower ordinance. He has since worked under four mayors, heading the Human Rights Commission and the Department of Public Works and overseeing purchasing for the city.
He has served as city administrator since 2005. ♦