Updated 5:17 p.m., 8/1/11.
San Francisco Interim Mayor Ed Lee offered on Monday the strongest indication yet that he would run for mayor, but ruled out making an announcement this week.
Lee, who recently returned from several days of vacation in Washington state, told reporters in the Bayview Monday that he would make an announcement about his political future “within the next 12 days”—before the filing deadline for mayoral candidates is August 12.
But in a cryptic if telling exchange with reporters, Lee appeared to say that he was already mentally bracing himself for the rigors of a campaign. And he seemed fully aware that the political climate in the city has already soured, as his political foes begin to dissect the finances and political ties of his close supporters before he has even entered the race.
Last Thursday, five mayoral campaigns issued a joint statement calling for an investigation into Progress For All, the political action committee backed by Lee’s supporters that has waged a highly public campaign to draft him into the race.
“I have to be ready for all the politics that this city usually has, and hopefully it shouldn’t be as nasty as it has been in the past,” Lee said Monday. “I wouldn’t like that but that’s nothing to fear.”
When a reporter asked tongue-in-cheek if Lee meant that he would “bravely enter the race,” Lee backtracked slightly.
“I’m not anticipating anything at this point,” Lee said with a smile, then added: “Because once the decision has been made, you have to figure out how to do it.”
It was an awkward Monday morning for the mayor, who returned to town beset by questions surrounding the conduct of his supporters, including Rose Pak, the Chinatown consultant, who was described in a San Francisco Chronicle report last Friday as pressuring a company executive at a city contractor to help solicit signatures in support of a Lee candidacy.
At the morning press conference in the Bayview, where he spoke on behalf of community public safety efforts, Lee stood smiling next to Board President David Chiu, a mayoral candidate who has desperately sought to keep Lee out of the race.
As soon as the event finished, Lee and Chiu -- close political allies just six months ago -- spoke separately to a throng of reporters on the sidewalk, several yards apart.
Chiu continued to allege “unethical” and “possibly illegal” activity by Progress For All.
“San Franciscans want answers and deserve a full investigation of what happened,” Chiu said.
A few hours later, Victor Hwang, a city prosecutor and “Run, Ed, Run” campaign supporter, took aim at Chiu and other Lee critics.
“I have a message for the selfish pack of politicians sitting in City Hall, afraid,” said Victor Hwang, a city prosecutor. “While Ed Lee was serving the community you were all in elementary school. Who the hell are you to question the integrity of Ed Lee?”
Hwang made his remarks during a “Run, Ed, Run” campaign rally on the steps of City Hall Monday afternoon.
The controversial campaign had gathered 51,063 signatures from voters on unofficial petitions supporting Lee’s candidacy, its co-chairs revealed Monday. That figure far exceeded the number of signatures other declared mayoral candidates have been able to muster.
“You get a really good idea of where San Francisco voters stand on who should be the next mayor of San Francisco,” Shelly Bradford-Bell, a San Francisco businesswoman, told a bank of television cameras while about 100 Lee supporters of all ages and ethnicities -- and wearing bright yellow “Ed Head” jerseys and cartoonish bibs with Lee’s face -- packed the City Hall steps behind her. “We, the people, want Mayor Lee to know, no promise made to a few should outweigh the desires of the many.”
But an angry, defensive undercurrent marked the otherwise lighthearted event, as several speakers sought to discredit the recent press scrutiny of Progress for All’s finances.
Neither Pak nor Enrique Pearce, the political consultant in charge of Progress for All, nor Gordon Chin, a co-chair of the “Run Ed Run” campaign who heads a nonprofit housing organization in Chinatown, attended the event.
Rally organizers tried to stay on message and reminded the crowd and the cameras of Lee’s contributions during his long career as an activist and city employee.
“Mayor Lee is not a man who breaks promises,” Bradford-Bell said. Then she added, “He is not a man who walks away before the job is done.”