Edwin Lee, a soft-spoken career bureaucrat who has been San Francisco’s city administrator since 2005, is poised to complete a dramatic rise to the pinnacle of city politics after seven out of eleven members of the Board of Supervisors signaled their intent on Tuesday evening to name him the next mayor to succeed Gavin Newsom.
Supervisor John Avalos delayed the appointment at the last minute by moving to push the vote back until Friday in order, he said, to give supervisors an opportunity to vet and speak to Lee, who is currently on vacation in Hong Kong. The board will hold an emergency session on Friday, the day before an incoming set of supervisors is scheduled to be sworn in.
Even if Friday provides a resolution to the three-month-long succession drama, a formal conclusion will not likely match the hair-raising drama of Tuesday's meeting, an eight-hour marathon spiced with profanity, accusations of eleventh-hour betrayals and also unforgettable moments of hilarity.
Lee’s selection would represent a major coup for Mayor Gavin Newsom — who appointed Lee, a political moderate, to his post in 2005 — and a devastating blow to the board's far-left majority, which appeared genuinely stunned Tuesday evening after momentum shifted suddenly away from their favored candidate, the liberal Sheriff Michael Hennessey.
Hennessey appeared to be in pole position after he received five votes to Lee’s four during the first round of nominations. With no nominee receiving the required six votes, Supervisor Bevan Dufty — who declined to cast a vote for either Lee or Hennessey but said he supported both — moved to hold a 30-minute recess.
It was then that Dufty spoke with Newsom in his office suite on the other side of City Hall. When he emerged shortly before 9 p.m., the supervisor declared that he was ready to support Lee.
Progressive supervisors accused Dufty of treachery.
“He goes into Room 200, comes back and wants to vote for Ed Lee,” said Supervisor John Avalos. “We got played. Shame on us. Shame on me.”
Facing intense media speculation that he had brokered a deal with Newsom during the recess, Dufty defended his move, arguing that Ed Lee had always been his first-choice candidate.
“I had a conversation with the mayor to ask some questions about Ed,” said Dufty after the meeting. He rejected the questions about whether he had struck a deal with Newsom, saying: “I welcome the press looking at it.”
After Dufty’s announcement, the session degenerated swiftly into ugly and extraordinary scenes, with an outraged and outmaneuvered Supervisor Chris Daly openly insulting Dufty, Board President Chiu and moderate supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier while they argued on Lee’s behalf.
“We’re about to witness the biggest fumble in the history of San Francisco progressive politics,” Daly said.
He then turned his ire to Chiu, whom he accused of obstructing his agenda, and delivered what became an instant classic in the annals of San Francisco history.
“I will haunt you,” he told Chiu, as the board president looked back, speechless. “After this vote I will politically haunt you. It’s on, like Donkey Kong.”
Daly and Alioto-Pier then exchanged insults, with Daly telling Alioto-Pier that “you represent the rich” multiple times while Alioto-Pier repeatedly responded with: “You know nothing.”
As Daly continued to rant, Alioto-Pier and Chiu threatened to remove him from the chamber by calling the sheriff — the man whom, ironically, Daly was trying to install as mayor.
“Jesus fucking Christ, call the sheriff,” Daly shouted at Alioto-Pier as he stormed into the middle of the chamber, pointing his finger at Hennessey, who sat awkwardly in the first row of the audience. “He’s right there. Call him. There he is.”
The chamber burst into nervous laughter.