Post image for Ed Lee: Freight Train or Train Wreck?

Ed Lee: Freight Train or Train Wreck?

by Larry Bush on 08/11/2011

in Uncategorized

(Photo courtesy of Luke Thomas/Fog City Journal)

Much is being made of the fact that Ed Lee promised that he would only serve as an Interim Mayor, filling out the remaining months in Gavin Newsom’s term of office.

True, but that’s not what was important about the selection of Ed Lee by Newsom and a duo of power brokers, former Mayor Willie Brown and City Hall fixer Rose Pak.

Lee was, in important ways, the Default Candidate — the option defaulted to him because the City Hall powers entrenched after eight years of Willie Brown and seven of Newsom didn’t want to take a chance on an interim mayor who would fail to heed their needs.

Business wanted to ensure that the looming budget deficit would not result in new taxes on them (fee increased on services for citizens were OK). Unions wanted to make sure that any pension deal put them in charge of the menu of options (including ensuring that Adachi would not be allowed in the room). And, as always, there were appointments coming up and more deals to be finished, from Parkmerced to Treasure Island.

The consternation that the Board might select someone who didn’t understand the rules of Go Along to Get Along reverberated inside the City Hall dome. There was talk that Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, the former supervisor, might be willing to accept the interim appointment. There was consideration being given to former mayor Art Agnos. And there were some who liked the idea of sheriff Mike Hennessey who was closing out a long career in city government.

There is no question that Newsom and the allies who put him into office were insisting on controlling the options for the Board. First, Newsom delayed being sworn in as Lieutenant Governor in order to orchestrate a successor. There was hemming and hawing over whether the delay in taking the oath meant he actually hadn’t take up his newly elected position, but ultimately he was allowed to step to the curb to try to direct the traffic into the mayor’s office.

Insisting that the appointment be only for an interim period was a selling point, but wasn’t the real point. The real point was to have someone who would perpetuate the influence that had control of City Hall.

As CitiReport reviewed those days in a post last January, the weekend before the Board vote it appeared that former mayor Art Agnos had five votes and was close to a sixth vote. Things then went into high gear in the Brown/Newsom camp to stop Agnos and find a default candidate who could overcome the sixth vote hurdle.

First, Newsom signaled that he would fine Hennessey an acceptable interim mayor, throwing some of the progressive supervisors off track in the hopes that they could find in Hennessey someone they and Newsom could both find acceptable. This led to a serious progressive boomlet for Hennessey because Dufty indicated publically he would nominate the Sheriff and give the progressives their certain 6th vote. Then the call came in the middle of the vote from the mayor’s office. Dufty asked for a quick recess so he could go to Room 200 and when he returned, he was an Ed Lee vote even though the sheriff was sitting in the front row waiting for Dufty to nominate him. The fact is that Newsom’s signal in favor of Hennessey was an intentional misdirection to throw progressives off Agnos.

Instead they needed someone whose loyalty was not only unquestioned, but who had been so closely involved in their operations that he would have to stay on their leash. Someone who helped them award dubious contracts, someone willing to defy ethics rules to ensure their candidates retained positions of power. Someone who would not assert himself because he never had.

That person, plucked from his vacation in China, having never met with the Board, but well known for his compliant approach to whatever job he was given, was Ed Lee.

Interim: Yes; Mayor: Not So Much

How have things worked out since then?

First, for the past seven months, all of Willie Brown’s, Rose Pak’s and Newsom’s choices for commission seats have been advanced by Lee. He moved forward with the appointment of Richard Johns to the Historic Preservation Commission, despite dubious credentials for that appointment that now have led to the courthouse door. Johns is the husband of Eleanor Johns, who serves as the executive director of the Willie L. Brown, Jr. Leadership Institute. Doreen Ho, a protege of Rose Pak, was named to the Port Commission. So was Leslie Katz, a former supervisor once appointed to the Board by Willie Brown. Brown’s and Newsom’s former budget director and chief of staff Steve Kawa held onto the chief of staff job. The list is long.

Contracts speed through with none of Ed Lee’s fingerprints that he had even handled the documents. When it came to pension reform, Lee even declined to meet with the city’s largest union over their concerns but instead foisted them off onto meetings with Kawa. Adachi wasn’t allowed into the room. Neither were retirees concerned about the addition of provisions dealing with health care coverage. The usual suspects — police and fire — cut side deals in their contracts. POA President Gary Delagnes made the appointment of Greg Suhr as police chief the cost of the POA involvement in any pension reforms. Lee obligingly appointed Suhr as police chief.

Contracts for Treasure Island and Parkmerced were pencilled by the Office of Workforce and Economic Development staffed by former Brown and Newsom workers.

By mid-September, there likely will be a full accounting offered that takes a deeper look at how Ed Lee has been Interim but not so much mayor over the past months. Nor will there be a shortage of new evidence. By the end of the month, Lee will announce the reappointment of Eleanor Johns, Willie Brown’s Institute’s Chief of Staff, to the Airport Commission where hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts are awarded.

So the issue becomes whether Ed Lee’s appointment and now candidacy for a full four-year term is a freight train that can’t be stopped, or whether it is the train wreck of hopes for a Mayor-for-Life position for Willie Brown acting through yet another surrogate, delivering for clients who are not reported to the public.

To ascertain the future, it will benefit us to pause for a moment to revisit the past of Ed Lee’s appointment.

Herewith is the post from CitiReport last January, exactly as it appeared then:

Mayor Ammiano: Really? Seriously?

Never was gonna happen. Not in a million years. Not in ten million years.

Two reasons: Willie Brown and Gavin Newsom.

Oh, and you can throw in Bevan Dufty and David Chiu for good measure, but they were just bit players in the Brown-Newsom The Empire Strikes Back Year 14.

So far, the armchair armies remain dazzled by the pretty facades erected to hide the real action.

Identity politics got Ed Lee elected, right? How ennobling. How wrong.

A liberal outlook defeated Agnos as too liberal, but Ammiano would have easily won. Say, what? How does that work? Because Ammiano is notably less liberal than Agnos, or Peskin, or Henessey? In what universe?

You can just see Newsom and Brown twirling their mustaches, saying, “Who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?”

OK, so you need to see the play with all the numbers spelled out.  Let’s do it.

The  conventional political wisdom assumed that Ammiano would have had six votes “easily” because either Dufty or Chiu would have come on board. Dufty because of, wait for it, Identity Politics. Chiu because he would be cornered into supporting his colleagues on the Board.

Let’s dispense with Dufty first, because he is unquestionably being operated by remote control.

When asked early on whether he would support Ammiano, Dufty took a duck. Claimed it was a moot question since Ammiano says he wasn’t interested. So much for even a respectful tip of the hat in Ammiano’s direction. Nope, just pushed Ammiano to the curb. He did the same thing earlier with the annual Castro Halloween celebration, helping shut down an event that was a hallmark of the LGBT community for at least three decades.

Who did Dufty support?

Everyone knows the answer to that: Dufty was all-out for Sheriff Mike Hennessey.

Mike, by the way, was just one more card in the initial Brown-Newsom stacked deck wherein Newsom himself had signaled that Hennessey was acceptable to him as an Interim Mayor.

See, Hennessey was the fallback to avoid a Mayor Agnos, who the Newsom team had concluded had reached six votes by Sunday. And Agnos was not wearing their jersey. In fact, he wasn’t even in the stands for them. Nope, he represented a game change they couldn’t accept because it would jeopardize everything from key commission appointments like Planning to policies like community policing to public power to local hire laws to sanctuary city.

Truth is, with the Board meeting literally hours away, Dufty called Hennessey’s office to ask for some crib notes to use in nominating Hennessey. That’s a pretty good indicator for how committed Dufty was for Hennessey – was gonna nominate Hennessey using the good sheriff’s own cue cards. Hennessey and his supporters must have thought: “Lock it down, it’s a done deal.”

Dufty leaves the first chinwag with Newsom in the morning on phone remote still saying he likes Hennessey the best. That lets Dufty set up some of the progressives to think maybe they can go to a safer way to get six votes if they go along with Dufty and switch to Hennessey.

Some progressive supervisors like John Avalos could then see a strong compromise with Hennessey having the most votes….after all  Agnos had been out of office for 20 years and was not the universal choice of progressives.   Mike was.

Except…except…Dufty only faked he had a vote. So for the first part of the Tuesday Board meeting, Dufty plays a low-rent Hamlet who couldn’t remember his lines, claiming he wanted to give the other supervisors a chance to reach six votes for an Interim Mayor. But nevertheless saying to his colleagues he would like Hennessey to be the Interim Mayor.

In the middle of  the official meeting and debate of the Board of Supervisors, Dufty got a text instructing him to call for a recess and come behind closed doors in the mayor’s office.  Why the recess, Dufty is asked. “Because I want one,” he replies, unable to think on his feet with a plausible answer. When he emerged from the mayor’s office, the message was: “Drop Hennessey and vote for Ed Lee.” Dufty then plunged the knife into Hennessey’s back,.

Ed Lee ? Ed Lee?  What the in the world?  Ed Lee was in China on vacation having taken himself out of consideration weeks before.  Half the Board had never talked to him during the entire process.

Why Ed Lee? Because it was the perfect cover to pull over David Chiu, who appeared as late as Sunday to be willing to consider an Agnos vote.

Chiu had a perfect track record – not as a progressive, but as a supervisor who would walk across the hall and end up accepting Newsom-Brown’s realpolitik.

This is a guy who takes the world as it is, and then makes the most of it for himself. That should have been known from Day One, given his founding role and client list with Grassroots Inc (see Astroturf in Wikipedia).  He explains it all as Getting Things Done contrasted with Having Real Values (not his term).

Voting for Lee was the perfect cover for Chiu, who could claim he was acting on community solidarity while suiting up for the other team. Rose Pak quickly announces that she will put her money down on Chiu for Mayor in November

Lee, of course, was not actually the preferred stand-in for the Brown Newsom Empire Strikes Back axis. That would be Willie Brown himself. Rose Pak, the City Hall power broker who populates City Hall with her handpicked choices for seats from Police to Planning, Permit Appeals to the Port, had made it clear she wanted Willie Brown as the Interim Mayor. Who better than the man behind the curtain to step out from the curtain?

Brown, while deprecating Pak’s proposal saying “You can’t go back,” still found time to make a few phone calls to some board members to check the pulse as well as instruct others to do the same. He would have had better luck checking for pulses in the city morgue.  Yep,  he really couldn’t go back.

Anyway, Brown already had secured a berth at the Chronicle as a columnist free to pump for clients, cronies and his own celebrity, reviving an anything-goes standard for newspapers that many thought ended with the actual death of William Randolph Hearst.  Its current motto appears to have been taken word for word from National Lampoon: “Power To The Correct People.”

In fact, the Chronicle managed to allow into print an odious unsourced rumor that the problem with Hennessey was that he was brokering deals in exchange for votes as Interim Mayor – who to remove from the mayor’s staff, who to name to the vacancy that would be created at the Sheriff’s office. Of course, the Chronicle columnist didn’t check out the rumors – why let facts get in the way of a good smear, particularly one that, if true, would be a felony and carry jail time since exchanging votes for favors, whether for oneself or others, is a crime. One surmises that it was not a rumor spread by the progressive board members, and it certainly foreshadows what one can expect in “civility” from this refashioned board.

Ultimately, Ed Lee may prove to be more than the Brown-Newsom axis anticipate. Full disclosure: I worked with Ed Lee when I was an aide to then-mayor Art Agnos and Lee was appointed to Agnos’ staff as the City’s first Whistleblower. He impressed all with his integrity and smarts.  I continued to work with him afterwards on such issues as monitoring campaign contributions from those hoping for a city contract, and Lee as City Purchaser briefed the Ethics Commission on strategies to uncover connections.

Looking at the November mayoral hopefuls, it’s possible to imagine a scenario where Lee is the progressive choice for a full term, having displayed the values that earned him respect long ago in a lower profile city job.

But for now,  the Brown-Newsom axis, believing they had a front man ready to go,  called in the crew that Willie Brown once famously called his “mistresses” – supervisors who owed their existence to them. Carmen Chu, former Newsom staffer appointed by Newsom. Sean Elsbernd, appointed by Newsom.  Michela Alioto-Pier, appointed by Newsom.  Dufty, former Brown staff aide. Sophie Maxwell, reportedly hoping for an appointment at Redevelopment or elsewhere courtesy of Brown-Newsom. David Chiu, seeking Rose Pak’s support for a mayoral bid. All of the Newsom-Brown team would continue to run the city for the 14th year of the Brown-Newsom Empire.

What took place the first week of January, 2011 was the San Francisco rewrite of the musical Chicago:

“Give ‘em the old double whammy

“Daze and dizzy ‘em

“Back since the days of old Methuselah

“Everyone loves the big bambooz-a-ler

“Give ‘em the old three ring circus

“Stun and stagger ‘em

“When you’re in trouble, go into your dance

“Though you are stiffer than a girder

“They’ll let you get away with murder.”

Or, if not murder, they’ll let you get away with City Hall.

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