Ed Lee Lays Out Vision For Next Muni Chief

07/13/2011 03:37 pm ET | Updated Sep 12, 2011
  • Aaron Sankin Assistant San Francisco Editor, The Huffington Post

Correction: It turns out that the quote from Ed Lee was purely the invention of one of our favorite columnists, Melissa Griffin. Oops! She was indicating what she hoped the Mayor would have said were he being completely honest and more than a little bit snarky. We apologize for any confusion this may have caused.

-- --

When Mayor Ed Lee appeared before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday for his monthly "question time," he weighed in on what he wants to see in SFMTA's new director.

"We will require each applicant to have more than a Transportation Merit Badge from the last Boy Scout jamboree," said Lee in response to a question by Supervisor Carmen Chu.

Modeled off the long-standing British tradition where the Prime Minister answers queries lobbed by members of Parliament, San Francisco voters passed a law mandating the sitting mayor undergo a similar process in 2010. However Mayor Gavin Newsom, fearing all he would get out of the proceedings was a vicious grilling by his political opponents (coughChrisDalycough), never showed up. Lee is the city's first chief executive to actually submit to "question time" and live to tell the tale.

Even though Lee doesn't consider Muni one of his top priorities, as he implied to the Bay Citizen earlier this year, he was thrust directly into a leading role in determining the agency's trajectory when Nat Ford, SFMTA's Executive Director, resigned last month.

Ford lost a significant amount of goodwill, both in in City Hall and among the Muni-riding populace, when he very publically sought (and was just as publically rebuffed from) a position running Washington D.C.'s Airport Authority earlier this year. The former transit chief had his seemingly inevitable departure hastened by Lee, who was instrumental in pushing for Ford's ouster--and the nearly $400,000 golden parachute that necessarily came with it. While Lee gave the outward appearance of staying above the fray, he actively campaigned behind the scenes to ensure the agency was run by someone with, what he called, a "150 percent commitment" to the job.

"Also," added Lee with a smirking nod to Ford's infamous job seeking imbroglio, "we will have a new rule mandating that the executive director must take Muni to all job interviews while in office."

As mayor, the Lee doesn't have any direct control in the selection of the transit agency's next chief--that's left up to the SFMTA's governing board; however, he's been vocal in his support for Department of Public Works head Ed Reskin to fill the position.

"I would never want that job [myself], to be quite candid with you," the mayor recently admitted to SFGate's City Insider. "Of all the agencies...[SFMTA has] probably the toughest job in the city...You've got thousands of people every day depending on a perfectly working system."

No matter who takes over at SFMTA, they'll immediately have a whole list of critical issues on their plate: from a civil grand jury's recent ruling that the agency needs to completely overhaul its controversial central subway plan to the growing disquiet among taxi drivers to the agency's over $100 million budget deficit.