07/27/2011 02:44 pm ET | Updated Sep 26, 2011

Ed Lee's Possible Mayoral Run Divides San Francisco

Should Ed Lee run for reelection?

Right now, that's the single most loaded question in all of San Francisco politics.

When Lee was selected by the Board of Supervisors as the replacement for the departing Gavin Newsom, the incoming mayor promised he'd simply be a caretaker and only hold the job for a year. Allegedly, Lee didn't even want the position in the first place--he was perfectly happy as City Administrator.

For the most part, Lee has remained adamant about only being a temporary resident of Room 200; however, he's given recent indications of mulling a jump into the race. After signing the city's budget earlier this week, Lee admitted he's reconsidering his prior declaration not to run.

What's changed?

Largely, it seems the concerted effort by a bevvy of public leaders to push Lee into the fray is starting to have its desired effect.

The Chronicle's Matier & Ross report that California Senator and former-San Francisco Mayor Diane Feinstein has been pushing hard for Lee to enter the fray:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein is calling on Mayor Ed Lee to run for a full four-year term, saying she believes "San Francisco needs his steady leadership and unifying presence in City Hall."

In a statement released to us late Tuesday, Feinstein said that despite Lee's earlier pledge not to run, "his responsibility is to the people of San Francisco, and the voters alone should determine whether this talented public servant should continue on the job."

Influential Chronicle columnist C.W. Nevius has also banging the pro-Lee drumbeat lately, writing, "[Lee's] qualified, he's popular and, most important, he's already doing the job well."

Another issue is whether Lee would even be able to get his old job back. The Chronicle's City Insider reports:

The city's Ethics Commission and the board have both approved a waiver to rules barring elected officials from returning to full-time city employment within one year of leaving office. Still, whoever is elected mayor would have to reappoint Lee, and the appointment would have to be confirmed by the board.

That last part doesn't seem like much of a problem -- it's the same board that unanimously appointed Lee as mayor, and his tenure has been marked by collaboration.

The linchpin is the next mayor.

Lee would be reappointed as City Administrator at the discretion of the next mayor. While all the major candidates affirmed they would give Lee his old job back once elected, if Lee chose to run, but was unsuccessful, its unlikely whoever bested him would continue to show him the same goodwill.

A poll released by Board of Supervisors President David Chiu's campaign in June (from which Lee was conspicuously absent) showed State Senator Leland Yee on top with Chiu and City Attorney Dennis Herrera right on his heels.

Yee's current frontrunner position is likely a factor in some of the energy being put into drafting Lee to for a full term. Chinatown activist Rose Pak, who was instrumental in Lee selection, actively despises Yee. As Pak told SF Weekly:

Leland Yee is one of the most morally corrupt politicians I've ever encountered in 40 years. From the first day he stepped in as the school board member, lying to get his children to the preferred assigned school using a phony address, selling his services to Chinese-American parents who would cut an arm or leg to get their kid to the right schools ... he did all of that.

When SF Weekly approached Yee's campaign for a response to these allegations, campaign manager Jim Stearns said they were, "without any basis in fact."

In the unpredictable world of ranked choice voting, Lee jumping into the race may be the only surefire to block a Yee victory. In a poll conducted by CBS 5 earlier this year, Lee easily beat every other candidate in the race.

In recent weeks, teams of Lee boosters have been blanketing San Francisco collecting signatures to hopefully get the interim mayor on the ballot. Some over-eager volunteers even stopped by John Avalos's campaign office and attempted to hang "Run Ed Run" signs. Their efforts were unsurprisingly rebuffed.

Some, like former Supervisor Chris Daly, think Lee's reluctance to run is feigned and the entire campaign has been orchestrated from before he was even selected. “Actually, he’s been running the whole time," wrote Daly. "How stupid do the Lee people think we are?”

Daly's line of thinking could prove Lee's Achilles heel if he does enter the race. A video pushed by Stearns preemptively hammers the mayor on reneging on his promise not to run. If Lee becomes a candidate, attacks on his character for going back on his word would likely prove a daily occurrence.

The deadline for Lee to officially enter the race is August 12th.