Of all the different strata of government, local is the strangest beast. Perspicacity is often less important that the perspiration of a dogged candidate. To use a baseball metaphor, municipal politics is the Single A league. There's a lot of raw talent, more than a lot of duds, a fair share of duds who think they have raw talent, and a few rare gems ready for the call-up to the Show. Unlike baseball, however, where the failure to hit the curve is a defining flaw, a lot of local pols can often coast while consistently booting the equivalent of the double-play grounder or whiffing on the suicide squeeze, especially if they're elected by just a few thousand votes.
Which is why, in a time of unprecedented budget turmoil at the state and federal level, I threw my political playbook into the shredder and now back a movement to draft Ed Lee, the former City Administrator-now-Mayor, for a full-term. It's more than knowing Ed for over 20 years, as I have. And it's more than knowing that Ed was one of the good guys in City Hall, someone who did his job, kept his head down, and made things happen because that was not only his job, but his calling as well.
Naturally, the vast majority of people all working diligently to enforce Lee's "promise" not to run are those people whose livelihoods will be sent swirling down the porcelain bowl if he does toss his hat into the ring. Consultants, mailhouses, political clubs who use campaigns as a means of legal extortion, anyone whose finger is dipped in the multi-million-dollar pie that is a mayoral campaign, and wanna-be hacks and former flacks green with envy, see the entrance of Lee into the race like Secretariat in the second claimer's race at Golden Gate Fields. If he's in, the conventional wisdom says, he wins.
In fact, a creative new argument has surfaced that it is "unfair" for Ed to let the drama surround him -- that he should either fish or cut bait, as it were, now, rather than, say, days before the filing deadline in early August. That candidates who can't pull themselves out of the pack are somehow burdened by the willingness of the public to wait for Ed to make up his mind. Even the SF Chronicle has joined this rather decrepit bandwagon. I suppose that the idea of the best person for the job has just bypassed their sensibilities?
Fairness, of course, is a strange and foreign concept in politics. Indeed, in politics, fairness is an oxymoron. Is a write-in campaign inherently unfair? Is someone's career being propelled by his or someone else's millions unfair? Politics is a full contact sport. And as for Ed's promise -- should he be bound by a promise extracted by politicians, many of whom had designs on running and didn't want the competition? Should he be bound by a promise extracted by politicians who, if they were standing in Ed's shoes, would drop it faster than you could shout "contribution?"
If Ed Lee runs by simply being mayor -- by doing his job, going out to public events, speaking to potential voters, but not campaigning per se -- he will win. If the public doesn't perceive him as kowtowing to the multitude of special interests, many of whom have overlapping membership and donors, he will win. If Ed Lee continues to do the job that so many San Franciscans applaud him for, he will win. And he should win. Every poll shows that San Franciscans are not just pleased, but downright proud of the job he has done.
The last argument being thrown at Lee is that he should be damned by the company he keeps -- that people like Rose Pak and former Mayor Willie Brown (and even myself) are reason enough to disqualify him from office. If we took that argument seriously, pretty much everyone -- make that everyone -- in the race has someone or some groups that embarrass us with their enthusiasm, or tar us with their misdeeds. The right-wing tried that same tactic by throwing ACORN and Rev. Wright at then-candidate Obama. Look how well that worked.
In the end, the public cares about performance. And Ed Lee has performed at the highest level since assuming office. No one can possibly argue with the fact that the decisions on a new police chief, on the budget, on the America's Cup and so many others have been sensible, balanced, and done with the utmost of civility and grace. He has brought back the virtue of working for the average San Franciscan back to the second floor of City Hall.
San Francisco deserves someone who has devoted his life to service of the City. San Francisco deserves a mayor like Ed Lee.
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