THE BLOG
06/10/2011 02:28 pm ET Updated Aug 10, 2011

Ed Lee: How to Be a (Nearly) Perfect Politician Without Really Trying

How many of you know who Ed Lee is? Google spits out Ed Lee the artist, Ed Lee the novelist, and Ed Lee, a UC Berkeley professor.

The Ed Lee I'm talking about is the mayor of San Francisco -- and he is worth every word. In many people's opinion, Lee has proved himself the best mayor to run the city by the bay in decades, perhaps since Dianne Feinstein.

This is not a political endorsement; this is for the record. In an age when House representatives are exposing themselves and a former senator is indicted on conspiracy and illegal campaign contributions related to sex, why can't these politicians keep it zipped up? Don't they know when one lies about it, it only grows longer. One's nose, that is.

In this age of mistrust, Ed Lee exemplifies what all of us should demand from our elected officials. Only he does it without us even asking.

Lee was serving his second five-year term as San Francisco's city administrator when supporters. including Chinatown heavyweight Rose Pak and former mayor Willie Brown, convinced him to step up to the front office.

Edwin M. Lee became the city's 43rd mayor in January when then-mayor Gavin Newsom became California's lieutenant governor. While often referred to as "interim" mayor, Lee excels as a born leader and demonstrates he is not your usual politician. His entourage is small. You can go up and talk to him without a security detail erecting a wall. He is popular across genders, races, and socioeconomic lines. Lee is intelligent.

In six short months, Lee has worked to:
  • provide alternatives to Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal to eliminate redevelopment agencies
  • bring new technology businesses to the South of Market area, including keeping Twitter in town
  • engineer a local hire implementation plan
  • appoint a new police chief

Most notably, in six months, no scandals.

On June 1, Lee presented his $6.83 billion budget proposal to the Board of Supervisors to close the city's $306 million dollar deficit and he did it with the least amount of opposition in recent memory. Lee had no choice but to cut department budgets, including public health and safety, but he spared police officers and firefighters from layoffs. Of course, not everybody's happy but an overall consensus amongst supervisors to adopt some version of Lee's budget by the June 30 deadline -- and avoid the budget impasses we've seen all too often in Sacramento -- deserves applause.

The funny thing is that before the new fiscal year is finished, Lee may be out of office -- at his own request.

From day one, Lee has said he will not run for mayor in November despite support from San Francisco's most influential and ordinary citizens.

Ed Lee is an anomaly. A likable one.

Lee's graying hair, thick mustache, and generic spectacles appear in stark contrast to Newsom's slickly gelled hairdo and sleek Armani suits. (Newsom received the Best Dressed Mayor award from Esquire magazine in 2004.) And that's why Ed fits in with our idea of what a politician should be. He's an everyman.

But he does dress up now and then. In his first few weeks in office, he surprised everyone when he donned a tuxedo and attended a state dinner for China President Hu Jintao in Washington D.C. with the likes of Barbra Streisand, Jackie Chan, and Bill Clinton.

When Lee is in City Hall's Room 200, he is all business and there to work for the people. Most politicians campaign on that promise but too often, they don't deliver.

It should also be noted that Lee is San Francisco's first Chinese-American mayor in a county that, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, is one-third Asian American.

Forget apple pie. When it comes to Ed Lee, "good fortune" is one stereotype worth repeating. There is no perfect politician, however, for all the Weiners, Edwards, DeLays, Foleys and Spitzers who disrespected and embarrassed their sworn offices, Lee shines for his smarts and simplicity -- and importantly, his integrity.

Lee says he's not a candidate, but with his record, he could easily win re-election. That's not something even President Obama can say. And already, supporters are collecting money and more means of persuasion to convince Lee, the "non-candidate," to put his name on the ballot. They only have until August 12.

Seasoned politicians should take heed. Ed Lee is an example of what serving the people is all about.