Northside SF
Cover Story
Five questions with Mayor Ed Lee
Two months ago Ed Lee was arguably the best-liked guy at City Hall, but the love fest ended when he declared his candidacy for mayor just under the deadline in August. Lee, San Francisco’s city administrator, was appointed by the Board of Supervisors to serve as interim mayor when Gavin Newsom moved to Sacramento, but he made it clear from the start that he wanted his old job back and had no intention of seeking a full term – something that two of the supervisors now running for mayor, board president David Chiu and John Avalos, see as dishonest. In fact all of Lee’s opponents in the mayoral race enjoy pointing out that Lee went back on his word. (Of course if we chose not to elect politicians who were dishonest and went back on their word, we would have no one left to run our city, state and national governments.)

Lee makes no apologies for changing his mind. He credits two events – the realization that the city had run smoothly and without rancor during his seven-month tenure, and a chance meeting at the White House with California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein – as the catalyst for jumping into the already crowded field. Feinstein knows a thing or two about Lee’s situation: in 1978 she was appointed to serve the remainder of Mayor George Moscone’s term when he was assassinated, then was elected to serve two terms.

On a foggy September morning, San Francisco’s first Asian American mayor started his day early with several meetings before attending a luncheon for the Geary Boulevard Merchants Association and then hopping in his hybrid Chevy Volt to attend the 30th anniversary celebration of the Heart of the City Farmers’ Market. Before he zipped off to the rest of what promised to be a long day, the mayor took time out to chat with Northside San Francisco about a few of the most important issues facing San Francisco residents.

The pension reform measure you are backing is based on a more than 7 percent annual return – is that realistic in this market?

I think it’s reasonable. Right now it’s 21 percent, that’s a minimum average of about 15 percent, which is perhaps the best in the state, maybe in the country.

How do you feel about the privatization of our parks – such as the huge Astro Turf Fisher heir-sponsored soccer field?

We’re in dire need of private investment and we’re actually making the parks more accessible. Improvements need to be made – I see it as allowing for those improvements.

It’s great to help tech giants like Twitter that are flush with venture capital, but what are you going to do to help San Francisco’s small businesses, which are the real backbone of this city?

I’ve added money to the Small Business Help Desk, which has over 2,000 requests for help. We recently launched the Community Corridors Pre-Apprenticeship Program, which will employ 35 local residents and preserve cleaning services along the busiest commercial corridors. We also announced continued funding for the S.F. Shines Storefront Improvement Grant Program to assist small businesses in improving storefront conditions. We have $11.5 million in funds for commercial projects that cater to the arts in the Central Market area, and we relaunched the Art in Storefronts program, which fills vacant storefronts with art installations. About every three weeks we have an announcement of success in the Central Corridor, and it all adds more business, more foot traffic.

How are we going to fix Muni?

Muni has good leadership now with the new chief, Ed Reiskin. He asked me to join him on his first day of work. I talked to the drivers and that’s how I plan to do things: work with them, not talk from the top. I worked with the people who cleaned the fountain here [United Nations Plaza] before this market started. It was a mess – dirty, nobody cared, drugs. Now I see guys like Mike [see sidebar] – he used to be part of the problem; now he works here and his life has changed because of this market. When I see the lives that have changed, that’s what matters.

Why should San Francisco elect you as mayor over the other candidates?

I have 22 years of experience under four mayors – I know how to run this city, and I want to run it in the least political way. We found a great police chief. We balanced the budget to a standing ovation at the Board of Supervisors. We kept Twitter here. And we did all of this without political rancoring. As city administrator, I worked toward government efficiency and reform to reduce size and cost, and I oversaw implementation of the first ever ten-year capital plan to guide our priorities and infrastructure investment so that now we have fiscal discipline. We’ve got to keep bringing people together and getting things done without the politics getting in the way. Like every San Franciscan, I just want a city that works.

March 2012
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