Ed Lee sworn in as SF’s first Asian American mayor

Ed Lee. photo courtesy of Chinese for Affirmative Action

In a historic City Hall ceremony attended by local, Bay Area and state political luminaries, Ed Lee was sworn in as San Francisco’s interim mayor Jan.11, becoming the city’s first Asian American mayor.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved Lee, formerly the city administrator, that day to replace Gavin Newsom, who assumed his new post as the state’s lieutenant governor on Jan. 10.

Board of Supervisors President David Chiu reported the votes cast for and against Ed Lee to those gathered in the City Hall Rotunda. With a smile on his face, he held up two fingers and said: “Two numbers — 11 to zero.”

Lee is expected to serve out the year and then return to his old job. The next mayoral election is in November.

Flanked by Newsom, former mayor Willie Brown, and all 11 supervisors, Lee was sworn in as mayor at 4:12 p.m. by San Francisco Superior Court Judge Katherine Feinstein. Also attending the ceremony was Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, that city’s first Asian American mayor and state Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco).

In a speech afterward, Lee pledged to be a mayor “for everyone” and to tackle the city’s problems “with resolve, and a seriousness of purpose.”

Foremost on his agenda are the city’s nearly $400 million budget deficit and the selection of a new police chief.

The board selected Lee Jan. 7 following much political jockeying between the board’s progressive and moderate factions.

Lee, a favorite of Newsom, Brown and influential Chinatown political consultant Rose Pak, was a surprise entry into the mix last week, after he had initially rejected the offer.

The move angered progressive members of the board, who were ready to approve Sheriff Michael Hennessey as interim mayor. They later expressed praise for Lee, but criticized the political process that led to his appointment.

Lee said on Jan. 11 that he hoped to move beyond progressive and moderate labels.

“I understand that not only do people need to flourish here, but businesses need to flourish here,” he said.

Lee was first appointed by former Mayor Art Agnos as an investigator for the city’s whistleblower ordinance, and was later named deputy director of employee relations. He then went on to serve as executive director of the Human Rights Commission, director of city purchasing, and director of the Department of Public Works.

Prior to his work with the city, Lee was a managing attorney with the San Francisco Asian Law Caucus.

“I was a progressive before progressive was a political faction in this town,” Lee said. He said that as an attorney for the Asian Law Caucus, he fought to integrate the city’s fire department, and for rights for tenants and seniors.

“I fought to empower the powerless,” he said.

Lee said that as an Asian American in San Francisco, he was aware of his community’s “long and troubled and proud history” here.

But, he said, “I’m committed to move all San Francisco, all of us, forward.”

He said he would be a mayor for neighborhoods, downtown, business, labor, and the right and left sides of the political aisle.

Lee specifically thanked Pak — who attended the ceremony and is believed to have played a major role in Lee’s selection — twice in the speech.

“To my good friend, Rose Pak, thank you,” he said. “We have done it.”

Lee also pledged to work personally with each member of the Board of Supervisors.

During the earlier Board of Supervisors meeting, he told them, “I know I can help you run this city well.”

Progressive Supervisor David Campos praised Lee and said he was committed to working with him, but reflected that there had been a pronounced shift in the city’s political climate.

In the past several days, San Francisco has named a new mayor, four new supervisors, and a new district attorney and police chief.

Campos said progressives have to “recognize that the progressive majority of this board no longer exists. Progressives no longer control the Board of Supervisors.”

He noted that board president David Chiu had been re-elected “without a clear progressive majority” and with “the full backing” of moderates on the board.

“The loss of that control happened, not at the ballot box, but it happened here, at City Hall,” Campos said.

He cautioned about a political shift in favor of “thedowntown corporate interests that have so much power in this city.”

“I am a progressive because I believe that government has to work for all people,” Campos said, specifically referencing the poor and middle class, city workers, small businesses and minorities.

Chiu disagreed that progressive values would be pushed aside at City Hall.

“I do believe that a majority of this board share the same progressive values,” he said, adding that there was “a danger” in adopting too narrow a definition of “progressive.”

The Nichi Bei Weekly contributed to this report.

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