Resign, Ed, Resign!
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee is corrupt. Not allegedly corrupt, not possibly corrupt, not corrupt according to sources, and not corrupt just because his campaign money-laundering aides told the FBI that he’s the most corrupt politician in a deeply corrupt city. Anyone with open eyes and a skeptical mind already knew Lee was corrupt – it’s why he was appointed to the Mayor’s Office in the first place.
It’s his raison d’etre, the only reason why he’s in office: his pliant willingness to shill for the people who really run this city, and his shameless ability to do so with a straight face and easy, seemingly guileless grin.
Ed Lee was appointed to office by rich and powerful people to do their bidding, just as he always has, learning the game from his mentor, the master power broker Willie Brown (again, as his campaign minions confirmed to the undercover FBI agent, but again, something obvious and overt that didn’t require wiretaps or subterfuge to know).
Lee was placed on the city’s throne in something like a coup d’etat, or what then-Supervisor Chris Daly called the biggest fumble by San Francisco progressives in their history. Lee was appointed as a “caretaker mayor” who would serve the final year of Gavin Newsom’s second term then go back to the City Administrator’s Office.
But that was always a bullshit cover story, and the dubious and unethical “Run Ed Run” campaign started before Newsom’s scent had even evaporated from Room 200, run by downtown’s go-to dirty trickster Enrique Pearce, a deranged soul now being prosecuted for possessing volumes of child pornography.
You couldn’t make this shit up, and it wouldn’t be plausible as fiction, but that’s just how far down the rabbit hole that San Francisco politics have gone. Yet the weirdest part of all is that the San Francisco Chronicle and the rest of the political mainstream acts as if this is all quite normal, printing Lee’s ridiculous denials of corruption without smell-testing them first, causing readers to either shake their heads in disbelief, nod in unison, or just tune out.
“You pay to play here. We got it. We know this. We are the best at this game, uh, better than New York. We do it a little more sophisticated than New Yorkers. We do it without the mafia,” Lee political appointee and campaign worker Zula Jones allegedly told the undercover FBI agent who was part of the investigation that snared 20 corrupt San Francisco politicos but not Lee or the rest of the juiced-up in-crowd.
Kudos to my former colleagues at the San Francisco Examiner, which has been going through it’s own bouts with unethical leadership, for exposing the latest evidence of Lee corruption.
Lee himself admitted that he hadn’t read the documents detailing the corruption of those all around him, a truly astounding public admission of incuriosity that rivals his decision to bring official misconduct charges against Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi before he had read that investigation or talked to any of the central players.
Lee asked Mirkarimi to resign for the good of the city, and if he had a shred of integrity or sense of shame, that’s what he’d do now. Resign, Ed, Resign! Instead, it looks like we might not even have a real mayor’s race, thanks to Lee’s supporters using promises, threats, and coercion to clear the field of big name challengers such as Sen. Mark Leno, who is the kind of genuine public servant and political leader that this corrupt and rudderless city desperately needs right now.
So Lee will continue to reign, a smiling puppet controlled by venture capitalist Ron Conway and the rest of the masters of the universe who are now trying to squeeze every greasy buck they can out of this city, its inhabitants, and its real estate. And the stench of corruption will continue to permeate City Hall.
Lee was corrupt before he became mayor, as we chronicled in the Bay Guardian before the paper was shut down last fall. As purchasing director, he helped fix a computer contract at the direction of then-Mayor Brown, as was clear in a subsequent lawsuit. As city administrator, he engineered the solid waste contact to go to politically connected Recology, in a crass and obvious way. He'd proven himself to those who wanted a mayor in their pocket.
As mayor, he gave huge tax breaks to Twitter and other technology companies, then gave them more tax breaks with an overhaul in the business tax that he sold deceptively to the public as trying to overcame a “tax on jobs.” For years, he refused to enforce city laws against Airbnb, costing the city millions of dollars and helping exacerbate the city’s housing and eviction crisis. And he sabotaged the city’s only renewable energy program, CleanPowerSF, on behalf of PG&E, a regular contributor to his campaigns and pet causes.
In each case, his corruption was clear and the words that came out of his mouth to defend them were such obvious bullshit – but it somehow worked. That’s the part that baffles me to this day, how someone who is so clearly subverting the public trust on behalf of a handful of capitalist assholes can get away with it. Unfortunately, the fact that Lee has gotten away with obvious corruption, time and again, only seems to have emboldened him.
So now we come to this moment, with two Lee minions that he and his people placed in the Human Rights Commission of all places, exposed in court documents explaining to an undercover FBI agent how they can easily break a $20,000 bribe up into legal $500 campaign donations and arranging for that agent to meet personally with Lee, the master of pay-to-play politics in San Francisco.
It wasn’t even the first time that the 2011 campaign was caught receiving illegally bundled campaign contributions, but somehow Lee and the city’s political establishment have been able to just shrug this off. I almost have to admire this kind of audacity and ability to get away with it, except the fact that this behavior is slowly destroying my city and hurting good people.
One can only hope that truth and justice prevails at some point, somehow. After all, President Nixon was already tainted by the Watergate break-in when he was re-elected by a landslide in 1972, and his crimes eventually caught up with him and brought him down. Maybe something similar will happen to Ed Lee, just as it did to less well-connected San Francisco politicians such as Leland Yee and Ed Jew.
But for now, I can only shake my head in disgust and try to remind my fellow citizens of Lee’s checkered history, and to hope for better days ahead.
Photo by Tim Daw.