ActivismLocal LegendsNewsSF History

RIP Mayor Ed Lee, My Sometimes Nemesis

When the alarm went off this morning I looked at my phone and saw I had eight texts, all from a variety of unconnected people. Considering my birthday is in four days, my first thought in that foggy, not quite awake state was “is it my birthday?” I looked at the date and it wasn’t, so my next thought was, “Oh shit, what did my big mouth get me into now?” It wouldn’t be the first time I’d woken up to a shit-storm of my own creation.

I opened the first message and saw the news “San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee Dead at 65”. Bolting up in bed I said to my girlfriend, “Holy shit! Ed Lee died!” and as I clicked the link my phone followed suit. “Fuck, my phone just died too. Can you call me a cab? I need to get to my computer.”

My distaste for Mayor Ed Lee is no secret. Before, during, and after the 2015 mayoral campaign in which we were adversaries, I hammered him relentlessly for political corruption and for selling out San Francisco to the highest bidder. His dislike of me was also well known. While acknowledging me publicly would only give credence to my position, sources at City Hall informed me that I was referred to as “an abomination” within the Mayor’s Office. If it’s true that you can only judge a man by his enemies, I must be doing something right.

Before I continue I need to lay a few things out: this is not going to be the hit piece some of you are expecting. I may not agree with much of what Ed Lee did as San Francisco’s Mayor but I do believe he loved this city and wanted the best for it. Unfortunately, his vision of what was “best” for San Francisco often excluded anyone who made under $150,000 a year. This also isn’t an attack on him as a human being. From what I’ve been told by nearly everyone who knew him, Ed Lee was a kind and caring man who loved to joke and was genuinely fun to be around. My heart goes out to his family and friends who are mourning him on this sad day and are heartbroken by his unexpected passing. It’s also important to acknowledge that Ed Lee was San Francisco’s first Chinese-American and first Asian-American mayor, which is an incredible achievement especially given SF’s ugly anti-Chinese history. Thank you Mayor Lee for breaking that barrier.

Three mayors, Willie Brown (left) Gavin Newsom (center) and Ed Lee.  Photo: Brant Ward, The Chronicle

So no, this will not be a hit piece. What this will be however is an anchor to the reality of what has befallen San Francisco under Ed Lee’s stewardship. As all the articles rolling in right now only give the mayor praise – for fear of speaking ill of the dead – it’s important that we not let his untimely passing wash away the irreversible damage his policies have done to the fabric of San Francisco. It’s important that those of us who lost our home, both literally and metaphorically, get to have our voices heard in how his legacy is defined.

To be perfectly blunt, Mayor Ed Lee oversaw the destruction of much of what made San Francisco special. Despite the hills and the Victorians and the fog and the bay, the thing that truly set San Francisco apart from everywhere else in the world was the people. For decades San Francisco was the place you went if you didn’t fit in anywhere else. If you were queer, an immigrant, an artist, a polyamorist, an anarchist, a freak, a dreamer, or just someone who wanted to live as their true self, San Francisco is where you went. It was also home to a thriving pro-union working class who were just as proud to say they lived in San Francisco as the weirdos who kept washing up on the shore. But all that disappears when a city becomes so unaffordable that the median rent is $4300. And while Mayor Lee wasn’t the one actually raising the rent, the policies that he set forth provided the perfectly fertile ground for greedy landlords and rapacious real estate developers to do anything they damn well pleased.

Lee & Conway together at the Crunchies

While the idea behind the “Twitter Tax Breaks” wasn’t terrible, what they wrought was. Sure they allowed San Francisco to have one of the lowest unemployment rates of any major city after the Great Recession, but the problem was, those jobs didn’t go to San Franciscans who had lost their jobs in 2009. People were imported from all over the world to fill the newly created jobs as well as fill the newly vacated homes that the jobless had to give up. And it was there, that very moment, that set the tenor for what San Francisco was to become. Ed Lee and his big money tech industry backers had a vision of San Francisco as the tech center of the world and since 2011 they’ve done a damn good job of making it so. All it cost was the soul of the most interesting, vibrant, and unique city in America. A handful of people got tremendously wealthy, everyone else got an apartment that cost them half their salary in rent.

Ed Lee started out on the side of the people. He fought against landlords and struggled for poor and working-class people. He even organized a rent strike in Chinatown to protest fucked-up living conditions. He then decided to join the system he fought against to try and change it from the inside. It seems it changed him.

Back when Ed was protecting citizens against evictions

Despite being a housing rights activist in his younger days, San Francisco saw skyrocketing evictions during Ed Lee’s time as mayor. But when given the opportunity to slow this by pushing stricter laws for AirBnB – laws that would make it tougher for people to evict tenants and turn their places into poorly regulated AirBnB hotels – he stepped aside and basically let AirBnb write the law that governed it. It was no secret that Mayor Lee’s biggest financial backer was Ron Conway, a major investor in AirBnB.

The same Twitter Tax Break that kept these tech companies in SF allowed it’s beneficiaries to avoid paying $34 million in taxes in 2014 alone. Imagine what that money could’ve done if we put it towards affordable housing or our homelessness epidemic.

Speaking of the homelessness epidemic, Mayor Lee’s treatment of the homeless during Super Bowl 50 was despicable. The City of San Francisco threw a $5 million party for a football game happening 45 miles away. Because of that, the mayor had the police push all the homeless folks out of downtown so that they wouldn’t be on camera for the rest of the world to see. Instead of fixing our problem he swept it under the rug…or at least under the freeway where the homeless encampment stretched a mile long.

People hold up signs and a tent during a protest to demand city officials do more to help homeless people outside Super Bowl City, a pro-football’s weeklong theme park near the famed Ferry Building in San Francisco on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016. Dozens protested what they say is San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee’s plan to push homeless people out of the scenic bay-front Embarcadero, where Super Bowl festivities are being held. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Under Lee San Francisco became a Dickensian story of wealth disparity. I called it a Tale of Three Cities in my SF Examiner column. We have a worse wealth disparity than Rwanda. While homelessness has always been a problem in San Francisco, over just a few years we became a place with such an immense consolidation of wealth that our homelessness epidemic wasn’t just a problem, it was an embarrassment. With initiatives like the Navigation Centers it often felt like Mayor Lee’s heart was in the right place but he didn’t have the political will do anything about it

Ashante Jones stands outside of San Francisco’s one and only Navigation Center in the Mission district on Wednesday. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

Ed Lee wanted to be thought of as “The Tech Mayor” and I honestly think he deserves that title, but not in the way he imagined. His devotion to the all mighty dollar of the tech industry did very little for the people of San Francisco. It’s given us horrible traffic, egregious rents, an exacerbated homelessness crisis, and a city full of self-entitled assholes who don’t actually give a shit about San Francisco because they don’t plan on being here long enough to do so.

The thing about San Francisco is that while we fight vehemently about the things we disagree on, we also tend to agree on a great deal of liberal principles.  Ed Lee would’ve been considered a pretty liberal mayor in many other cities, but San Francisco is at the vanguard of progressivism, and for most of us he just wasn’t liberal enough. That said, for a guy who rarely took a stand, it was heartening to see him stand up for immigrants and for sanctuary cities.

San Francisco Mayor Lee Vows To Battle Trump Over Sanctuary City Law « CBS San Francisco

The Political Right has used the tragic death of Kate Steinle as a bludgeon to attack immigrants and the cities where they live. I remember seeing Ed Lee on national TV standing up for our immigrant neighbors in the face of hateful conservative rhetoric. I turned to whoever was standing next to me, and said “I don’t like much of what that guys stands for, but I love that motherfucker right now.” And at that moment, I really did.

This morning somebody directed me to the comments section on the Breitbart article about Mayor Lee’s passing. All of the 1000+ comments were hideous and nasty, full of venom and hate for immigrants, sanctuary cities, and many of the values we San Franciscans hold dear. And it was then that I felt closest to Ed Lee, closer than I had ever felt before. While he and I disagreed about pretty much everything about San Francisco, we at least agreed on one thing: all those racist, homophobic, white supremacist Trump supporters could kiss our beautiful San Francisco asses.

Rest in Peace Mayor Ed Lee.

Like this article? Make sure to sign up for our mailing list so you never miss a goddamn thing!
Previous post

A Eulogy for Brainwash Cafe

Next post

8 Ways to Get High for Hanukkah


Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap

Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap

I've been called "an Underground legend": SF Chronicle , "an SF cult hero": SF Bay Guardian, and "the chief of cheap": Time Out New York, but to those familiar with my work, I'm just "that douchebag who writes books about cheap stuff and drinks a lot".

18 Comments

  1. jc
    December 12, 2017 at 3:31 pm

    For context this is what was written in:

    2008: http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Exodus-of-S-F-s-middle-class-3279562.php
    http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Lamenting-the-dead-zone-in-S-F-s-core-3216055.php

    2010: http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/place/article/Lasting-impact-of-mid-Market-initiatives-uncertain-3186039.php

    http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/A-look-back-at-mid-Market-Street-3186339.php

    2011: http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Spending-a-day-and-night-on-Mid-Market-2479044.php

    Conclusion: SF was never affordable for most, Mid-Market was a dump for a very long time, and Ed Lee inherited a 9.6% unemployment rate in 2011 and did what he could to reduce it to what it is today. His only fault was that he accomplished it too quickly.

    RIP Mr. Mayor

    • pch1013
      December 12, 2017 at 4:10 pm

      Yes, the idea that SF was irreparably ruined within a mere six years is laughable.

      • KittyP
        December 13, 2017 at 1:04 am

        Not 6 years, Gavin Newsom and Willie Brown began this journey with their corporatist policies. Ed Lee simply forgot his roots and followed suit. He had many opportunities to change course, but stayed with the tech-moneyed interests.

      • pch1013
        December 13, 2017 at 10:58 am

        “Mayor Ed Lee oversaw the destruction of much of what made San Francisco special.”

    • GStorm
      December 12, 2017 at 8:48 pm

      Mid-market is still a dump. Surrounding areas are worse than ever. And I’ve been passing through there since 1990.

      • jc
        December 12, 2017 at 9:16 pm

        I’ve been around since 1970’s and its better now than then.

  2. Elizabeth Creely
    December 12, 2017 at 5:20 pm

    This was really good. <3

  3. Bridget
    December 13, 2017 at 2:14 am

    Great read.

    Just a quick side note how “Airbnb” should be written out – the letter “b”s should be lower case. 🙂

  4. RealFakeSanFranciscan
    December 13, 2017 at 11:00 am

    Where did this ridiculous narrative you’re pushing come from – the one that Ed Lee singlehandedly brought on the tech boom with the “Twitter tax break”? None of you actually believe this nonsense, do you? If there was one primary contributor to the local tech boom (which there wasn’t, really) it was years of near-zero interest rates. But easier to blame Ed than the Fed, I guess.

  5. Jackie Phillips
    December 14, 2017 at 3:03 pm

    People are always quick to criticize but they won’t do the exact same job. That is wrone to criticize someone for their job, but you won’t step up and try your own. Well, there is an opening. Go for it.

    • Smiley Dan
      December 15, 2017 at 3:55 pm

      Welcome to this blog Jackie, perhaps you should start with some reading: https://brokeassstuart.com/blog/2016/01/26/lessons-learned-running-mayor/

      • Jackie Phillips
        December 15, 2017 at 4:30 pm

        Wow! I would be pretty embarrassed if I were you. Do you serioe think that runne for an office is the same as doing the job for a number of years? You might want to check your thinking cap on that one!

      • Smiley Dan
        December 15, 2017 at 4:46 pm

        You are dense Jackie and cannot spell. Your comment said “won’t do the exact same job” and by running in an election for that specific job it makes your statement idiotic – he was WILLING to do the exact same job.
        And then you say “there is an opening. Go for it” as if he did not TRY to take the job

      • Jackie Phillips
        December 15, 2017 at 5:12 pm

        Here is a clue, pal. Willing and actually doing are two vastly different things. Kind of like, “You are willing to make a fool of yourself, but you are actually making an ass of yourself doing it.”

      • Smiley Dan
        December 15, 2017 at 5:23 pm

        Wrong again Ms NameCaller. Again, you DO NOT COMPREHEND your own initial statement which said Stuart WON’T do the job – and I merely pointed out that he was willing to do the job and actually applied for it.

        If now your argument is that unless we have held a certain job or position we are not allowed to comment or criticize somebody doing said job, then you obviously do not understand how the world works.

      • RuMADorRuREALLYmad
        December 16, 2017 at 1:37 pm

        Jackie is mad.

  6. December 14, 2017 at 8:26 pm

    Very good article.

  7. SF Citizen
    December 18, 2017 at 2:00 pm

    Hi, Broke Ass:

    “For decades San Francisco was the place you went if you didn’t fit in anywhere else. If you were queer, an immigrant, an artist, a polyamorist, an anarchist, a freak, a dreamer, or just someone who wanted to live as their true self, San Francisco is where you went. It was also home to a thriving pro-union working class who were just as proud to say they lived in San Francisco as the weirdos who kept washing up on the shore. But all that disappears when a city becomes so unaffordable that the median rent is $4300”

    you were wrong, people like that go to Berkeley and Oakland. There is not place for them in San Francisco. San Francisco belongs to the world since 1849. People around the world come here to seek their fortune- work hard and building something. Ever since 1849, a tent costed a equivalent of $3000 of today’s money.
    San Francisco is always for the brave, hard worker, dreamer and adventures. Social parasites who are no good and do not contribute to the city’s growth – can go to Berkeley and Oakland, where is ok to take poverty as pride, drug and crime as normal. That is all of you belong.
    The tech industry is the 2nd gold rush. If you do not join the revolution, you are going to be dinosaurs to be left behind