Lee appears headed to full term as mayor
by Matthew S. Bajko
Interim Mayor Ed Lee, who upturned this year's mayoral race with his switcheroo from not wanting the job permanently to seeking a full four-year term, appears headed to clinching victory after a nasty skirmish for Room 200 at City Hall.
Based on unofficial returns Wednesday morning, Lee was the clear frontrunner with 31 percent of the vote. His closest challenger was progressive Supervisor John Avalos, with nearly 19 percent. City Attorney Dennis Herrera placed third with 11 percent.
Because Lee fell short of the 50 percent plus one vote needed to secure victory Tuesday night, the other 13 candidates will each be eliminated starting with the person who received the least votes. The second choice, and if needed third choice, votes from those candidates' voters will then be tabulated until a winner is declared.
UPDATE: The unofficial ranked choice voting results posted at 4 p.m. Wednesday showed Lee besting Avalos after ten rounds with 61 percent of the vote. Their margin of difference was 25,167 votes.
Stopping just short of declaring victory, Lee sounded assured during his Election Night bash that he would remain in first place.
"I think San Francisco wants us to do four more years. What do you think?" Lee asked the crowd at his party at Tres restaurant near AT&T Park.
If his lead holds Lee would become the city's first elected Chinese American mayor. The elections department was expected to release the first round of ranked choice voting results at 4 p.m. Wednesday after the Bay Area Reporter went to press.
Herrera and Avalos had yet to concede the race by press time, as both were holding out hope they could pick up enough second and third place votes to knock out Lee from the top spot.
Avalos issued a statement Wednesday morning saying he was "happy" with the initial results and would wait for all votes to be counted.
"We are confident that the results will wind up in our favor; I think everyone is in for a surprise," stated Avalos.
During his party Tuesday night Herrera said he did not expect to be in first place in the first round of voting.
"I always thought I would be in number two or number three," Herrera told a small group of reporters at his party at club Mighty in Potrero Hill. "We will just have to wait for them to count the votes and see what happens."
With turnout just shy of 31 percent, this year's election saw the lowest voter participation rate in a decade for a mayoral contest. Polls showing Lee favored to win and little in the way of hot button ballot measures other than a fight over pension reform kept many people away from the polls.
The two out candidates in the race failed to connect with voters and received little mainstream media attention. Lesbian Green Party candidate Terry Baum, a playwright and actor, landed in 11th place, ahead of Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting, with less than 1 percent of the vote.
Gay former Supervisor Bevan Dufty came in seventh with less than 5 percent of the vote. It was a particularly dismal showing for a candidate who was the first to launch a mayoral bid more than two years ago.
Early on Dufty struggled with campaign staff changes and a self-imposed cap on donations. It wasn't until early this year that he relented on the fundraising stipulations, leading to his securing an endorsement from the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund and raising $1.24 million.
His shot at being the first out person to be elected mayor of San Francisco, however, seemed to resonate more in LGBT communities outside of the Bay Area than in his hometown. He did land number one backing from both of the city's LGBT newspapers.
But he failed to nab first place endorsements from the city's two LGBT Democratic clubs and few of the city's out elected leaders. And many voters in his old supervisorial district, which covered the Castro and Noe Valley, questioned why Lee should not be given a full term as mayor.
A study of absentee voting in the race showed early returns lacking from the city's gayborhood. The majority came from Asian neighborhoods, with Chinese voters in particular turning out in droves.
Dufty remained upbeat at his bash Tuesday night at South of Market Mexican restaurant Don Ramon's, where a party atmosphere propelled by an open bar held forth.
"This has been an incredible road, even with all the topsy-turviness of it," Dufty told the crowded dining room filled with family, supporters, and longtime friends.
He said he was proud of running a positive campaign, and while he did not outright concede defeat Tuesday night, Dufty did say he intends to continue to press for change in the city.
"The issues we've talked about aren't going away. I don't go away tomorrow. I know there is a lot of work that needs to be done," said Dufty.
State Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), once considered a strong contender for mayor, also had a poor showing Tuesday night. He was in fifth place with 7 percent of the vote. Public Defender Jeff Adachi was in sixth with 6 percent.
Clashes, humor in race
In recent weeks the vitriol in the mayoral campaign had reached a fever pitch. A number of the candidates requested state monitors to watch over polling stations due to vote tampering and campaign donation laundering allegations lodged against Lee's supporters. Several investigations are under way into the charges.
Herrera also came under attack with negative mailers paid for by the Victory Fund questioning his taking contributions from donors with city contracts. And anonymous backers for Lee and Dufty questioned Herrera's initial support for same-sex marriage back in 2004.
Asked about the personal hits Tuesday night, Herrera shook them off as mere political ploys.
"Punches were thrown in this campaign. I tried to throw some of substance," said Herrera.
There were also humorous moments. Lee's mustache took on a life of its own, becoming a character both heralded and mocked in YouTube videos. It was just one of numerous gimmicks used to attract voters' attention.
There was the "Chiubacca" character who tagged along on the campaign trail with Board President David Chiu, who came in fourth in the first round with 9 percent, and the herd of "Goats for Avalos" carted from Bernal Heights to Dolores Park last Sunday.
Lee's rise to power at City Hall started earlier this year when he became the surprise pick to replace outgoing Mayor Gavin Newsom, who became the state's lieutenant governor. His selection was orchestrated by Chinatown powerbroker Rose Pak and former mayor turned newspaper columnist Willie Brown.
Dufty, prior to his being termed off the Board of Supervisors, and Chiu both voted for Lee to become the interim mayor, partly due to Lee's assurances that he would not run for office. But after months of pressure from Pak, Brown, and Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, a former San Francisco mayor herself, he relented and jumped into the race.
His candidacy instantly shook up the dynamics of the campaign. From then on it was seen as Lee's to lose.