The campaign to stop Ed Lee from running for Mayor offers a strange message about some progressives’ fear of democracy. Progressives have historically supported maximizing voter choices by opposing term limits, promoting ranked-choice voting and expanding ballot access to third and minor parties. If, as Chris Daly and the Bay Guardian argue, Ed Lee is the mere “tool” of Willie Brown, Rose Pak, and other “power-brokers,” one would think they would want to send a powerful of message by mobilizing voters to defeat him. Instead, they are mobilizing to stop his candidacy. What are they afraid of? It appears they fear that voters will prefer Ed Lee’s brand of politics to their own. Otherwise, they would not care if Lee ran. The anti-Lee campaign further shows that a segment of progressives have lost faith with the voters, not a healthy approach for those claiming to represent a grassroots, working class majority.

As websites, signs and media cover the saga of Ed Lee’s potential mayoral candidacy – it’s “Run, Ed, Run” vs. “Let Ed Be” – it’s time to step back and recall what is really at stake: who do San Franciscans want to be their next Mayor?

The more candidates in the race, the more choices voters have in making a very important decision. Ed Lee adds to these choices, and would invigorate what by all accounts has been a quiet and even boring race to date.

As for Lee’s pledge to the Supervisors who appointed him interim Mayor that he would not run for a full term: the late Senator Paul Wellstone pledged not to serve more than two terms after winning the 1990 election, but progressives were thrilled when he changed his mind and ran in 2002. There is nothing particularly new or unseemly about politicians changing their minds about their political future. Many voters will reject Lee for breaking his pledge, but others would appreciate seeing his name on the ballot.

First in Time, First in Right

According to the Bay Guardian, the forces pushing Lee to run include David Ho, who also “helped engineer a split in the progressive movement with the help of consultant Enrique Pearce and District 3 Sup. Jane Kim.” Such a comment reflects the mindset of what might be best described as the Guardian-Daly wing of the city’s progressive forces.

What the Guardian calls “engineering a split” is what others would describe as a progressive entering an election after a fellow progressive has announced their candidacy. For example, Chris Daly had no problem encouraging Matt Gonzalez to run and then endorsing him in the 2003 Mayor’s race, despite the existing progressive candidacies of Tom Ammiano and Angela Alioto (the Guardian endorsed Alioto).

I learned in my first year of law school about the historic case of Pierson v. Post, a fox hunting case decided in 1805 by the Supreme Court of New York. The Court held that it was the person who first got to the dead fox who gained ownership, not the hunter who shot it (my property law professor at Hastings spent two weeks on this case).

Fortunately, the “first in time, first in right” principle does not apply to the first progressive who declares their candidacy in a political race.

The fact that the Guardian attacks Ho, Pearce and Kim for “engineering a split in the progressive movement” – a phrase it never used when three progressives ran in District 9 in 2008, and which equates creating a “split” with running against the Guardian’s preferred candidate – speaks volumes. It shows how some progressives are still reeling from their chosen candidates’ defeats in the November 2010 local elections, and how angry they are at those who out-organized and out-worked them in building a broader political base.

Avalos Not Hurt By Lee

The Guardian, Daly and many progressives are backing John Avalos. If Ed Lee were Avalos' only roadblock to Room 200, then efforts to "Let Ed Be" would be understandable.

But Avalos is not a clear frontrunner in the mayor's race. And among Leland Yee, Dennis Herrera, and David Chiu, Avalos would be the least negatively impacted (and would therefore benefit) by Lee’s entry, which would cut into the first place votes of others.

San Francisco's public financing system means that money is not an obstacle to Avalos' success. And
those who share the Guardian-Daly view that Ed Lee is controlled by elite forces under the control of Willie Brown and Rose Pak would seemingly want Lee in the race so they could send a powerful message by defeating him.

I have no idea whether Ed will run, but San Francisco deserves the strongest possible mayoral field. And those arguing otherwise clearly have other agendas than what is in the city’s best interest.