The Fangless Revolution: The irony of Ed Lee’s rise to mayor of San Francisco, and just who the real winner in this whole thing might be

The irony was too much last Sunday when the San Francisco freebie, the Examiner, hailed on its cover the headline, “Asian Power.”  On one side the board president David Chiu, on the other the new interim Mayor Ed Lee. And then the subhed proclaiming how “the City’s strongest ethnic voting bloc finally claims City Hall.”

The irony is the bold pronouncement in the Examiner, once owned by the Fang family, who were at one time the Asian Kingmakers in San Francisco.  The Fangs, you’ll recall,  were originally the publishers of AsianWeek and the local shopper, the Independent. 

But they expanded their profile when they made the bold move to by the Ex from the Hearsts, taking with them what they thought was  a nice subsidy from the seller.

It wasn’t nearly enough,not at a time when newspapers were already 10 inches into an obit for the industry.

Let’s just say it didn’t work out–for anybody.  The Hearsts are still bleeding with the Chron.  The Fangs, not only had to sell to another mogul who has devised  a national chain of Examiner freebies, but the family’s power at City Hall, once thought to be formidable is all but gone.

If there was a revolution at City Hall it wasn’t because anyone consulted the Fangs on Ed Lee.

I think the big winner in all this, however, isn’t Lee.

Yes, it’s historical and he’s the guy. But he has to run in November to keep his seat and there’s no clear path to get back to his $250,000 administrator job if he loses.  In fact, he’ll face challenges from at least two other Asian Americans, Sen.Leland Yee and Assessor Phil Ting.

That should produce a lot of fireworks.

There may even be a fourth candidate, board president David Chiu.

Whether he runs or not,  I think Chiu’s already the big winner in this all. 

David was a civil rights attorney, but I’ve known David from a time ten years ago when we both worked at an internet startup. When the company changed direction, I left, but David, on the busienss side,  managed to not just survive, but to thrive. I thought it showed  incredible  acumen how he maneuvered and kept the company going. 

In politics, David has been no less impressive. He took a grassroots effort and won a seat on the board. Then,  as a neophyte member, he  became president. While he was allied with progressives at the start, his nimble dealing with moderates won him a second term last week.

The moves reek of ambition. But that’s what you want from a leader, no?

With Lee a possible short-timer, my money is on David to ultimately emerge if not in a run for November, then soon after.

In my AsianWeek columns of the past, I called him Obama-like. He’s a smart Harvard Law guy who is showing some real moves. His time in the board is his woodshed period.

If Lee faces Yee and Ting in November it’s hard to say what will happen with rank-choice voting in the mayor’s race.  Chiu, a fourth Asian American, could really make things interesting  if all the winner has to do is be named as one of the top 3 choices on a ballot.

It could be another Jean Quan situation. You don’t need all the first place votes, you just need to be mentioned.

 That could leave Chiu,  the young and still rising Asian American politico, as the one with  the biggest “upside.”