The Stealth Campaign

At a seemingly innocuous event in the Sunset, Willie Brown proves again why he's the patron saint of patronage

Andrew Lee's old department, the Mayor's Office of Neighborhood Services, took out a three-quarter-page advertisement in the San Francisco Examinerto promote the event; oddly, it featured no images of environment-related things -- only a photo of Lee's portly, smiling face. Posters distributed around the city's west side had the same nonsense feel: Though they purportedly promoted an environmentalism fair, they looked an awful lot like Andrew Lee's campaign posters; both were dominated by a picture of candidate Lee. Mailings sent to Westside homes went a step further: They included Lee's face, a drawing of an American flag of the sort usually used to designate polling places, and a campaign-ese statement from Lee that said, in part, "I have seen how the Westside has often been neglected. As a concerned citizen of the Westside, I will continue to use all my efforts to get the City to provide the Westside with services and resources such as this Environmental Fair. I am looking forward to personally meeting you at the fair. If you have any questions, or if you need any help, please feel free to call me."

At around the time the Mayor's Office and the Resource Center were conducting their odd PR campaign promoting Andrew Lee and the Environmental Fair, Willie Brown placed a measure on the November ballot that would appear to outlaw just this sort of activity. Brown's Proposition Q would "prohibit City contractors and the recipients of City grants and loans from using City funds to participate in, support, or attempt to influence a political campaign for any candidate or measure."

The mayor sees no conflict of interest. "It's kind of ridiculous to suggest that that event or any other sponsored by the mayor is being used to bolster a political candidate," says P.J. Johnston, Brown's spokesman. "This is not a place where Mr. Lee was given a forum for his candidacy."

According to the Controller's Office, the Resource Center has received $108,933 in city money so far.

On the day of the fair, a handful of protesters outside the neighborhood center entrance brandished Chinese-language signs denouncing Julie Lee for her marionettelike campaign on behalf of her son.

"They're using whatever they can to get votes for her son," said Jane Kong, a Sunset homemaker who appeared to be leading the protest. "Why do the advertisements for the fair have his picture on it? I'd rather have a toilet or a light bulb. Why would I need to see his face?"

Just inside the center gate three volunteers staffed a voter registration table. Two tables over, the Examiner, the paper that published the ad featuring Lee's face, signed up subscribers.

After the dragon dancers performed, Andrew Lee, who was serving as master of ceremonies, introduced the mayor, who in turn asked Lee to sing the national anthem. Lee, it so happens, can belt out a version worthy of a minor-league stadium.

After the song, the mayor's speech, and speeches by Brown's various appointees, I caught up to Julie Lee, who was looking jubilant in a purple, felt-lined overcoat, a black-trimmed red blazer, black pumps, and a black skirt.

"What do you think of your son's performance as MC?" I asked.

"He's improving. You know, I'm getting older. It's going to be time for me to retire," she said, before turning to a small, elderly Chinese-American woman who'd just asked her about obtaining a free light bulb.

"Have you registered to vote?" Lee said by way of a non sequitur response.

In literary terms, it was a wonderful exit line.

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