Most Effective Political Consultant - 2012
Enrique Pearce, the left-leaning political consultant San Francisco progressives love to hate.
By Chris Roberts
It will be solace to some that Enrique Pearce does not sleep well at night.
But it will be no balm to the wreckages of campaigns and candidates left in the political consultant's wake — most recently, he oversaw Jane Kim's ascent to the Board of Supervisors before last year's controversial "unofficial" campaigns in support of Mayor Ed Lee — to hear that his uneasy rest has nothing to do with politics.
"I've been an insomniac ever since middle school," said Pearce over brunch on a recent Sunday, where in between sips of a mimosa — just one before a brace of meetings with his clients, who range from longtime Oakland Rep. Barbara Lee to political neophytes marshaling a run for school board (where Kim got her start) — he noted the past night's two hours' sleep. This endurance makes him well-suited to the political game, where victories are often measured in nights, weeks, and months spent hard at work when others are at rest. Better still is the resistance of Pearce, a former Matt Gonzalez legislative aide who also managed the onetime progressive darling's 2003 bid for mayor, to the slings and arrows sent his way by former friends and compatriots.
Pearce was an early convert in 2011 to the church of then-interim Mayor Ed Lee, "easily the most qualified candidate for mayor in our lifetime. He knew, and knows, more about how to run the city of San Francisco than anyone in a generation." More so than the Moscones, Feinsteins, and Browns? "No question," says Pearce, principal of consulting firm Left Coast Communications.
It wasn't Pearce's backing of Lee — who was elevated to chief executive after progressives fumbled a chance to appoint one of their own — that led the city's lefty establishment to apply terms like "shady" and "sleazy" to the thirtysomething. That unsavory flavor is thanks to his use of the "independent expenditure campaign."
Pearce used money and influence filtered from the Chinatown power player/progressive bogeywoman Rose Pak to convince Lee to "Run, Ed, Run," which dominated political headlines last summer. The unofficial campaign to draft Lee to run for a full term in office began with a photo shoot at Rainbow Grocery, where Pearce declined to identify himself or the campaign's purpose to a local blogger. The campaign ended up at the Ethics Commission in August, accused of campaign law violations. It was fully exonerated.
In the fall, controversy again followed Pearce when volunteers for the SF Neighbor Alliance, another independent expenditure committee formed to support Lee, were videotaped by a rival campaign helping elderly Chinese voters fill out their ballots, in some cases with a stencil. "That crossed the line," Pearce says now. The campaign also published an unauthorized biography of Lee, an "instabook" dropped on tens of thousands of doorsteps in late October.
Lee himself dubbed these efforts "moronic," and progressives with whom Pearce once broke bread and manned the barricades dubbed him a sellout, or worse. But again, he was guilty of no wrongdoing. And: scoreboard, baby. Lee won, and Pearce will manage the campaign of Christina Olague, the Run, Ed, Run campaign co-chair, in the November election, on which Kim's former political rival, Debra Walker, is volunteering.
If Ed Lee represents a new era of pragmatism over dogma, Pearce is out in front. He saw it coming.
"We're not seeing the most rigid candidates crossing the finishing line," he said. "They need to be more flexible in approach, with strong progressive values."
Maybe it's the winning record, but Pearce is taking the high road. Those who scorned him and attempted, as he puts it, to "manufacture scandal," are now "friends I need to be reacquainted with," he says. "That's politics." Some may complain about the methods, but it's hard to argue with the results.