Ed Lee's Vanishing Act

These days, you're more likely to find an affordable apartment than you will Mayor Ed Lee.

Between his inauguration on Jan. 8 to March 11, the mayor has made 12 official appearances (some of which were at private events). During that same timeframe last year, Lee attended 40 public events.

One reason may be the “interruptions,” as the mayor has dubbed the protests that have disrupted a string of public appearances since his re-election campaign in the fall. It all started in October, when a local preschool teacher approached Lee in a Van Ness Avenue restaurant and informed the mayor that he is a “disgrace to Asians.” Lee is Chinese-American; his interlocutor, Ilyich Sato, better known as Equipto, is part Japanese.

Things really got tough for Lee after the Dec. 2 shooting death of Mario Woods. Soon Lee could not go out in public without protesters shouting him down, as Equipto and a few dozen others calling themselves the “Mario Woods Coalition” did on his inauguration day, and later on Martin Luther King Jr. Day (when Lee canceled one appearance and ran offstage when the Coalition interrupted another).

“You can see how he handles himself when we interrupt things,” Equipto says. “If you're a mayor, you gotta be able to handle those situations.”

Even ticketed events closed to the public weren't safe: Equipto and two others were arrested for “interrupting” a ticketed-only breakfast on Feb. 9.

“It was a Q and A and no one was asking any questions, so I did,” says Equipto, who has yet to appear in court on misdemeanor trespassing and “interrupting a public event” charges.

These “interruptions” have disrupted what used to be regular public appearances for San Francisco's nice guy mayor. Protesters appeared at three of the mayor's 12 public events in the city listed on his official calendar in 2016. Two of these appearances were to sign bills in the safety and security of City Hall, and one was at the Chinese New Year Parade.

He has also largely stopped speaking to the press, even cold-shouldering The New York Times (although he did allow the Chronicle's Beth Spotswood to interview him about the Steph Curry memorabilia in his City Hall office).

Critics say Lee is clearly in evasive mode. Perhaps the best solution for the interruptions is to welcome them. When Dianne Feinstein was mayor, she dealt with the same kind of vocal protests Lee is hearing today, says political consultant Jim Ross (who last fall helped the election campaign of Aaron Peskin, a Lee foil). But Feinstein would actually dispatch a staffer to collect the protesters, bring them into her office, and let them talk.

“The guy is the mayor of San Francisco,” Ross said. “It seems like he could put together a program and plan to deal with all this stuff on a staff level.”

Maybe Lee's handlers are working on a public relations blitz. It's hard to know, since his office did not respond to multiple requests from SF Weekly for comment. Then again, Lee did appear in public this week — except in the safe haven of Brazil.

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