Shifting Political Terrains in 'the City by the Bay:' Mayor Ed Lee and the Two Convergences of San Francisco Politics

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While the unchallenged November 2015 re-election of San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee was a telling moment in contemporary San Francisco politics, it was Mayor Ed Lee’s inaugural November 2011 election that revealed the shifting political terrains across its eleven Board of Supervisor districts that will likely shape the future role that Chinese Americans will play in the governing coalition of the “City by the Bay.” In the November 2011 San Francisco mayoral election, Ed Lee became the first Chinese American to be elected to lead this city. Despite the common explanation that Lee’s historic victory was due to the city’s first time use of the controversial ranked-choice voting (RCV) system, this study argues that while RCV was an important factor in Lee’s election, other significant factors played a more prominent role. In particular, the two convergences taking shape between Chinese Americans/Asian Americans and the moderate governing coalition along the axes of Race/Space and Identity/Ideology were more significant to the outcome of Lee’s election than the RCV process. In addition, the other significant factors that contributed to Ed Lee’s monumental election in 2011 include his previous public-service experience as a moderate coalition builder and the role of Chinese American community elites that advocated for the endorsement of Lee in both public and private settings with key moderate coalition leaders.