The Ed Lee headquarters at 990 Market St., tucked between the Underground shop and the Warfield, feels slight and dead. The door is locked.
Suddenly, a tall blond man jogs up to Lee’s headquarters and opens the door. I follow, introduce myself and take in the tiny office.
“I can’t help you unless you speak to our media contact,” he says.
We’ve tried. We’ve waited. Now, three days from Election Day, we have no profile on Lee, the interim mayor and frontrunner. That means we have no sense of how he interacts with voters, and my editor is tired of waiting. I’m sent out to find Lee, or at least see how his campaign offices operate.
The campaign worker mentions there’s a public event with Lee just across the street. Ah, so that’s what all the commotion was about.
Now, across the street, I spot Lee in the midst of a crowd of cheering people. He’s animated, talking enthusiastically about hamburgers — appropriate, since today is the grand opening of Pearl’s Deluxe Burgers on the corner of Sixth and Market.
As I attempt to make my way over to the mayor, I overhear him say, “What’s the protocol here?”
“No protocol. People are just eating and taking pictures,” an aide says.
Lee makes his way to the table to fist-bump one of the guests eating at a large table. The line inside the restaurant continues to grow as I bump into the shoulders of a local cameraman.
I try, but never get close enough to ask a question. Lee’s busy talking to other people. I ask around for a campaign media contact, looking for the person the campaign office described as a bald caucasian man. No luck.
Soon, I’m watching the back of Lee’s head disappear and wondering when we will meet.
Back at the main headquarters, a biker with Ed Lee posters under his arm walks out the door with the same blond man who unlocked the office earlier today.
“I can’t do anything for you,” he says, locking the door and rushing away.
I peek through the windows and take note of the gray walls covered with at least six maps and dozens of Ed Lee posters.
I stay for a few minutes, hoping someone will return, then slowly walk away, turning back to make sure no one is there. From afar I see a slender man in a black sweater pulling at the door with no success. My stomach growls.
After an internal debate about which campaign office to head to next, I find myself comfortably seated in a BART train toward Daly City, reading “The Ed Lee Story: An Unexpected Mayor,” which someone handed me the day before on my way out of the Balboa Park BART station.
When Gavin Newsom was elected lieutenant governor back in January, Lee was being considered for the interim position. At the time, Lee refused to accept it, despite his longtime experience working with city government — a career that included positions as head investigator for a whistleblower ordinance and director of the Department of Public Works. At the time Newsom was considering him for interim mayor, Lee was traveling in Hong Kong.
Then, in early January, Lee caught everyone off guard by accepting the position, but warning voters — and reassuring others — that he had no interest in running for the office.
Then, in early August, Lee, the first Asian American mayor in San Francisco’s history, announced his candidacy for mayor.
Next stop: the Excelsior campaign office.
Within five minutes of walking in, I am asked to leave. Three people are eating lunch at their desks, but not much else is going on.
Again, the message is that if I want to speak to anyone, I need permission from the head of media communications. At this point, I’ve already called him twice today, e-mailed and even texted, per the request of his voicemail greeting message.
The Excelsior/Mission office, located at 4760 Mission St. and looking like it’s under construction, is much bigger than the main campaign headquarters. Here, too, the walls are covered with Ed Lee posters and greeting signs in various languages.
I stick around, make a few phone calls and finally get in touch with a field director who promises a phone call about an upcoming event.
Waiting for the next 29 bus, toward the Sunset, my ankle aches from a previous mishap with uneven pavement near Civic Center. Chasing Ed Lee is not helping.
After lunch and planning which office to visit next, I find a good samaritan — my housemate — willing to drive me in my pursuit of Lee. Soon we’re off to the West Portal office.
As I push through the door I see two young men typing away on computers in a back room. A woman near the front door appears to be phone banking, sitting at a small table with a folder in front of her and a phone pressed against her cheek. However, she is not speaking into the receiver.
One of the young men greets me, shakes my hand and asks how he can help. But as soon as he realizes I want to speak with volunteers and spend some time in the office, I’m asked to speak to the media relations contact. My calls will be returned as soon as possible.
“Things are just busy at this time,” he says.
“I’m just wondering, because I have not been able to meet him, have you ever met Ed Lee?”
The aide goes from nice to hostile. My motives are questioned, why do I want to know this information?
“Of course I’ve met him. I work for him.”
Later I get an apology. Everyone’s on edge, the aide explains.
Lee’s been slammed in the press and by opponents with allegations that his campaign laundered donations and helped voters fill out their ballots.
OK, I get that the news hasn’t been good, but all I want to do is talk about what Lee’s like, what it’s like to campaign for a frontrunner. Apparently that’s not going to happen.
I wonder what other campaign offices look like, and decide to stop by Tony Hall’s office, a two-minute walk away.
It’s the biggest space I’ve seen all day. It’s organized and clean. Two people are phone banking while others are busy at their desks. One gentleman comes up and greets me warmly.
“How are you? It’s nice to meet you.”
I ask what it would take for me to meet Hall, who is considered the most conservative candidate in the race, or to spend some time at a campaign office, observing volunteers.
“Just send Tony an e-mail,” I am told. They would be happy to have me in any of their offices and let me spend some time with Hall.
The Bay Citizen and University of San Francisco poll ranks Hall among the bottom four of voters’ first choice for mayor.
The same poll puts Lee in first place, with 76 percent of the voters. Does 76 percent mean you no longer talk to the hyperlocals?
I snap some photos of the surrounding campaign posters before entering the Richmond campaign office. This one is at 389 Arguello St., a much more residential area. The office is nestled between a jewelry boutique and a bright aqua-colored building.
Two women greet me, very friendly and welcoming, but they refuse to speak about the campaign, their experiences or Ed Lee.
The younger of the two calls a field director who, according to the woman, has said that I am confirmed for another event. It must be the one I haven’t been called back about.
Before I leave, two volunteers enter the small two-story office. They head to the back room as one of the women tells me how happy she is to be volunteering her time for the Ed Lee campaign.
After updating my editors, we decide I should go to City Hall and try to speak with Lee there, or find out how I can reach him. All I can do is cross my fingers.
Finally, I’m walking up the stairs to the second floor of City Hall. My destination: Room 291. I am greeted by a nice young lady. I apologize for a dropped call that happened about 15 minutes beforehand; BART was going underground.
I speak to two women who tell me that Ed Lee was probably at a few meetings today, but they can’t say for sure because they don’t know his schedule.
I ask if I can make an appointment. No. It has to be made through a special request in another room. However, if I make this appointment through City Hall, it can only be related to current policies; campaign issues cannot be discussed. For that, I have to contact the campaign sites or the campaign media representative.
And if I were just another resident of San Francisco? Same process. At least now I know how I can visit Lee in City Hall, but I still don’t know where he is, how I can speak to him or when he will attend any public event.
By the end of the evening I manage to get in touch with a field organizer who suggests that I attend a phone banking event the next day. Lee, however, will not be there.