State Sen. Leland Yee took a major step yesterday toward running for mayor of San Francisco, opening an exploratory committee that will allow him to raise money for his bid – but the way he has been spending his campaign cash this year, it's probably fair to assume he's been thinking about the office for a quite a while.
You probably wouldn't know it by reading the headlines, but Yee was up for re-election in the senate this year, thoroughly drubbing Republican challenger Doo Sup Park by a 79-21 margin. Not that a Republican like Park stands much chance of winning in deep-blue San Francisco, but that didn't stop Yee from spending more than $1 million on polling, media and consulting services, all while rumors of his mayoral ambitions were looming large.
Or as his consultant, Jim Stearns, told the San Francisco Chronicle's Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross: "We needed to keep people informed on what the senator had been doing."
Opening an exploratory committee will allow Yee to officially begin raising money for the mayor's race, but the initial investment from his senate account could give him a nice head start.
Contributions to municipal candidates in San Francisco are limited to $500 apiece, and despite generous public financing laws in the city, major candidates must raise millions to stay competitive. Outgoing Mayor Gavin Newsom spent nearly $6 million on his first campaign in 2003.
Several other candidates who have emerged, including San Francisco Supervisor Bevan Dufty, City Attorney Dennis Herrera and a host of potential local politicians, have long been limited by the same San Francisco campaign limits. State Sen. Mark Leno's name has also popped up once or twice, though, unlike Yee, he sure hasn't been spending like it.
In all, Yee has so far reported spending nearly $1.2 million from his Senate account this election cycle – about a third of it in the last couple months. He bought nearly a quarter-million dollars worth of ad time in the late summer and early fall and has run a number of private polls, including several this summer and one last February. He also made nearly $100,000 in contributions, largely to local campaigns and political committees.
Yee's spending was about on pace with his first Senate run in 2006, when he dropped about $1.15 million on a race that he won by more than 50 points. During his time in the Legislature, he often pursued headline-grabbing subjects such as a ban on violent video games and a recent investigation into whether public funds were used to pay for a speech given by Sarah Palin at CSU Stanislaus. He previously served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.