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San Francisco elects its first Asian-American mayor

The election is the first time voters have put an Asian-American politician in the city's top job. -AFP

Thu, Nov 10, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO - A Chinese-American former city official Wednesday became the first Asian-American to be elected mayor of San Francisco, which has one of the oldest Chinatowns in the United States, results showed.

Interim mayor Ed Lee polled 61 percent after a second stage of counting in the city's "ranked-choice" voting system, in which voters choose their top three candidates, about 22 percent of his nearest rival.

He needed 50 percent plus one vote for victory, but had not reached that in an initial count of first-preference votes.

"The voters of San Francisco want four more years of what we've been doing - that's job creation, that's creating more unity," a victorious Lee told reporters at City Hall after the updated results were announced.

"I'm going to do my best to keep uniting the city."

Although the Chinese-American community - 21 percent of the city's population - is a powerful force in local politics, the election is the first time voters have put an Asian-American politician in the city's top job.

Lee was a little-known city administrator when he was appointed interim mayor in January this year by then-Mayor Gavin Newsom, who was elected to statewide office.

He had been the front-runner throughout the race. At a campaign party on Tuesday night, he essentially declared victory and said his win symbolized a "new chapter" in San Francisco history.

"It's one thing to be appointed the first Asian-American mayor but it's another thing to be confirmed by all the members of the city," he said.

Vincent Pan, head of the civil rights group Chinese for Affirmative Action, said the election reflected a growing Chinese presence on the West Coast city's political scene.

"This is an important reflection point where the community has to appreciate how far we've come but also ask important questions about where we're going," Pan said, noting a surge "from being under-represented" only three years ago.

Although popular, Lee has been pummeled by controversy since entering the race. On being temorarily appointed he had pledged not to run for a full term.

He angered other candidates - some of whom had helped him win the interim appointment - when he changed his mind under pressure from political backers.

His campaign has been plagued by accusations that supporters have committed voter fraud and financial abuses in their efforts to round up votes. Lee has not been directly implicated in any wrongdoing and has denied involvement.

The interim mayor's close ties to some members of the city's political elite have also drawn scrutiny.

Ex-mayor Willie Brown, whose political dealings were investigated by the FBI, is one of Lee's strongest backers and has used the weekly column he now writes for the city's major daily, the San Francisco Chronicle, to support his candidacy.

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