Monday, October 20, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Few can reconcile Leland Yee with the charges against him

SAN FRANCISCO — For more than two decades, Leland Yee climbed the political ladder in San Francisco.

A child psychologist turned politician, Yee straddled opposing camps in the city’s bare-knuckled political fights, appealing to both right and left and catering to constituents with a strong, attentive staff.

Elegant in appearance and charming in manner, he courted financial contributors and built a reputation as a canny pol with an enviable knack of identifying the high-profile issue of the day and then weighing in before a thicket of cameras.

When Yee was arrested last week on suspicion of public corruption and gun trafficking, few could reconcile the man recorded by undercover FBI agents with the familiar face on the local news.

Yee had won awards for espousing open government and gun control, but a federal charging document quoted him offering to trade political favors for cash and campaign contributions and broker an illegal shipment of automatic weapons and possibly rocket launchers. Yee was depicted as frenzied in his search for campaign money.

“There is a part of me that wants to be like you,” Yee told an agent posing as an arms buyer, according to the document. Agents said Yee had confided he was unhappy with his life.

His colleagues in Sacramento said the man they knew did not fit the portrait built by federal prosecutors.

“It was night and day, yin and yang,” said former Sen. Gloria Romero, a psychologist herself. “It defies reality.”

In San Francisco, where his opponents over the years had branded him a chameleon, the reaction was more muted.

“He would play to both sides of the room, though not at the same time,” said David Lee, a political science lecturer at San Francisco State University who has known Yee for years. “He was a trail-blazer, but the politics in the Asian American community and California have changed. He has been trying to hold on to power and stay relevant in a fast-changing time.”

Yee, 65, has withdrawn as a candidate for secretary of state and has been suspended with pay from the Legislature. Federal prosecutors announced Friday that a federal grand jury had returned indictments against Yee and 28 others, including a reputed Chinatown gang leader. Yee is free on $500,000 bail.

Paul DeMeester, his friend and former attorney, has questioned why it took agents three years of undercover work to arrest Yee.

“There is only one true Yee,” DeMeester said, and it is not the one federal prosecutors portrayed. Listening to the FBI tapes, instead of reading the cold transcripts unveiled last week, will reveal “how it is said, the intonations — Is there boasting? Is there joviality?”— and provide a truer picture of what happened, the lawyer said. (Yee’s lawyer, James Lassart, could not be reached for comment.)

Yee’s pro-union and gun-control stances won him support in San Francisco’s progressive community, yet he appealed to conservatives by siding with landlords and business.

In Sacramento, Yee’s votes at times mirrored the interests of his campaign contributors. California allows lawmakers to seek campaign money from donors affected by pending bills, and it is not uncommon for lawmakers to vote in line with those checks. Yee has said his votes reflected his conscience, not his campaign pocketbook.

In January 2006, then-Assemblyman Yee joined five Republicans in voting against a bill to ban the chemical bisphenol A from toys and other products for young children. The bill failed in committee by one vote. Former Assemblywoman Wilma Chan told The Times that Yee had promised to vote for her bill. Days before the roll call, he reported receiving $1,000 from Dow Chemical, manufacturer of bisphenol A.

Yee received $12,700 from plastic bag maker Hilex Poly, including $6,800 in three months in 2013 after he opposed a proposed ban on plastic grocery bags.

Yee’s power base in San Francisco was in the city’s more conservative west side, not Chinatown. He was considered a political lone wolf, eschewing Democratic Party gatherings in the city and at times defying party leadership in Sacramento.

Over the years, he had minor brushes with the law reported in media accounts, but none resulted in criminal prosecution. San Francisco police twice stopped him in 1999 because they believed he was trawling for prostitutes. Yee was let go without any charges. He was arrested in Hawaii in 1992 for allegedly trying to steal a bottle of suntan lotion but left the state without being prosecuted.

His political career began with his election in 1988 to the San Francisco Board of Education. He later was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and the state Assembly and became the first Chinese American to win a seat in the state Senate. He now represents part of San Francisco, where he lives, and San Mateo County.

During his early days in politics, Yee aligned himself with the city’s growing population of middle-class Chinese Americans, who felt neglected by the city’s liberal establishment. Asian parents back then complained the school assignment process hurt highly qualified Chinese Americans by denying them entrance to the city’s top public schools. Yee spoke up for them.

With an eye on future office, Yee worked tirelessly for former Mayor Willie Brown Jr. in the city’s 1995 mayoral race, said Ed Lew, who also helped in the campaign. Yee’s wife sometimes stopped by with their children, who did their homework while their father worked. Lew said Yee helped Brown capture the Chinatown vote.

But Yee felt “jilted” when Brown appointed another Asian American to a vacancy on the Board of Supervisors, said David Lee, the San Francisco State lecturer. Yee eventually ran himself, winning a citywide vote and later a district election.

When he was a supervisor, Yee helped lead an effort to rebuild a city freeway destroyed in an earthquake. A coalition of Chinese Americans, unions, merchants and real estate interests passed a ballot measure in favor of the freeway, which supporters argued would bring jobs and reduce traffic on congested city streets. Brown and the city’s more liberal neighborhoods opposed it.

Although San Franciscans later rescinded the measure, its passage was “a watershed moment,” David Lee said. “Chinese Americans put on a ballot measure and won a campaign for the first time. Leland was one of the leaders of the movement.”

His career appeared aimed at one day becoming San Francisco’s mayor, and Yee ran in a crowded field in 2011. Yee felt it was “his time,” and he amassed support from unions and developers, Lee said. But he lost to another Chinese American, Ed Lee, who had never before run for office and had the support of the political establishment and Chinatown.

Nathan Ballard, a political strategist who supported Lee, said Yee’s tendency to be “all over the map” on issues deprived him of a “clearly defined political brand.” Yee spent much of the campaign trying to portray Lee as corrupt in “hit pieces,” Ballard said, and received support from progressive voters who saw Lee as part of the Willie Brown machine. But it was not enough.

Yee’s mayoral defeat left him with broken dreams and a campaign debt of $90,000.

Born in China, Yee immigrated with his family to San Francisco when he was 3. He earned degrees from UC Berkeley and San Francisco State and a doctorate in child psychology from the University of Hawaii. He and his wife, Maxine, have been married for 42 years. They have four children.

Yee’s colleagues in the Legislature described him as smart and diligent. They said he rarely, if ever, spoke about personal matters.

Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana), who has known Yee for more than a decade, said his training as a child psychologist fueled an interest in advocating for children’s issues. The two men traveled to China on a cultural and trade mission, and Correa knew Yee as someone who was “always joking, very jovial.” Correa said he remains baffled by the accusations against Yee.

“That was a Leland Yee I had no idea even existed,” Correa said. “This was something I had never seen.”

Mcclatchy-Tribune News Service

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | No comments

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

.

Solano News

Girl Scouts explore sweet side of chemistry

By Jess Sullivan | From Page: A1, 1 Comment | Gallery

 
Time again for my Cheers and Jeers

By Tony Wade | From Page: A2, 8 Comments

Vacaville library to host composting series

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: A3

 
Senior Center hosts monthly travel presentation

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: A3

Total Home, Garden & Harvest Festival wraps up

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: A3, 1 Comment | Gallery

 
Pumpkin Patch Festival set for final weekend

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: A3

 
Sessions teach about child support process

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: A3

Arrivederci! Italian Festival

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: A3 | Gallery

 
Red Kettle Program returns for holidays

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: A3, 1 Comment

Holiday Fashion Extravaganza registration deadline looms

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: A3

 
Elder depression and substance abuse topic of discussion

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: A3

Napa man jailed for running over ex-girlfriend

By Staff and wire reports | From Page: A4, 3 Comments

 
Local governments schedule meetings

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: A4, 1 Comment

Weather for Monday, Oct. 20, 2014

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B12

 
.

US / World

Obama switches gears, confronting Ebola head on

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1, 4 Comments

 
CDC to revise Ebola protocol, Pentagon preps team

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

Expelled Nazis paid millions in Social Security

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

 
Cruise ship docks with Ebola-watched health worker

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

Friends, family of Ebola patient reach milestone

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

 
California lottery sales top $5B for first time

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4

Archaeologists seek movie set in California sands

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4

 
The 10 semifinalists for World’s Funniest Person

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5, 2 Comments

On the road to find the world’s funniest person

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Coroner: 6 fire victims died of smoke inhalation

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

New England raking in millions from leaf peepers

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

 
Police hunt for clues near where Va. remains found

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

Super drunk woman arrested, mistook jail for bar

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6, 1 Comment

 
Robotic device helps paralyzed groom walk aisle

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6, 1 Comment

Pope beatifies Paul VI at remarkable synod’s end

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7, 1 Comment

 
S. Korea: 2 Koreas exchange gunfire along border

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

Sweden: 3 credible sightings in submarine search

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

 
5 Things to Know about Pope Paul VI

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

UN says Iraq has executed 60 people this year

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

 
Marine accused in Philippine killing tests US ties

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

.

Opinion

Pulse poll question

By Daily Republic | From Page: A8, 1 Comment

 
Is it truly affordable health care?

By Jim Mccully | From Page: A8, 22 Comments

 
Suisun mayor offers his endorsements

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A8, 13 Comments

Which candidates support Alzheimer’s cure?

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A8

 
Beware a Trojan horse

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A8, 4 Comments

.

Living

Community Calendar: Oct. 20, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

 
Today in History: Oct. 20, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

I’m too scared to leave my abusive husband of 15 years

By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: B5

 
Horoscopes: Oct. 20, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: B5

 
Horoscopes: Oct. 21, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: B7

.

Entertainment

TVGrid Oct 20

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A10

 
TVGrid Oct 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A11

Comedians honor Jay Leno with humor prize in DC

By The Associated Press | From Page: A11

 
Report: Nashville songwriter Paul Craft dies at 76

By The Associated Press | From Page: A11

Reported ‘Easy Rider’ chopper sells at auction

By The Associated Press | From Page: A11

 
‘New Girl,’ ‘Cosmos’ win Environmental Media Award

By The Associated Press | From Page: A11

 
‘Fury’ blasts ‘Gone Girl’ from top of box office

By The Associated Press | From Page: A11

.

Sports

Manning breaks Favre’s TD mark in 42-17 win over 49ers

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Tim Lincecum waits his turn, still yet to pitch

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Keselowski keeps title hopes alive at Talladega

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Palmer leads Cardinals past Raiders 24-13

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

38th Doug Butt Run highlights week’s events

By Paul Farmer | From Page: B1

 
Ski champ Svindal injured while playing soccer

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Serena Williams hits back at Russian official

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Kings pick up G Ben McLemore’s option

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Rockets beat Warriors 90-83 in exhibition game

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Pacquiao makes professional basketball debut

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Cal receiver Trevor Davis released from hospital

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Sounders rally for 2-2 tie with LA Galaxy

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Rangers net 2 in 4 seconds; Lundqvist stops Sharks

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

 
NFL roundup: Jaguars bounce Browns, gets first win

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

SEC is 1st conference to put 4 in top 5 of AP poll

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
This date in sports history for Monday, Oct. 20, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

 
Royals dependent on 3-headed bullpen monster

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8 | Gallery

Jay Haas wins Greater Hickory Kia Classic

By The Associated Press | From Page: B9

 
Ben Martin wins 1st PGA Tour title in Las Vegas

By The Associated Press | From Page: B9

Denkinger’s miss revisited as Series returns to KC

By The Associated Press | From Page: B9 | Gallery

 
Hend wins Hong Kong Open in a playoff

By The Associated Press | From Page: B9

Baek wins playoff to take LPGA South Korea

By The Associated Press | From Page: B9

 
Ilonen beats Stenson in World Match Play final

By The Associated Press | From Page: B9

.

Business

Facebook, Apple pay for egg freezing, sperm donors

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
.

Obituaries

.

Comics

Wizard of Id Oct 20

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
For Better or Worse Oct 20

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

B.C. Oct 20

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Peanuts Oct 20

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Baby Blues Oct 20

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Rose is Rose Oct 20

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Dilbert Oct 20

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Frank and Ernest Oct 20

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Get Fuzzy Oct 20

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Pickles Oct 20

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Garfield October 20

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Sally Forth Oct 20

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Baldo Oct 20

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Beetle Bailey Oct 20

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Zits Oct 20

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Blondie Oct 20

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Bridge Oct 20

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Cryptoquote Oct 20

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Crossword Oct 20

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Word Sleuth Oct 20

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Sudoku Oct 20

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Zits Oct 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Wizard of Id Oct 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Peanuts Oct 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Dilbert Oct 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Beetle Bailey Oct 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

B.C. Oct 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Frank and Ernest Oct 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Blondie Oct 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Garfield Oct 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Get Fuzzy Oct 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Baldo Oct 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Pickles Oct 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Rose is Rose Oct 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Baby Blues Oct 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
For Better or Worse Oct 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Sally Forth Oct 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Bridge Oct 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

Sudoku Oct 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

 
Crossword Oct 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

Word Sleuth Oct 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

 
Cryptoquote Oct 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7