SAN FRANCISCO Interim San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee led a field of 16 candidates on Tuesday in his bid to become the first elected mayor of Chinese descent in a city where Chinese-Americans account for a quarter of the population.
With all 429 precincts reporting, the one-time civil rights lawyer and career civil servant had garnered nearly 32 percent of the vote tabulated so far, well below the simple majority he needed for outright victory.
His closest rival, Board of Supervisors member John Avalos, one of the most left-leaning candidates in the heavily Democratic city, was trailing in second place with almost 19 percent of the vote.
Still to be counted in the nonpartisan race, however, were mail-in ballots that were not received until Election Day, provisional ballots cast at polling places and write-in votes.
Further complicating the outcome is the city's unusual "ranked-choice" voting system, in which second and third choices of candidates declared by voters come into play to determine the winner if no candidate initially draws a majority.
Lee, who was appointed by the Board of Supervisors on an interim basis last fall when then-Mayor Gavin Newsom was elected lieutenant governor, campaigned as a pragmatist who could best tackle the city's chronic budget problems.
He has enjoyed strong support from the city's business community, as well as backing from Newsom, former Mayor Willie Brown and leaders of the Chinese-American community.
"The early returns are indicative that the public has decided they want the work we are doing," he said on Tuesday night in an interview aired on KPIX-TV.
City election officials said it could take two weeks or more to process all of the ballots and officially determine a victor.
Absent a simple majority of first-choice votes, the candidate with the fewest first choices is eliminated and voters who chose that candidate will have their vote given to their second-choice candidate, and all votes will be recounted.
The process is repeated until one candidate winds up with 50 percent plus one, a system that can throw the election to a candidate other than the one who started out with a plurality of first-choice votes -- in this case Lee.
(Reporting by Jim Christie and Emmett Berg; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnson)