San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee is trying to broker peace in his city between the haves and the have-mores – that is, between the middle class and the Next Notch Up. Many of the latter group hail from the tech industry, whose financial and political support helped Lee win office in 2011. Judging from recent published remarks, the mayor might need to recalibrate his socioeconomic bearings to keep his impartial referee’s cap.
Interviewed in Time on how tech wealth has fueled divisions and resentments among residents, Lee conceded that his city might have “missed some steps” in tending to its middle class – and then made a misstep of his own. “We might have a broader range of defining the middle class,” Lee told Time. “I’m talking maybe $80,000 to $150,000.”
That range, as it turns out, is wildly off. As local news outlets reported, census data list median salary in the city at $74,000 as recently as 2012. (It’s about $61,000 for California and $53,000 for the nation.) Upwardly revising the number also rebrands the middle class to embrace the tech block to whom Lee is beholden. Et voila! What middle-class exodus? What’s more, our six-figure friends need government help!
THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, for floating a tone-deaf talking point seemingly crafted by a tech sector lobbyist.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: Build a ring-fence around your credibility. This is especially true for would-be mediators. The middle ground is the hardest to defend and the slightest tip of the scales one way or the other compromises one’s impartiality and hence effectiveness at bridging gaps. Lee’s infraction of this rule is seemingly minor, but San Francisco is tightly bound, constrained geographically (by water) and politically (by tradition). Like the city’s endemic earthquakes, even small political ripples can do damage and escalate rapidly to major catastrophe. Keep your friends close, indeed – but your facts closer.