A day after he was arrested in a federal sweep, California state Sen. Leland Yee on Thursday announced through his attorney that he is withdrawing his candidacy for secretary of state.
The announcement came amidst growing calls for Yee to resign from the Senate, with everyone from Sen. Dianne Feinstein to State Sen. President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg asking him to step down.
“The allegations against Senator Yee are shocking," Feinstein said in a statement released Thursday afternoon. "It has become clear he has lost the confidence of his colleagues and for the good of his constituents should step down.”
State senators will meet in the Senate Chambers in Sacramento on Friday morning to ask Yee to resign, according to Steinberg's office. If Yee refuses, he will be suspended, Steinberg's office said.
State Sen. Mark Leno said, after Friday's vote, Yee "will not be on the floor of the Senate ever again."
At a Thursday morning news conference in front of San Francisco's Federal Building, attorney Paul DeMeester said Yee has not yet made a decision about whether to resign from his state Senate seat, as he is making decisions "one day at a time." Yee, who had been termed out of his position as state senator, had been one of eight candidates for the secretary of state position.
DeMeester said that Yee informed Secretary of State Debra Bowen of his decision to withdraw from the race after noon on Thursday.
"It's a very personal choice, a personal thing that he wanted to do," DeMeester said.
A federal complaint unsealed Wednesday accused the San Francisco Democrat of engaging in a conspiracy to traffic firearms and accepting campaign donations in exchange for official acts. In one instance, Yee, who has been a strong advocate for gun control during his decade in the state legislature, allegedly discussed setting an undercover agent up with an international arms dealer, warning that such business dealings are "not for the faint of heart," according to the complaint.
Yee, 65, was charged with conspiracy to traffic in firearms without a license, and to illegally import firearms as well as a scheme to defraud citizens of honest services.
NBC Bay Area broke news of his arrest.
Yee and Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow, leader of the Chee Kung Tong Free Masons in San Francisco, were among 26 defendants charged in the federal criminal complaint Wednesday, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag of the Northern District of California said.
Yee has served in the state Legislature for more than a decade, and was elected to the State Senate in November 2006, representing District 8, which includes San Francisco and San Mateo County.
He posted a $500,000 unsecured bond and is scheduled to return to court on Monday.
Yee represents Senate District 8, which includes the western half of San Francisco and most of San Mateo County. He declared his candidacy for secretary of state in 2012.
This is not Yee's first brush with the law. Yee was arrested in 1992 in Hawaii on suspicion of walking out of a KTA store with a bottle of Tropical Blend Tan Magnifier Oil stuffed under his shirt. The case was eventually dismissed.
He had another brush with law enforcement in 1999, when he was stopped in San Francisco's Mission District's "hooker-row area" near Capp Street. Yee denied soliciting prostitues, telling the media: "They presume that people are driving around there looking for prostitutes, but there are people who use that street to go home. They said there was somebody they thought looked like me who may have been soliciting. And I said, 'No, I was coming from work.'"
Meanwhile, the remaining candidates running for Secretary of State have reacted to Yee's arrest and alleged political corruption.
Fellow state senator and Democratic candidate Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima, issued a statement calling the criminal allegations "another blow to the institution of the California State Senate."
Padilla did not comment on how the arrest and charges against Yee would affect the upcoming June primary and November election.
Secretary of State Green Party candidate David Curtis said this morning that the focus of the race has turned to "Yee's situation" and he said he wondered, "How do you get people's attention back to the other candidates?"
Curtis said for frontrunner Padilla, Yee's arrest is a double-edged sword with some voters concerned that a fellow state senator comes from the same money-grubbing "gene pool," while others are moving away from Yee and aligning with Padilla instead.
Democrat Derek Cressman was also running against Yee for Secretary of State, and said in a statement that Yee's address is a "wake-up call" and that, "We are clearly beyond the point of looking at one bad apple and instead looking at a corrupt institution in the California senate."
According to the California Secretary of State office, at this point in the election process, Yee's name cannot be removed from the ballot and he is considered an official candidate for the position.
State Sen. President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, has called on Yee to resign from the senate.
He said senators would move to suspend Yee and that he is removing Yee from his committee positions.
Bay City News contributed to this report.