The SF Mayoral Race: David Chiu

Photo courtesy of David Chiu

We’re more than 14 months away from the next presidential election. But, if you’ve been following the news, you know the campaigning is in full force.

Here in the Bay Area, we’re much closer to voting in a different election. In just over two months, San Francisco will elect a new mayor, and today we kick off our series of conversations with the candidates. There are 16 of them: supervisors, former supervisors, a former nightclub owner, the city attorney, the public defender, and the interim mayor who took over when Gavin Newsom was elected lieutenant governor. And that’s just the half.

It's a remarkable race to fill the city's top political seat, and KALW News is conducting interviews with every candidate, including the president of the city’s board of supervisors, David Chiu.

Chiu represents District 3 – the northeast side of the city – including Fisherman's Wharf, North Beach, and Chinatown. KALW’s Ben Trefny asked him about the main thoroughfare where he lives: Polk Street.

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DAVID CHIU: Polk Street, I think, is an incredible microcosm of the diversity of our city, economically and ethnically. We have a lot of amazing little hole-in-the wall restaurants, bars, and clubs. It’s a very real neighborhood. It’s a place where people flock to on the weekends to hang out in the cafes during the day, and to the bars and clubs at night.

BEN TREFNY: Your current role is president of the Board of Supervisors, which is kind of herding cats in some ways. Depending on who the mayor is, the relationships might be frosty. They might be good. What have you learned about city politics from this role?

CHIU: Well, I ran for office at a time when there were real challenges between the mayor and the Board of Supervisors, and quite frankly a lot of dysfunctionality at City Hall.

TREFNY: That’s when Gavin Newsom was mayor.

CHIU: That’s correct. And, three years into my time as president of the Board of Supervisors, I do think we’re in a different place. I think our board has been working very well together recently to move forward on the issues that are most important to our city, whether it be balancing budget deficits, whether it be creating new jobs, whether it be keeping companies like Twitter here, whether it be winning the America’s Cup. We’re doing the things we need to do to move forward.

TREFNY: So you’ve worked with interim Mayor Ed Lee and his mayoral predecessor current Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom. Mayor Ed Lee is of course one of the other competitors for mayor right now. What did you learn from the way Gavin Newsom and Ed Lee have run this city?

CHIU: Well, I think that Mayor Newsom did a very good job of always focusing on the next idea that would move us forward and being able to identify them and to work with the city government to move them forward. I think that the moments in recent years where we actually came together in agreement were our greatest moments politically over the past decade. So whether it had been standing up for marriage equality or being the first city in the country to implement universal health care or being on the forefront of the environmental movement, these were all great things that happened in years past.

I think, In contrast, our interim mayor was asked and appointed by my colleagues at the board and I to finish up the remainder of Mayor Newsom’s term. We had asked him to help us finish up a lot of work that we had started years prior, so whether it be making sure the America’s Cup got implemented or a local ordinance that would put more San Franciscans to work on city projects, whether it be working to keep companies like Twitter here in San Francisco. I think we have been able to work fairly well together in being able to finish that legacy of work from the past. It was a different relationship, but obviously with recent developments, we’ll see what happens in the future.

TREFNY: So, if you were mayor, what would your top three priorities be for the city?

CHIU: So, three things. Well, first of all, our local economy is significantly challenged. We have lost tens of thousands of jobs just over the couple of years, hundreds of companies over the past decade. I think we are in danger of becoming a set of veteran communities for Silicon Valley. We are not investing in the 80,000 small businesses we have here in San Francisco in making sure that we keep and retain the next biotech, clean tech, green tech, digital tech company. We are not nurturing our creative industries, our artists, our musicians, our writers. We have a manufacturing industry that we haven’t really focused on. I think that the next mayor needs to make sure that all of those aspects of our economy will make sure we’re creating a 21st economy in our city.

I think our second challenge has to do with how we get around in the city. For anyone who is waiting forever for a Muni bus or taxi cab, or pedestrians or cyclists who are on dangerous streets, or folks who are trying to get around. While we may have been the city that invented the cable car, we have significant transit challenges. We are not the “transit first” neighborhood that we want to be. I think that investing in infrastructure will be better for our way of life, will be better for the community, and will be better for our economy.

I think our third challenge has to do with our changing demographics. Over the past decade since the last census, we have lost thousands of families. We’ve had thousands of tenants who’ve been evicted, homeowners who’ve been foreclosed upon. We’ve lost half of our African American community since the last census. I think San Franciscans love our city because of the economic and ethnic diversity we have, and we have to reverse these trends.

TREFNY: Speaking of the diversity of San Francisco, this is a pretty remarkable mayoral election because of the diversity of candidates. And you are one of four Chinese American elected officials who are running for mayor, along with interim Mayor Ed Lee, current Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, Phil Ting, and state Senator Leland Yee. And even though he wasn’t elected by voters – he was appointed – Lee was the first Chinese American mayor in San Francisco. So what does the new political power for Chinese Americans in San Francisco mean to you?

CHIU: Well, San Francisco has always been a city where immigrants came from all over the world to make their mark and to find community and find their place. One hundred sixty years ago Chinese Americans first came to San Francisco. While it has been long and coming, we finally do now see in the Board of Supervisors and City Hall, the leadership reflects the diversity of the community that we live in. We have great candidates for mayor and I think that’s because our city attracts talent. There’s a lot of folks with good ideas on how we are going to move things forward.

Listen to the full, 20-minute interview with SF mayoral candidate David Chiu here to hear Chiu’s plans to draw jobs to San Francisco, maintain the city's ethnic diversity, bring families back, and improve Muni.