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    David Chiu’s Appointment to City Attorney and the Ensuing Chain Reaction; Let the Games Begin

    By Louise “Lou” Fischer–

    It’s time to play musical chairs again in San Francisco politics.

    If you’ve ever wondered why it is important to have a really good mayor in San Francisco, it is because in addition to leading the executive branch of the city and county government, kissing babies, cutting ribbons, and lighting up the city with a 1000-watt smile, Mayor London Breed has appointment power over vacancies. Since 1931, San Francisco’s City Charter (Article III, Section 2.100.15 for the policy nerds in the audience) allows the mayor to “make an appointment to fill any vacancy in an elective office of the City and County until a successor shall have been elected.”

    Setting off a domino theory (the falling kind, not the game your grandfather played) in city and state government, Mayor Breed appointed current State Assemblymember, former Supervisor, and President of the Board of Supervisors, David Chiu, to replace Dennis Herrera as City Attorney, practically breaking Facebook and Instagram when every political junkie in San Francisco posted congratulations and a selfie that included Chiu.

    I worked for David on his first Assembly campaign in 2014, volunteered on subsequent campaigns, and served as one of his appointed delegates to the State Democratic Party. I am an unabashed fan of David’s, so any semblance of neutrality in this article just flew out the window faster than the Blue Angels in diamond formation over the Marina Green. 

    I checked in to congratulate him on the day of his appointment and to ask about his commitment to advocacy for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community in light of his new role. He responded that he was humbled and grateful to serve as the next City Attorney and that “it will be an honor to use the power of the law to uphold the rights of our LGBTQ+ communities and fight for justice on behalf of the people of San Francisco. The City Attorney’s office has been on the forefront of some of the most important legal battles in the country, and I look forward to continuing that legacy.”  

    What started this game of Musical Chairs?

    This past spring, Mayor Breed appointed Herrera to lead the city’s Public Utilities Commission because who better to take over an agency where the level of corruption exceeded the Teapot Dome, Watergate, the Keating Five, Tammany Hall, and the entire Trump presidency than the city’s self-proclaimed “top watchdog”? The appointment of Chiu to Herrera’s seat, a surprise to no one except for the remaining pandemic shut-ins who have eschewed broadcast TV, newspapers, and the entire internet, made Chiu San Francisco’s first Asian American City Attorney. 

    This is probably one of the last city elected offices where the designation of “First Asian” still applies. Former District Attorney Kamala Harris and current Public Defender Manohar Raju are of Indian descent and therefore qualify as Southeast Asians. The last holdout might be the office of City Treasurer, where Mary Callanan served for 17 years (1980–1997), followed by Susan Leal (1997–2004), and where current Treasurer José Cisneros super-glued himself to the seat in 2004 and has shown no intention of leaving his plum post. 

    What happens now?

    Chiu’s tentative date to leave the Assembly is Oct 31, after which Governor Gavin Newsom must call for a special election two weeks later to be held between 126 and 140 days after that or within 200 days to consolidate it with another election. Candidates will face the voters sometime in early-to-mid 2022 and then again in November 2022 because Chiu’s term ends in December, 2022. There’s no electoral honeymoon for Chiu because, as a mayoral appointee, he must run in the June 7, 2022, primary or sooner (if there is an election in San Francisco before that date, such as a Board of Education or District Attorney recall election) to keep the City Attorney position until the end of Herrera’s term. And if he wishes to run for his own 4-year term, he must run in November 2023.  

    Who is running? 

    So far, four candidates have declared their intention to run for Chiu’s seat: Supervisor Matt Haney; former Supervisor David Campos, and current Chief of Staff for the San Francisco District Attorney; Thea Selby, a City College of San Francisco Trustee; and Bilal Mahmood, a scientist that no San Francisco voter has ever heard of but has the coolest sounding name of the four declared candidates. 

    Haney and Campos in the same race sets up an internecine struggle between two darlings of the city’s progressive voter base. They chose to forgo a backroom deal in which a “Progressive Papa” (or “Mama,” but the alliteration works better with “Papa”) anoints one as the heir apparent with an easier path to victory. Pundits are calling it a progressive wrestling match, but the musical theatre geek in me sees a rivalry on par with Guys and Dolls, Grease, Hamilton, or West Side Story—but without anyone getting killed at the end. It will be interesting to see how the two progressive candidates split votes among the progressive establishment and Democratic club endorsements, and if this opens the door for a more moderate candidate to sneak in and steal the win.  

    While Mayor Breed has not endorsed (yet) in this race, if Haney wins the Assembly seat, the Mayor gets to make another appointment to fill Haney’s District 6 Supervisor seat. Buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy ride. Democratic clubs and campaign consultants are going to be very busy. 

    Louise (Lou) Fischer is a Former Co-Chair of the Board of Directors of the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club and has served as an appointed and elected Delegate for the State Democratic Party. She is a proud graduate of the Emerge California Women’s Democratic Leadership program, was a San Francisco Commissioner, and has served in leadership positions in multiple nonprofit and community-based organizations.

    Published on October 7, 2021