Chiu enters Assembly race
by Matthew S. Bajko
With the entrance Thursday of Board President David Chiu into the 2014 race for the 17th Assembly District seat, San Francisco voters in the city's eastside district will be confronted with choosing between two supervisors named David with law degrees from Harvard to send to Sacramento as their representative.
In August gay Supervisor David Campos, 42, became the first person to officially enter the race. The Bernal Heights resident has the backing of the incumbent, gay Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), and history on his side. The last three holders of the seat have all been out elected officials, and many consider it to be the local LGBT community's state legislative seat.
Yet Chiu has a deep well of support within the city's LGBT community and long has fought for LGBT rights. In 1996 he worked for then-Senator Paul Simon (D-Illinois) on Capitol Hill and was heavily involved in his boss's unsuccessful efforts to block the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act.
"I will never forget sitting in the Senate chamber on the dark day that 85 U.S. senators voted in favor of ugly bigotry, and that unsuccessful fight reaffirmed my personal commitment to LGBT equality," Chiu wrote in an open letter to the LGBT community during his failed bid for mayor two years ago.
In an interview Tuesday with the Bay Area Reporter about his decision to seek the Assembly seat, Chiu said the DOMA fight in Congress led to his moving to town nearly two decades ago.
"That DOMA vote was truly ... it was an incredibly dark day in the U.S. Senate and a part of why I needed to move to a place like San Francisco, which to me and so many others has always been a beacon of tolerance to the rest of the world," said Chiu, 43, who was first elected to the board in 2008 representing the city's northern neighborhoods such as North Beach and Chinatown.
In June the U.S. Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional the section of DOMA that forbade federal agencies from recognizing state-sanctioned same-sex marriages. The court also ruled on a legal technicality in a different case that led California to once again marry same-sex couples; last weekend Chiu joined other officials in celebrating the Berkeley couple who were plaintiffs in the case at a party in the Castro hosted by gay state Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco).
"The struggles the LGBT community has are struggles that have been a part of the broader fight against discrimination and bigotry that has been a part of American history. LGBT struggles are the civil rights fight of our generation," said Chiu, who grew up in Boston as the eldest of three children of immigrant parents. "To me, it has always been one and the same."
His association with LGBT issues has led some to mistakenly believe that the straight supervisor, who earlier this year became engaged to his longtime girlfriend, public interest lawyer Candace Chen, is in fact gay.
"I don't think I am the first, single, straight elected official to have heard rumors like that. This is San Francisco," Chiu joked when asked about the gossip regarding his sexual orientation.
The couple met five years ago when Chen volunteered on Chiu's first supervisor campaign and plan to wed later this year.
"For a couple years we had talked about waiting to get married until the day when all of our friends could also get married," said Chiu.
As for running for a state legislative seat long associated with the LGBT community, Chiu pledged he would be as effective a state legislator on LGBT issues as an out candidate would be.
"I have had a deep and long history working with the LGBT community on issues important to the community. Fundamentally, this race is about California and the Assembly District needs bold and effective leadership, which I believe I have demonstrated at the Board of Supervisors," said Chiu.
Shortly after winning his board seat, Chiu went on vacation and read Randy Shilts's biography The Mayor of Castro Street about slain gay rights leader Harvey Milk, the first out elected official in San Francisco. A key lesson he derived from Milk's political success, said Chiu, was his ability to build coalitions across diverse constituencies.
"It is important to have elected officials who can bring people together and deliver results. That is my record," he said. "Certainly, if I have the opportunity to represent the Assembly District in Sacramento, I intend to be as passionate on issues of importance to the LGBT community."
Without mentioning Campos by name, Chiu added, "But I believe I will be more effective. I will be as effective as we have been able to accomplish things in San Francisco."
LGBT voters likely key
LGBT voters likely will play a determining factor in who wins the seat next fall. And each candidate is already heavily courting LGBT residents of the district.
Campos hit the ground running last month with an LGBT campaign advisory committee already in place. Its members are a mix of moderate and progressive leaders, including chair Steve Adams, a gay banker and president of the city's Small Business Commission; Police Commissioners Petra DeJesus and Julius Turman; and Mayor Ed Lee's housing adviser Bevan Dufty.
Chiu is in the process of launching his own LGBT outreach committee for the campaign. And he has secured endorsements from a number of LGBT leaders across the political spectrum, including local Democratic Party official Arlo Hale Smith; Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club past co-chairs Charles Sheehan and Bentrish Satarzadeh; and Michael Lee, a past treasurer of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club.
"It is a race, in my mind, between two good friends, both of whom I love," said Debra Walker, who serves with "the Davids" on the Democratic County Central Committee.
For now, Walker has endorsed Chiu but left the door open to a dual endorsement.
"I am supporting David Chiu. At this juncture I haven't talked to Campos about this race," Walker told the B.A.R. "It is very difficult in politics when your friends run against each other. But I have known David Chiu longer and we work together a lot on issues."
Chiu twice has appointed Walker to a seat on the city's Building Inspection Commission, and the two speak frequently about land use issues, Walker said. His ability to bring people of opposing viewpoints together will serve him well in Sacramento, she added.
"I feel David Chiu is really effective in local politics in getting things done," she said. "He really does have success in bringing folks together on very controversial issues."
Gay District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener has given Chiu a sole endorsement in the race. He stressed, as did Walker, that his decision is not due to "negativity" toward Campos.
"David Campos and I have had our policy agreements and policy disagreements. We also work well together," Wiener said. "I am supporting David Chiu because I think he will be an exceptional leader in Sacramento and a great representative for our community."
Asked about supporting a straight candidate over a gay candidate, Wiener said his decision is based on evaluating his board colleagues on various issues and factors.
"Whether someone is LGBT or is not, being LGBT is one factor I take into account but not the only factor. I think that is true of many LGBT people," said Wiener.
Rebecca Prozan, an out lesbian and director of community relations in the district attorney's office, is also solely backing Chiu in the race. She too noted his ability to bridge political divides for why he has won her support.
"It's something I haven't seen in a while," said Prozan.
Based on his track record, Prozan said she has no reservations about Chiu's ability to pass LGBT legislation in the Legislature.
"I have no qualms about that whatsoever," said Prozan when asked about the straight candidate versus gay candidate dynamic of the race. "That is not how I analyze this race and races in the past."
Noting she has supported straight candidates running against LGBT candidates before, Prozan said her decision in the Assembly race came down to believing Chiu "is the best candidate, I have no worries over that. There is no question he will fight for HIV/AIDS funding and be in the forefront of what is left in the marriage equality fight."
Nonetheless, Wiener expects the race to be divisive within the city's LGBT community. Though he expressed hope it would not degenerate into personal attacks.
"I think the LGBT vote is very significant in this district and District 8 in particular, which is the highest voter turnout district in the city. So the LGBT community will have a huge impact on this race," Wiener predicted. "These are two strong, hardworking candidates with exemplary records of support for the LGBT community, for HIV funding and so forth. I am sure this will be a hard fought race, as it should be. I am hopeful that it will stay positive."
Chiu is planning to do a round of media interviews Thursday to promote his candidacy and will make a "major" announcement online. His revised campaign website at http://www.votedavidchiu.org will also go live that day.