Of the myriad of factors that make up the San Francisco voting bloc, right wing is low on the list. The City skews Democrat, and often progressive Democrat at that. More than 55 percent of the City’s nearly 800,000 voters registered as Democrats, according to state data. As San Francisco has grown, that plurality has only increased.
San Francisco politics could look very different in six months. The federal investigation into the City’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) laid the groundwork for a series of high-profile moves and one especially pivotal vacancy.
In late September, Mayor London Breed appointed Assemblymember David Chiu as city attorney after 20-year incumbent Dennis Herrera moved to head the PUC. Chiu will reportedly step down on Oct. 31, leaving his District 17 seat vacant.
So with a litany of left wing candidates, how is a voter to decide?
If Gov. Gavin Newsom calls a special election and does not wait until the next citywide election to consolidate the voting, San Franciscans could be electing a new assembly member as early as February.
The San Francisco Chronicle outlined four potential candidates for the role, and two of them show an immediate lead.
One of those candidates is former District 9 Supervisor David Campos. Campos spoke with El Tecolote about how his experience as an administrator and legislator gives him the best chance to be highly effective at the state level.
“Well, I think it’s the combination of experiences I’ve had,” Campos explained “I’ve been in the city attorney’s office for a number of years. I also have been general counsel of SFUSD [San Francisco Unified School District] … . I was on the SF police commission … I was on the Board of supervisors for eight years … I was also a deputy county executive in Santa Clara County for close to four years, overseeing the operations of more than ten government agencies.”
Beyond just his experience, Campos would bring a combination of staunch progressive values and political wherewithal to get critical legislation passed at the state level.
Throughout his lengthy career, Campos has sponsored, developed and helped protect healthcare and enact legislation that has made the City safer and more equitable. “I put in place Clean Power SF which competes with PG&E. I worked to protect our sanctuary status as a city. I worked to protect universal healthcare in SF,” Campos said.
District 17 sprawls from the coast of Hunter’s Point through Chinatown and Treasure Island, with its numerous immigrant constituents making up most of the City’s working class. Campos has repeatedly stood up for the City’s workers throughout his tenured career.
“For four years I ran agencies that served some of the most vulnerable communities in that county. I created a new department for the office of labor standards and enforcement to protect workers,” said Campos. “I created the legacy business program that helped hundreds of small businesses. I also enacted the legislation that created cultural districts, which has protected so many districts in the Mission, the Castro and South of Market.”
The representative of such a diverse populace must be able to successfully enact legislation rather than merely sponsor bills that die in the state legislature.
It can be difficult to transition from city to state level politics, not only because of the obvious broader voting base factors but also because state level politics requires a tactful negotiator who can compromise with more conservative Democratic politicians without conceding critical policy points.
“My role as chair of the SF Democratic Party was so effective and I was so successful that I had people from other parts of the state that came to me and said, ‘Listen, given what you’ve done as chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party, we want you to think about running to be vice chair of the California Democratic Party,” said Campos.
Campos’ time leading the San Francisco Democratic Party and as vice chair of the California Democratic Party leaves him well-suited to navigate the corridors of Sacramento.
“I think the [California Democratic Party] played a very important role in getting Democrats out around the state and defeating the recall and I’m very proud of the role that I’ve played in reaching out to communities like the Latinx community that at first were on the fence about the recall, to make sure that we got them to vote ‘no,’” Campos said. “I think that just shows my ability to get the job done.”
Campos views this combination of administrative know-how and community impact as key to a potential victory.
“I have brought in the perspective of someone who is operational and who focuses on what is happening on the ground,” Campos said of his time working in District Attorney Chesa Boudin’s office.
Boudin’s office has been the subject of a recall push from conservatives throughout the City due to its supposed leniency on crime. While some view Campos’ time at the DA’s office as polarizing, Campos identifies his time at the DA’s office as critical preparation for the wheeling and dealing of Sacramento.
“We developed the community liaison program that assigns three to four individuals from our office to every supervisor district,” Campos said. “We understand what is happening in every neighborhood and we are responsive to the needs of those neighborhoods.”
Throughout his time at Boudin’s office, Campos has effectively — in conjunction with the rest of the staff — toed the line between reform and public safety.
“People do want reform of the criminal justice system and we’re pushing for that reform,” Campos said. “People also want safety and I believe that you can have reform and still have safety. That’s what I’m pushing for.”
Campos has garnered respect for weeding through political rhetoric to reach effective solutions while still holding onto his staunch progressive values. Perhaps more importantly, Campos’ campaign has garnered endorsements from moderates and progressives alike, including San Francisco’s other assembly member, Phil Ting.
Campos was also endorsed by current supervisors Ronen, Peskin, Mar and Preston, among others, as well as more moderate public officials like Eleni Kounalakis and Willie Brown.
While political endorsements can and should be viewed with some skepticism, Campos’ wide array of endorsers indicates that Campos can effectively implement his campaign promises. Progressive values are key to creating a more equitable city and state, but if they aren’t enacted, they become little more than window dressing.
Campos truly is a representative for the people. His lengthy career as a public official has been driven by the possibility of a more equitable future.
While talking with El Tecolote, Campos vehemently committed to a “corporate-free campaign,” a Green New Deal and Medicare for all at the state level. Campos also stood behind the potential creation of a public bank in San Francisco, noting that increased support at the state level would allow numerous municipalities, not just the City, to take democratic control of finances.
To achieve that future requires both the ideological conviction and professional pedigree that Campos has in full.
Professional experience and political know-how are critical to governing effectively, but without the ideological conviction to back them up, they are useless.
The pandemic has shown us that equity is critical to the survival of millions of Californians who have long been left out of the ostensibly democratic process. Campos’ campaign is the most effective and immediate path to greater equity in California.
“I’ve articulated my agenda: I want an equitable recovery,” Campos concluded. “I want to be a champion for everyone including the people who have been left out during the pandemic, who have suffered the most, I think those people need a voice.”