As a young immigrant, David Campos learned what it was like to be labeled “illegal.” Later at Harvard, he studied law alongside the elite.
Now 37, Campos is running to replace Tom Ammiano as District 9 Supervisor, and it’s this range of experiences that he and supporters think will give him the advantage in a progressive-leaning field.
“Being educated where I was educated and having worked at some of the top law firms in the country, I know how to navigate that world,” said Campos, who worked in the San Francisco city attorney’s office before becoming lead counsel for the school district and a member of the police commission. “But I can also connect with people for whom that is a very foreign world.”
Born in Guatemala, Campos moved with his family to the United States as an undocumented
14-year-old. After high school in South Central Los Angeles, he went to Stanford University and then on to Harvard Law School. He then spent several years in private practice — “I needed to pay back my loans,” he said — before moving into the public sphere.
In a field full of progressives, Campos’ platform is familiar. Like others, he wants more “community policing,” more affordable housing, more protection for immigrants and a public school system that “serves every child in the city.”
“Getting something done requires not only having progressive values and beliefs, but also having an understanding of how the city works, and how it doesn’t work, in order to make something happen,” said Campos, who lives in Bernal Heights with his partner, Phil Hwang.
Campos said his experience as a city litigator and a police commissioner has given him that understanding. His work in those roles earned Campos the support of many, including current supervisor Tom Ammiano.
At the city attorney’s office, he worked on a lawsuit against a collection of five gun manufacturers and distributors. The suit, one of many filed by cities all over the country, was settled when the defendants paid the city $70,000 and agreed to limitations beyond those set by state and federal law. These additions include refraining from selling firearms at gun shows and training employees how to block sales to ineligible buyers.
“That lawsuit was the reason I left private practice,” Campos said. “I wanted to be a part of that kind of litigation.”
As lead counsel for the San Francisco Unified School District, Campos was charged with ensuring that the city’s schools meet the conditions of a court-mandated “diversity index” that requires school assignment based on such factors as socioeconomic status and the language spoken in students’ homes, he said.
School district attorney Mike Quinn declined to comment about specific cases but praised Campos’ work.
“He understands public service like nobody you’re ever going to meet,” said Quinn, who has known Campos since recruiting him to work for Arnold & Porter, the Washington-based law firm where Campos began his legal career. “He gets it on a genetic level. It’s just inside of who he is.”
While working for the school district, Campos also won a policy-establishing case that blocked the district from cooperating with federal immigration officers. The case arose when Immigration and Customs Enforcement attempted to pull an undocumented student out of a classroom. Agency representatives had already detained the student’s mother, Campos said, and they said they wanted to reunite the family. Campos led the district’s successful legal fight against the agency, and the court’s decision was codified as city policy.
Quinn, who has donated money to Campos’ campaign, cited the candidate’s ability to balance his public and private persona as a key strength.
“I’ve been in closed offices discussing serious cases with him, and one of the things I admire is that there’s no difference in who he is there and who he is outside,” Quinn said. “He can go from there to give a public speech or talk with a newly arrived immigrant family, and he’s always the same.
“There’s this sort of genuine, practical quality. He says, ‘Bring me the facts, show me why this is good or bad, and then let’s do something about it.’”
But Campos isn’t without detractors. At a medicinal marijuana advocates’ rally last spring, he stirred up controversy by accusing an officer of turning in medicinal pot users to federal law enforcement agencies. Campos said the officer, Sgt. Marty Halloran, had “no business being a police officer,” according to news reports.
At the next police commission meeting, Police Officers Association President Gary Delagnes returned the sentiment.
“I believe the opposite is true,” Delagnes was quoted in news reports, speaking to Campos. “Perhaps you should not be sitting on this commission.”
But Campos stayed and his support grew.
“I think the Police Officers Association is disconnected with the reality of life in the Mission and in a lot of our neighborhoods,” Campos said, adding that many officers also disagree with the union’s leadership.
No matter the issue, Campos said he filters all of his actions and decisions through a unique life’s lens. And it’s his range of perspectives that he thinks will serve him well if elected.
“It’s important for this district to have the perspective of someone who is Latino, who is an immigrant, and who is LGBT,” he said. “But also, someone who has the professional experience to understand city hall. In this line of work, you can’t be a one-trick pony.”