Which David is going to Sacramento? That’s a question Supervisor David Campos likes to ask when stumping against Supervisor David Chiu, his opponent for Assembly District. It’s also a question that many voters are going to have a hard time answering this November in one of the most competitive races for Assembly in recent San Francisco memory.
Though Chiu got more votes in the June primary, there is no clear front-runner in the race to replace outgoing assemblyman Tom Ammiano, who has endorsed Campos. Chiu won 48 percent of the vote in June but Campos wasn’t far behind with 44 percent.
“Why even talk about June? It’s just a warm up,” said David Lee, the executive director of the Chinese American Voters Education Committee, who explained that a lot can happen between now and the November 6 election.
“It can be any candidate,” Lee said. “It’s like starting all over again.”
The race has become increasingly combative in recent months as both candidates have gone on the offensive in attempts to differentiate themselves. Both candidates were elected to the Board of Supervisors as progressives and went to Harvard Law School at the same time. They both have similar positions in their voting history for housing affordability and have voted together in issues like Campos’ ordinance that prohibited city law enforcement agencies from cooperating with immigration authorities.
Campos casts Chiu as a candidate in the pockets of developers and tech executives who has moved far away from his origins as a progressive to a moderate.
“I believe what we need here is someone who is clear on where they stand,” Campos said at a debate in front of the San Francisco Chronicle editorial board.
Meanwhile David Chiu says Campos is divisive. Moreover, he constantly reminds voters that Campos voted against ousting Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi two years ago, after Mirkarimi was convicted of domestic violence charges.
“David Campos can articulate whatever logic to justify his vote for his political ally, I just thought it was wrong,” Chiu told Mission Local. “I thought it was important to stand up for victims of domestic violence.”
The Sheriff Scandal
The year started off well for Chiu as he touted poll numbers that showed him 12 points ahead of Campos and with significant more campaign contributions.
Campos shrank that lead by attacking Chiu at a series of debates. Shortly after, Chiu invoked Campos’ 2012 vote against ousting Mirkarimi for official misconduct after charges of domestic violence. The vote put Campos in the difficult situation of having to explain his vote.
Campos, who was joined by three other supervisors supporting the sheriff’s stay in office, said he does not regret the vote and that it was a check on the mayor’s power. Mayor Ed Lee suspended Mirkarimi in March 2012, but the Board voted 7-4 against upholding Lee’s action—two votes shy of the required nine.
“I think what he did was reprehensible; the question was not if it was reprehensible whether it’s official misconduct and I agree with the president of the Ethics Commission that it wasn’t,” Campos told Mission Local. “I was charged with following the Constitution of the city.”
Chiu, and an independent expenditure committee, financed by LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and tech investor Ron Conway’s wife, Gayle Conway, seized on the opportunity and attacked Campos on the issue. This offered Chiu, who bills himself as a consensus builder and promised a civil campaign, a shift in support.
The Committee to Hold Campos Accountable attacked the Mission supervisor with mailers and video advertisements linking Campos to domestic violence. They have a $250,000 war chest, $200,000 of which came from a single Hoffman donation, according to filings with the Secretary of State.
It’s a tactic that’s worked before for the Conways. According to the San Francisco Business Times, the couple spent $98,000 in a 2012 campaign that successfully defeated former District 5 Supervisor Christina Olague.
The topic makes the Campos campaign uncomfortable. Campos said the attacks are really because he voted against tax breaks that would benefit the companies Conway invests in.
The question for political insiders like Lee is whether voters will remember Mirkarimi in November.
David vs. Goliath
Campos likes to bill himself as the true David and Chiu as the Goliath. When it comes to campaign finance that appears to be the case. Chiu has raised almost $832,812 compared to Campos’ $474,177, as listed in their latest fillings with the Secretary of State.
With their combined total of more than $1.3 million raised, it has already been the most expensive campaign in the District since 2006, with months to go until the November election.
The sum already surpasses the total amount candidates raised during the past three election cycles—with $1 million raised between both candidates in the 2008, and 2010 election and $279,193 in 2012.
Identity Politics in Play
Walking down Mission Street reveals many a bright yellow “I am with Campos” campaign posters, but campaign watchers note a different story in Chinatown. While one shouldn’t raise too many conclusions about the June 2013 primary, one thing is clear: identity politics will play a role in the election.
“The election results tell the tale,” Lee of the Chinese American Voters Education Committee said of the June primary. “Chinatown went 72 percent (for Chiu) and the Mission went over 60 percent for David Campos and the gay vote was a split.”
Chiu is the son of Taiwanese immigrants. Campos, who is gay, was born in Guatemala and came here as an undocumented immigrant.
The stakes are high as no Asian or Latino has ever held the seat. It has been a seat occupied by an LGBT politician for the past 18 years—before Ammiano, it was Mark Leno—a tradition that Campos and Ammiano want to maintain.
Come November things are going to be different than the June primary in which only 22 percent of registered voters went to the polls. “You are going to get more independents and decline to state and that’s 40 percent of registered voters,” Lee said.
While Chiu won’t be able to benefit from the large amount of Asian voters in the Richmond and the Sunset, like Phil Ting did in the 2012 District 19 race, he could still mobilize the growing Asian population in Bayview and Visitation Valley. Alternatively, Campos could mobilize the Latino population in the Mission, which has historically had a low voter turnout.
“It all depends on what the campaigns do from now until November,” Lee said. “It’s anyone’s race.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Cathleen Galgian represented San Francisco in the assembly before Tom Ammiano won the seat in 2008, it was actually Mark Leno who held that seat from 2002 to 2008. The Article also incorrectly stated that the assembly seat has been a queer seat for the past 20 years, it has actually been a queer seat for the past 18 years. We regret the error.