Assemblyman David Chiu will take over the role of City Attorney, Mayor London Breed announced on Wednesday. Chiu’s name had been at the top of every list since April, when Breed tapped outgoing City Attorney Dennis Herrera to lead the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.
“I am going to work with all these policymakers to look for ways and opportunities to use the law to address the pressing problems of the day” and “ensur[e] that city government is held to the highest ethical standards,” Chiu said at a press conference featuring the mayor and Herrera at Juan Pifarré Plaza, a courtyard in the Mission Housing development at 3101 21st St.
The declaration comes roughly 24 hours after Herrera received final approval to take over the PUC. He will assume that position on Nov. 1, and Chiu will take the reins as City Attorney on the same date. Voters will weigh in on whether he should keep the job in 2022.
Once Chiu begins his new role, Gov. Gavin Newsom will call a special election to fill the Assembly District 17 seat.
As Mission Local (and many, many others) predicted, Breed tapped Chiu, a former criminal prosecutor for the city’s District Attorney’s office, supervisor and board president; it was San Francisco’s “worst-kept secret,” the mayor joked on Wednesday. And, in doing so, she initiated a game of political musical chairs , effectively clearing the field for her 2023 mayoral re-election.
On Wednesday, Breed praised Chiu’s background as an attorney and said his reputation as a “consensus builder” on the Board of Supervisors motivated her pick.
When it came to filling the City Attorney vacancy, the mayor said, “I can’t think of anyone better than Assemblymember David Chiu. He has an extensive career in law — one before he even stepped foot in the world of politics,” she said.
Besides working for the District Attorney, Chiu was also a civil rights attorney and clerked in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. He was schooled in Boston, where he completed his undergraduate and masters degrees in law and public policy at Harvard University.
“The fight for justice is why I became a public interest attorney,” Chiu said. “The fight for justice is why I moved to San Francisco. In our city, we stand up for those who are more vulnerable than we are. We right wrongs.”
In public office, Chiu most recently served as the assemblyman for the 17th Assembly District of California’s State Legislature from 2014 to present. Before that, he represented District 3 on the Board of Supervisors for six years starting in 2009; he was elected board president on his first day in office, and held the post until he decamped to Sacramento. He also used his political roles to support low-income housing, which is why the press conference took place at Mission Housing apartments.
“Few people have fought so hard for low-income tenants like David Chiu,” said Sam Moss, executive director of Mission Housing, on Wednesday. “Not fight with a Tweet here and there. He calls you up and wants to know what you think.”
Chiu’s appointment is the latest development amid a severe political shakeup, which was triggered in part after former PUC general manager Harlan Kelly was federally charged with bribery in November, and stepped down.
All of the investigations currently taken on by the City Attorney’s office will continue, Herrera said Wednesday. He stressed that the office will advise Chiu as he transitions.
“That work has not slowed down at all, and will not slow down,” Herrera said.
Herrera added that he’s thrilled to announce Chiu — someone he ran against for mayor in 2011, he added — as his successor. “Come 11:59 on Halloween, I will no longer be City Attorney. It is my honor and privilege to be turning over this office to someone who will be a tremendous steward of our tradition.”
In earlier interviews, Herrera has maintained that, as City Attorney for two decades, no part of San Francisco municipal life was untouched by his office. But he is not a specialist in either water or power. And he will now see a workforce an order of magnitude larger than that of the City Attorney’s office, and one with far more job protections.
Herrera’s shift to the PUC was sold as a means of curbing a rogue agency; Herrera has described himself as the city’s “the city’s top watchdog.”
Chiu said he plans on using his new job to address homelessness, climate, public safety and to tackle corporations if they “cross the line.” Additionally, he’s pleased his work brings him geographically closer to his wife and 5-year-old.
“I am looking forward to being home.”