“Tale of Two Davids” casts Campos as the progressive hero

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David Campos (foreground) had a good night in his first debate against Assembly opponent David Chiu.
Mike Koozmin/SF Media Co.

David Campos presented “a tale of two Davids” tonight [Thu/23] in his first debate with David Chiu in their race to replace Assemblymember Tom Ammiano in AD17, contrasting his solid progressive record against Chiu’s more pragmatic approach. Chiu reinforced the narrative by repeatedly touting his “effectiveness” and record at City Hall.

So the question that may decide the race is whether the corporate-friendly “jobs agenda” that Chiu has pursued with Mayor Ed Lee – an approach that is now triggering a political backlash as evictions and gentrification rage – is popular with voters. It wasn’t with the San Francisco Young Democrats, which sponsored the debate in the Main Library tonight and then voted to endorse Campos.

Campos brought the fire from the beginning, chiding Chiu for his chummy relationship with the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and offering English and Spanish translations of the saying, “Tell me who you walk with and I’ll tell you who you are.”

Chiu tried to focus on his record and political skills – “We need an Assembly person who is effective at getting things done,” Chiu said – but he seemed weary and thrown off balance by Campos’ well-delivered ideological jabs.

“I’m surprised as a tenant you would support the demolition of 1500 rent-controlled units at Parkmerced,” Campos said after Chiu identified with struggling renters. And when Chiu touted the condo conversion moratorium deal he cut, Campos said, “There doesn’t have to be a lobbying effort by tenant groups to get me to do the right thing.”

As Chiu listed his legislative accomplishments, Campos said it was important to “draw a line in the sand” against the powerful corporate interests that hold sway in City Hall these days. “ I have a different definition of effectiveness,” Campos said, criticizing Chiu for supporting Twitter’s $22 million tax break.

Chiu finally got testy and defensive, accusing Campos of also taking money from developers and corporations and with practicing divisive politics. “I do think the people in San Francisco are stick of these attacks,” Chiu said, and then indignantly offering, “I’m in nobody’s pocket.”

But Campos maintained both his narrative and his composure, calling Chiu out for crafting a watered-down alternative to Campos’ legislation requiring restaurants to comply with the Health Care Security Ordinance in paying for their employees’ health coverage and ensuring all surcharges tacked onto customers’ bill go to employees.

“You co-sponsored [the Campos legislation] then changed your mind when the Chamber told you,” Campos said.

When moderator Marisa Lagos from the Chronicle asked the two candidates whether they supported the deal that Mayor Lee cut with tech companies to charge $1 per bus stop for the “Google buses,” which the SFMTA board rubber-stamped this week, Chiu said, “I don’t think $1 per stop is enough.”

Campos pounced, citing Chiu’s support for the deal and quotes in a press release that the Mayor’s Office put out and his absence from the SFMTA meeting where Campos publicly called for a better deal for the city. “It’s one thing to say it here and it’s another thing to say it at City Hall,” Campos said, continuing the offensive by returning to Chiu’s sponsorship of the Twitter tax break, which disappeared from Chiu’s campaign page as the issue has turned toxic recently. “I think you know that was a mistake,” Campos said.

Chiu didn’t respond, choosing instead to actually emphasize the contrast between his insider role at City Hall and Campos’ identification with the activists. “I’m trying to work behind the scenes and get things done, he’s grandstanding before the cameras,” Chiu said.

Campos extended his “tale of two Davids” narrative, charging that there are two David Chius: the candidate first elected with progressive support in 2008, and the calculating politician who works with the moderates and the business community to advance his interests.

“Which David Chiu is going to go to Sacramento?” Campos asked.

Chiu tried to bridge the gulf between his progressive and pragmatic selves: “In 2008 I said I believed it’s progressive for us to be creating jobs and building housing.” In his closing, Chiu reminded the capacity crowd that there was a recession when he and Campos were elected the Board of Supervisors in 2008. “What we didn’t need at that time is discussion about ideology,” Chiu said.

Campos used his closing to return to the personal story he told in his introduction about immigrating from Guatemala with his family when he was 14, and seeing such hope and opportunity in the United States. “There is something happening to our city and country that we are losing what made us great,” Campos said. “This campaign is about taking our city back, it’s about protecting the heart of San Francisco.”