Will Mayor Lee’s Endorsing Chiu Impact Race?

by on October 23, 2014

San Francisco Mayor Lee endorsed David Chiu yesterday, wading into the race less than two weeks before the election. Lee’s endorsement came one day after California Democratic Party Chair John Burton announced his support for David Campos.

My first reaction to Lee’s endorsement was that it would once and for all disprove the silly claim that the mayor is “controlled” by Rose Pak. Pak has been going all out for David Campos for months, making no secret of her hostility toward David Chiu.

Will Lee’s endorsement help Chiu? Is the mayor going with the candidate he sees as the likely winner, or was he urged to back Chiu because the one-time clear favorite is in trouble?

Lee Backers Already Support Chiu

In May, I wrote that the Campos-Chiu race “offered a clear choice.” The choice became even clearer in the past month as Chiu engineered a deeply flawed legislative process leading to the legalization of a short-term rental market largely dominated by Airbnb.

There are few undecided voters. Most of Lee’s Asian-American supporters are already with Chiu. So are Lee’s tech supporters, as Chiu has been much more supportive of the industry than Campos. Airbnb hosts have also long been with Chiu, so the Mayor’s endorsement won’t add to this support base.

When Chiu and Campos began this long campaign, the differences between them seemed slight. But the two have since gone in such different directions that their distinct political identities are clear. Major endorsements—whether it is from Lee or Democratic Party icon John Burton—are unlikely to make a difference.

Jerry Brown was a very popular Oakland mayor yet his endorsements for mayor in the past two elections lost. He’s now hoping Libby Schaaf will break this losing streak.

Lee’s Motive

If Lee’s endorsement will have no impact, why make it? Why would the mayor take sides in a controversial race one year before he faces his own re-election?

Most believe that some of Lee’s tech supporters pressed him to back Chiu. The Mayor’s endorsement came a day after the Board’s final passage of Chiu’s short-term rental legislation, which was strongly backed by some of Lee’s tech supporters.

According to an October 15 story by the Chronicle’s Matier & Ross, “tech investors who stand to gain from the Airbnb bill heading toward passage at the San Francisco Board of Supervisors have pumped nearly $550,000 into a committee helping the law’s author, board President David Chiu.” Reid Hoffman gave $500,000 of this amount, and I accept his claim that he is a longtime supporter of Chiu whose donation “has nothing to do with Airbnb,”

But Hoffman’s donation shows that he, along with Ron Conway, who contributed $49,900 to Chiu, really want Chiu to win. And if they felt the pro-tech Chiu was facing defeat against tech critic Campos while the mayor sat on the sidelines, it is easy to see them urging Lee to back their candidate.

A No-Win Move

Lee’s endorsement makes no political sense for a mayor heading into 2015 with high levels of support and the wind at his back. And the optics on the timing of this endorsement were terrible.

Whose idea was it to have the mayor endorse Chiu the day after the Board gave final approval to the Airbnb legislation? It’s as if someone tried to make it appear that the mayor’s endorsement was payback for Chiu’s win for Airbnb.

Since Mayor Lee is getting no political benefit from endorsing Chiu,  those behind this move could have at least timed it to protect the mayor from those eager to make such “pay to play” connections. Chiu has long been resistant to improving the Airbnb legislation, so there was no need to create the appearance that Chiu would go south without the mayor’s endorsement hanging over his head.

Lee’s endorsement makes no sense for other reasons as well. If Chiu wins on November 4, the mayor will get no credit. The mayor’s tech support in 2015 was not dependent on his backing Chiu, and the short-term rental industry is already on the mayor’s side. Nor did the mayor need to endorse Chiu to keep his strong Asian-American base behind him next year.

Further, if Chiu loses, people will start asking if Lee is in fact invulnerable. True, the Assembly District disproportionately includes covers much of the city’s progressive voters. It also excludes most Asian-American voters, and the western part of the city that Lee won big in 2011 and will win by an even larger margin in 2015.

Still, the mayor had no reason to take even the smallest of political risks to help David Chiu.

I understand Lee’s feelings of loyalty to his tech supporters, but it seems some in the tech industry have forgotten about loyalty to the mayor. And to the extent Campos is pushing a David v. Goliath, anti-establishment narrative, the mayor’s endorsement of Chiu could backfire.

Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron




Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the Director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which publishes Beyond Chron. Shaw is the author of four books on activism, including The Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. His new book is The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

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