Interview #17: Former San Francisco, CA Board of Supervisors President David Chiu (with podcast)

This podcast interview is available on iTunesStitcherPlayer FM and right here:

David Chiu was president of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors (their term for “city council”) from 2009-2014. If you know ANYTHING about San Francisco, it’s that things can get weird there. And believe me: Chiu has seen plenty of weirdness. Now a state assemblymember, he talked to me about nudists, F-bombs, and his out-of-body experience.

Q: Your Board of Supervisors has a famously unruly public comment period. What are some of the more quintessentially San Francisco moments that you remember?

A: Oh, yes. We had a debate about whether our residents could walk around naked. I remember when the vote didn’t go the way that the nudist activists wanted, they protested by disrobing in the chamber in front of the television. There are a number of individuals who are regular public commenters. We have Walter, who likes to sing. Another individual had a very Christian conservative message.

Q: In January 2009 when you got on the Board, on your very first day you were chosen as president. Had you ever been to a Board meeting before you got elected?

A: I had.

Q: And what about that meeting made you think, “I want one of the most aggravating jobs in San Francisco?”

A: [Laughs] At that time, San Francisco City Hall was pretty darn dysfunctional. We had elected officials who could not stand to be in the same room as each other, who would bicker through the press. And I thought we could do a better job of trying to bring folks together.

Q: When you walked up to the president’s chair, the first thing you said was, “this is unexpected.” Was it REALLY unexpected? When you left the house that morning, what odds were you giving yourself? Be honest.

A: Extremely low. At the exact moment when the clerk said I had the six votes to become president, I had one of those out-of-body experiences. It slowly dawned on me that someone had been elected Board president. And I then realized, “oh, my god. I think it might have been…me!”

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Former San Francisco Board of Supervisors President David Chiu

Q: Were there any supervisors who were consistently thorns in your side? And followup question, it was Chris Daly wasn’t it?

A: Well, he did threaten to haunt me for the rest of my political career and uttered a very famous phrase in San Francisco to me, saying, “it’s on like Donkey Kong.”

Q: …

A: [He] was famous in his last year for saying that he was going to drop an F-bomb in every meeting. After he said that, I decided to go and purchase a bar of soap which I very publicly gave to him.

Q: Nice. So now you are in California Assembly. Which has more comfortable chairs, the Board of Supervisors or the state Assembly?

A: I think the Board of Supervisors is actually a little more comfortable.

Q: So when you’re sitting in your objectively inferior Assembly chair–

A: I would say “older”…less ergonomically-fitted chair.

Q: –do you think, “I am so glad I don’t have to sit through another g–d– Board of Supervisors meeting?” Or are you thinking, “what I wouldn’t give to trade this for a Board meeting?”

A: [Laughs] It’s just a very different experience. Very different ambiance.


Follow Assemblymember David Chiu on Twitter: @DavidChiu

#26: San Francisco, CA 6/7/16

San Francisco is a beautiful city of beautiful people–with an oddly sterile name for its city council: the “Board of Supervisors.”

What’s even more unwieldy is that the supervisors don’t even sit together! Five of them are at one desk and five of them are at the other, facing off middle school dance-style. The board’s president is perched high above the riff-raff, making for one difficult game of duck-duck-goose in the chambers.

The supes wasted no time in living up to the militantly-liberal stereotype of the City by the Bay.

“Today, I am submitting a carbon tax on nonrenewable energy that will support the maintenance and expansion of San Francisco’s urban forest,” Supervisor John Avalos announced–a blue recycling bin fittingly stationed behind him.

“I am introducing a ballot measure to expand democracy for immigrant parents by allowing non-citizens the right to vote in school board elections,” boasted Eric Mar. He had been adorned earlier with a puffy lei, which seemed on the verge of tipping over the slender supervisor.

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The City by the Lei

It was time for San Fran’s famously freewheeling public comment period. Anyone could take two minutes to speak “on items within the subject matter jurisdiction of the Board,” the clerk warned.

That quickly went out the window as the first man stepped up, speaking slowly in Arabic. I only understood two words: “Mohammad Ali.” (I’m guessing the supes won’t be able to do much about that one.)

My heart grew two sizes upon seeing the next speaker, who wore a t-shirt reading “IN DUE TIME, CHRIST DIED FOR THE UNHOLY.” Something tells me the Board of Supervisors won’t have jurisdiction over what he has to say, either.

“I got on the Alex Jones Show and was able to make the announcement that the times of the gentiles has ended. As a matter of fact, May 20 was exactly 7,365 days from the end of the times of the gentiles. Jesus Christ is coming soon.”

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If Jesus is coming soon, I wonder if He’ll sign up for public comment.

A woman in a suit stepped up. “I want to speak to item number 49. We urge you instead to support the governor’s proposal. This is a statewide bill and it has statewide benefits.”  Oops! Someone with a legitimate comment was allowed to slip through. How embarrassing!

Thankfully, she was the only one.

“Thank you [Board] President Breed and all the members of the cabal,” sneered a guy with a Dostoyevsky-length novel written in tiny words on his t-shirt.

In sharp contrast was a Samuel Jackson lookalike in sunglasses who swaggered to the podium, recording himself with his phone. “Good evening, supervisors…particularly my sisters in the back there,” he hollered out to Supervisors Malia Cohen and London Breed.

“My name is Ace. And I’m on a case. I’m putting the city on notice, specifically our African American, black sisters,” he gestured toward the likely-uncomfortable female supes. “I been in politics back when y’all was little girls. But now you’re women! I’m proud of you!”

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Can I follow you on Vine, dude?

The buzzer sounded, but he continued talking as he backed out of the room, videotaping himself the whole way.

“Next speaker, please,” the clerk sighed over the noise.

Final thoughts: With a city council meeting that was as eclectic as its residents, I give San Francisco 1 giant puffy lei.