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!”
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.”
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.
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