David Chiu became the longest-serving president of the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday when he was unanimously re-elected by his colleagues to a third two-year term.
After having first secured the post in 2009 with the backing of progressives, and retaining the job two years later with the help of moderates whom he rewarded with committee assignments, Chiu managed to secure election this time around with a decisive 11-0 vote.
He had long been seen as the odds-on favorite for the post, which some of his board colleagues also coveted, including supervisors David Campos, Malia Cohen, Jane Kim and Scott Wiener.
Chiu was nominated by new District 7 Supervisor Norman Yee, who was sworn in to his new seat Tuesday alongside new District 5 Supervisor London Breed. Kim then nominated Cohen, and Cohen reciprocated by nominating Kim. Meanwhile, Wiener announced that he would support Chiu and Campos backed Cohen.
But after public comment, both Kim and Cohen withdrew their nominations, saying they only wanted to be nominated to force a discussion about the importance of having a woman serve as president.
The high-profile job keeps Chiu in the political limelight and suggests that the Board of Supervisors will continue in a similar trajectory. Chiu took the opportunity to celebrate the direction the board has pursued under his leadership since 2009.
“Four years ago, I asked this board to change the tone of politics — to usher in a new tone of civility, cooperation and unity to move us forward,” Chiu said, referring to the combative political style of former progressive Supervisor Chris Daly. “And while we were all quite entertained by F-bombs and Donkey Kong, I’m glad that’s behind us.”
Chiu said the board still has much work to do. He laid out an ambitious political agenda of creating more jobs, decreasing homicides, reversing family flight, enforcing ethics rules, tackling low high school graduation rates and improving technology to better deliver city services.
He told his colleagues not to think of one another as political rivals.
“There are more of us who don’t think that the rigid ideological labels of yesterday help,” Chiu said about the board’s makeup. “No one outside of our city actually sees the differences between us, and there are endless opportunities for each of us to lead.”
On the heels of his victory two years ago, Chiu ended up running for mayor. Observers believe he may now use the post to help with another run. Chiu is rumored to be eyeing a run for the California assembly in 2014. His next order of business is to name which board committees his colleagues will serve on.
Here are two ways of looking at the role played by the president of the Board of Supervisors: They do little more than serve as a legislative referee, a glorified hall monitor for a fractious pack of politicians; or they are the second-most important elected official, behind the mayor, in San Francisco.
Both statements are true — or they can be.
The City Charter gives the supervisor elected president by their colleagues some influence. The president selects who serves on board committees, including the influential budget committee, assigns proposed laws to committees, sets the tone and pace of meetings, and makes appointments to the Planning Commission and Board of Appeals, which can potentially impact city development.
And if the mayor is incapacitated or goes out of town without appointing an acting mayor, the board president is next in line.
That would presumably make the position the second-most powerful office in The City.
“I don’t know,” said political consultant David Latterman, who worked on board President David Chiu’s failed bid for the Mayor’s Office in 2011. After a pause, he added an unconvinced, “Yeah.”
In other words, the office holds great potential. But as for great power, it all depends on how the gavel-holder wields it — and if the other supervisors approve.
“The office can be used as a centrifuge of power,” said lobbyist and political consultant Alex Clemens, a one-time campaign strategist for former Supervisor Chris Daly. “But the board president is still one of 11 votes. If he acts in a way his colleagues dislike, he can be overruled and some of his power taken away.”
In the past decade, the office has taken on a higher profile. State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano used the presidency as a springboard to run for mayor in 1999. Matt Gonzalez used it similarly in 2003. And Aaron Peskin was a frequent foil and counterpoint to then-Mayor Gavin Newsom, but he was only able to do so with the help of a reliable bloc of votes from his colleagues.
Chiu has been less eager to use the office in that way, instead choosing to align himself with Mayor Ed Lee more often than not.