Even in defiantly weird San Francisco, a howling Wookiee on the morning bus still grabs a few smiles. Some might call it a cheap campaign gimmick, but Board of Supervisors President and mayoral candidate David Chiu thinks co-opting the “Star Wars” character Chewbacca is a fun way to build name recognition.
With several syllabically similar names among Asian-American candidates in the race, Chiu’s field organizer Ben Kaufman said the campaign was in search of a mnemonic device to avoid confusion with Ed Lee, Leland Yee or Phil Ting.
“It gets confusing,” Kaufman said. “But there is no Yee-bacca.”
“Chiubacca” — also known as Kaufman in a costume — was one of six competitors in a Tuesday race up Market Street from City Hall to the Ferry Building using six modes of transportation — car, bus, taxi, Muni underground, bicycle and the two-foot express.
On his bicycle, Chiubacca won easily with a 10-minute time, a solid 11 minutes ahead of the second-place taxi, according to the campaign. The stunt — which Chiu admits was pilfered from San Francisco Examiner reporter Will Reisman’s Man vs. Muni transit challenge series — was meant to push for more attention on The City’s often-dysfunctional public transportation system.
According to local aficionados, San Francisco has a rich history of political gimmickry, ranging from pithy and harmless to professional suicide. Former Mayor Frank Jordan posing naked in the shower with two Los Angeles radio DJs in 1995 was definitely the latter, they agreed. Although some initially speculated that Jordan had some kind of cover on below the bottom frame of the waist-up photo, political consultant Jim Ross knows otherwise.
“I know more about that than I care to remember. No one wants to see their elected official naked,” Ross said. “Frank had a rocky start to his mayoral administration … and he was running for re-election and the shower thing sort of brought all of that back.”
Mayor Gavin Newsom fell victim in 2007 to marauders in chicken costumes who would show up to public events and heckle the mayor for his refusal to participate in “question time” with supervisors.
Eric Jaye, a former Newsom consultant who is now working with mayoral candidate Phil Ting, said Chiu should not make a mockery of the mayoral race.
“While they think politicians are largely a joke, voters take their own issues very seriously,” Jaye said. “They might think, ‘Why don’t you and your hairy friend go down to City Hall and do some work?’”
Ross sympathized with Chiu’s antic and recalled much more vitriolic tactics, like when he campaigned against Mayor Willie Brown by showing how the former defense attorney represented a client caught with hundreds of pounds of cocaine.
“I had interns filling 500 baggies with flour, and then we did a press conference and put it out so everyone could see,” Ross said. “I love a good stunt.”