Who will replace Assembly Member David Chiu? City attorney pickheats up progressive race

The appointment of Assembly Member David Chiu to be city attorney will soon leave open his seat representing San Francisco’s eastside and trigger a race that may quickly get crowded.

Chiu tentatively plans to vacate his seat Oct. 31, but he hasn’t submitted his official resignation to the Assembly yet. Once he does, Governor Gavin Newsom must call for a special election within 14 days. It can either be held between 126 and 140 days after that, or within 200 days to consolidate it with another election. San Francisco voters will be at the ballot again in June 2022.

With Chiu’s appointment announced Wednesday, four candidates announced they’re intending to run: Supervisor Matt Haney; former Supervisor David Campos who’s now chief of staff for the San Francisco district attorney; Thea Selby, a City College of San Francisco trustee; and Bilal Mahmood, a scientist, entrepreneur and philanthropist.

Political observers said the open seat will trigger a wrestling match between progressives Campos and Haney, who share a voter base and fundraising support. While some had predicted the two men would duke it out behind closed doors to decide who would run so as not to split the field, “human nature won out,” progressive political consultant Jim Stearns said this week.

Both have already started jostling to get endorsements from powerful San Francisco Democratic clubs. Two progressive candidates could split votes, giving a boost to another more moderate opponent, political consultant Jim Ross said.

One of Haney’s advantages at the local level is that the newly elected head of San Francisco’s Democratic Party, Honey Mahogany, is his legislative aide, but Campos might have an advantage at the state level. He was recently elected vice-chair of the California Democratic Party.

Haney has more name recognition since he’s currently a supervisor and perhaps more fundraising power, consultants said, but Campos has strong state connections, especially with the Latino and LGBTQ caucuses in Sacramento.

David Campos during the welcome reception at the CA Democratic Party Convention at the Moscone Convention Center on Friday, May 31, 2019, in San Francisco.

Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle

Campos, who is gay and immigrated undocumented from Guatemala as a teenager, said he is motivated to run because there has never been a Latino representing San Francisco in the state Legislature. That’s especially noteworthy given the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Latinos in the city. (Alex Vassar, who works for the California State Library and wrote a book on legislators, corrected that Assemblyman A. D. Splivalo, who was from Chile, represented San Francisco from 1871-1872. Regardless, it’s been a while.)

Campos was elected to the Board of Supervisors in 2008 representing District 9 — which includes the Mission, the Portola and Bernal Heights — and termed out in 2017. He supported successful proposals to fund legal representation for undocumented immigrants and reverse a policy of reporting undocumented youth to immigration officials as soon as they are arrested. He also was an early supporter of safe injection sites for drug users.

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