The historic Jan. 8 vote electing Sup. David Chiu as president of the Board of Supervisors — rare for its elevation of a freshman to the post and unprecedented for a Chinese American — clearly illustrates the ideological breakdown of the new board.
The six supervisors who claim membership in the progressive movement (Chris Daly, Ross Mirkarimi, David Campos, John Avalos, Eric Mar, and Chiu) gave Chiu the presidency after their efforts to give it to Mirkarimi or Avalos fell short, while the other five supervisors voted for Sup. Sophie Maxwell in each of the seven rounds, refusing to support any of the progressive picks.
But there are limits to what a bare majority of supervisors can do in San Francisco, particularly when the mayor is threatening vetoes and the city is wrestling with a budget deficit of gargantuan proportions. Overriding a mayoral veto or approving some emergency measures requires eight votes.
So the first question is whether Mirkarimi and Daly can come together after their split divided progressives and led to Chiu as a compromise candidate. But the second, more important, question for progressives is whether they can attract swing votes such as Maxwell and Bevan Dufty when the need arises.
The answers to those questions could start coming immediately as supervisors consider proposals to close a looming $575 million budget gap, including the proposal for a special election on revenue measures in June. Mayor Gavin Newsom opposes that election, so the board would have to muster eight votes in the next month to move forward with it.
They might even need more than that. A confidential memo to supervisors and the mayor by the City Attorney's Office that was obtained by the Guardian sorts out the complex requirements needed to approve new taxes, including the requirement of unanimous board approval to place tax measures that can be passed with a simple majority vote on the ballot this year.
So President Chiu, who pledges to bring his colleagues together, certainly has his work cut out for him.
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Achieving a unanimous vote on anything significant or controversial seems impossible right now. Mirkarimi is unhappy with Daly for thwarting his presidential ambitions; Maxwell and Dufty are unhappy with progressives for keeping her out of their club; and Chiu must quickly learn his new job during a time of unprecedented turmoil.
Chiu told his colleagues that he was "incredibly humbled" by an election that he didn't think he'd win, and said that he is "acutely aware that I am new to the institution and the body." But observers say Chiu's temperament, intelligence, and connections to both the business community and the progressive movement could serve the city well right now.
"I think Chiu is a great choice. He has the humility that will help him," outgoing Sup. Jake McGoldrick told the Guardian.
This compromise pick for president was praised by all sides, from the progressive coalition that feted him after the vote at a party at the SoMa club Temple. Rob Black, government affairs director for the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, told reporters that "David seems to be someone who is very willing to listen and willing to ask questions."
"We have a progressive supervisor running the board," Mirkarimi told the Guardian as he walked back to his office following the vote. Or, as Daly told us, "In the end, the progressive coalition stuck together and I'm happy about that."
Walking back to Room 200 after the vote, Newsom told reporters that Chiu was "an outstanding choice" who represents "a fresh air of progress." Asked whether he expects to have a better working relationship with Chiu than with outgoing president Aaron Peskin, Newsom replied, "That's a gross understatement."