Mayor Gavin Newsom finally stepped up today, filing official misconduct charges against the twice-indicted Sup. Ed Jew, and removing him from office pending permanent removal by the Ethics Commission and Board of Supervisors. A PDF of the charge and related letters is available here. That overdue action was long-anticipated, so the real news today is that he has named his 29-year-old deputy budget director Carmen Chu to fill the slot, starting with today's board meeting.
Chu is a virtual unknown in local politics, but those who have worked with her tell us that she's smart, attractive, not very political, and a sort of quiet, behind the scenes policy wonk. Given her age and the huge opportunity that Newsom has just handed her, most people assume that she'll be a loyal vote for Newsom. Yet Chu did play a role in this year's divisive and highly politicized budget battle between Newsom and Sup. Chris Daly, serving as the point person on two of Newsom's most troubling (and ultimately unsuccessful) budget gambits: cutting funding for local AIDS programs and reducing the number of psychiatric beds at General Hospital. It was an understandable role given that she was with the Department of Public Health before moving over to the Budget Office.
What else do we know? She's Chinese-American (and a native Mandarin-speaker), which was important to that sizable community and therefore to Newsom. The fact that she's a woman is also significant given that there are fewer women in elected city office than when Newsom started (full disclosure: my domestic partner Alix Rosenthal is the president of National Womens Political Caucus and has publicly urged Newsom to appoint a woman). We're also told that Chu did her undergraduate work at Occidental College and graduate work at the Goldman School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley.
But there really isn't much on the public record about Chu or her views. The closest thing is the following minutes from an Ethics Commission meeting earlier this year, in which she represented the Mayor's Office in budget discussions:
Mr. St. Croix stated that Carmen Chu from the Mayor's Budget Office was present at the meeting to answer any questions from the Commissioners.
Commissioner Lynn asked Ms. Chu if the Mayor's Budget Office had a view regarding adopting a funding mechanism for the Commission, similar to the one in place for the Controller's Office Whistleblower Program. He stated that a funding mechanism could be set up by assessing a fee to each City department. Ms. Chu responded in the negative and stated that if the Commission wanted the Mayor's Budget Office to look into such a mechanism, they would do so. She explained that it would be more economically feasible to assess fees to enterprise departments as opposed to allocating money from the general fund.
Commissioner Hansen stated that the public financing program should contain sufficient funding to provide full funding for all interested candidates, so that people would not be deterred from applying for public financing. Ms. Chu stated that her office could look into the possibility of some sort of agreement that would ensure full funding.
Commissioner Lynn stated that televising Commission meetings would further its goal of public education. Ms. Chu stated that the biggest factor in reaching this goal is the limited availability of rooms in City Hall that have broadcast capability.
Commissioner Hansen asked Ms. Chu if she had any feedback regarding the Commission's draft budget request. Ms. Chu responded that the Mayor's Budget Office was in the early stages of budget preparation. She stated that she understood the demands placed on the Commission's resources and that the Mayor's Budget Office views online efficiencies as a favorable goal. She stated that the Commisison's goal of having more proactive investigations was an interesting idea.
Commissioner Hansen asked Ms. Chu if she had any feedback on the $6.2 million request for mayoral public financing. Ms. Chu responded that her office will ensure that that money is available, if the legislation is passed.
Chairperson Gusukuma thanked Ms. Chu for her time and efforts.