Rookie of the Year: David Chiu Just the Latest Young, Inexperienced Smart Guy to Obtain Presidency

Chris Daly Twirls His Mustache, Cackles at Ross Mirkarimi as Chiu Ekes Out Win

By Joe Eskenazi

Watching a man with mutton-chops every bit as stylish as his white overalls engrave the word "President" on Supervisor David Chiu's office door, one couldn't help but recall good ol' Will Shakespeare: "Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them."

Depending upon how surprised the rookie supervisor really was to win a back-and-forth election for Board President will determine how much greatness Chiu earned by achievement and how much came via thrust. But I tell you this: While Chiu said his victory was unexpected, he sure did have a nice speech prepared - and he named every last city noteworthy in the room down to the city librarian. How presidential.

'Tis the season, it would seem, for young, inexperienced, smart lawyers to win the presidency. When you throw in the racial pioneering factor - Chiu is the first Chinese-American president of the board, and, as about 30 people noted today, one of three Asian supes - then you don't exactly have to be an SAT-prep instructor to make this analogy. 

As my colleague Benjamin Wachs noted in his stunningly thorough live-blogging (a great act to follow; thanks, pal), City Hall was packed today. It was as if folks were rushing to see a fight to the death between Chris Daly and Mayor Gavin Newsom - with the prize to the victor being death. Along with several very cranky television cameramen, your humble narrator was turned away from the Supervisors' Chambers, despite showing up a full 25 minutes before the meeting. So, I marched downstairs with at least 300 other folks and watched a man with a crushed velvet maroon jacket and pants, a red shirt, white tie and magenta socks set up a TV for us to watch.

If I had to nominate a local for "Diplomat of the Year," I think I'll go with Angela Calvillo, the clerk of the board of supervisors. She's the one who has to ask for public comment prior to the supes' vote for board president. First of all - why, God, why? This is not a plebiscite, ladies and gentlemen. This is back-room politics without the back-room. These folks are enmeshed in more alliances than Austria-Hungary; is some local guy with socks and sandals and a bag full of other bags going to sway them? On that note, while Cavillo refers to public commentary, what she really means is "let's hear from some folks who can be here at noon on a working day."

Down in the overflow room, the commentary did not hold the crowd's attention; a buzz started rumbling through the masses from back to front hearking to grade school when some clever kid managed to smuggle a dog into the classroom. The folks manning the small café did a brisk business. But, just as the ennui became deadly, a voice from my past bellowed through the television: "Brothers and sisters!" shouted the man who can only be characterized as King of the Burnouts. He looked like the detritus that fills the net in a bathtub drain and wore a corduroy hat. And I knew, just from that intonation, who he was: He was the hippie who leapt onstage during the 1998 Fugazi Food Not Bombs concert in Dolores Park that, for reasons I still can't fathom, I mark as the happiest day of my life. I remember it well. The Burnout King was bodily thrown from the stage by DJ Disk. Anyway, on to the voting.

For the play-by-play, you can check Wachs' live-blog, but I will add these observations:

  • From the very first vote, when Sophie Maxwell tallied five ayes, Ross Mirkarimi had four and John Avalos two (with Daly and Chiu not getting any), it was clear that some progressive was going to win this. The only question was who. I had my money on Avalos. Shows you what I know - to crib from columnist Gregg Easterbrook, "All predictions wrong or your money back."
  •  After the third vote, Daly said he'd drop out only if those not finishing in the top two would drop out, too. A laugh went through the room. A lady with a gecko shirt and matching fishnets said, "he always has to be so controversial." Chiu noted that, despite the fact no one had voted for him yet, he was still willing to be a consensus candidate, "if the need arises." Well, guess what?
  • In votes five and six, it became clear that five supes were going to vote for Maxwell, and four were locked in for Chiu - leaving Daly and Mirkarimi. Daly, who had previously voted for himself and then his former aide Avalos, began voting for himself again. Choose the metaphor you want: twisting the knife, salting the wounds, or, my personal favorite, pissing on a man when he's down. Daly was toying with Mirkarimi here, forcing the man many - including Mirkarimi - viewed as the natural successor to endure the inevitable. If this vote could be translated into words, it was Daly baiting Mirkarimi: "How's it gonna be, Ross? How's it gonna be?" So, in Round 7, when Avalos withdrew and Daly voted for Chiu, Mirkarimi followed suit and put himself out of his misery.   

All of this begs the question - why isn't Mirkarimi the board president? I mean, aside from his other qualities, he and Barack Obama share the exact same birthday (same year, too)!

Quintin Mecke, the progressives' sacrificial standard-bearer in the last mayoral election (and a Mirkarimi constituent) said a lot of the same things I've heard whispered: This wasn't political. It was personal. While Mirkarimi galloped to victory with 77 percent of the vote in District 5, he's apparently less popular with his co-workers. "When Matt Gonzalez became board president no one had a word to say regarding his policies," noted Mecke. Gonzalez got along with people - he famously even got on with Tony Hall.

Who ever thought the Board of Supes would be compared to the Get-Along Gang? It wasn't an ideal day for Mirkarimi, but if silver linings must be unearthed, he can recall the gleaming public commentary he got from his supporters (at noon on a workday). Unlike Willy Loman - another man whose career didn't go the way he'd wanted - when it comes to his people, Mirkarimi isn't just liked. He's well-liked.  

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