Does David Chiu Have a Chinatown Problem?

Categories: Politics
chinatown.jpg
It's Chinatown, David. It's Chinatown.
Also, is John Avalos really feeling it in District 11?

Absorbing a beating is never enjoyable -- unless, of course, you're into that kind of thing. Presuming you aren't, getting your behind kicked is even less palatable when it takes place in your home territory, with all your friends and supporters on hand to witness it.

Supervisors John Avalos and David Chiu aren't into that kind of thing. Let's take that as a given.

In the recently concluded mayoral election, both candidates were schooled in their home districts by Mayor Ed Lee. Lee's people were happy to publicize that he outpolled Avalos in District 11 by a 2-to-1 margin. Less was made of Lee's obliteration of Chiu in Chinatown. This is a big deal, and that Lee's minions chose not to bring it up is telling. The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference.

Both Chiu and Avalos are up for re-election in 2012. Should they be worried? There are two answers to that question: of course, and yes.

David Chiu District 3 2011.jpg
David Lee, CAVEC
Click on image for a larger version
The handy dandy map above indicates how mayoral candidate Chiu fared within his district. In this color-coded model, red indicates he received 22 to 24 percent of first-place votes; orange means he managed 16 to 21 percent of the vote; olive is 14 to 15 percent, light green is 11 to 13 percent, and dark green is less than 10 percent.

That sea of green in the middle of District 3 is Chinatown. In case you're wondering, the Chinese equivalent of "ouch" -- in Mandarin and Cantonese -- is "aiya!" 

Adding to the pain, triumphant Chinatown power broker Rose Pak is now insinuating that, unless Chiu gets his act together, she may run for District 3 supervisor herself. We've put a call through to Pak to ask just what she means by this -- and how Chiu has gone from being her mayoral golden boy to a potential opponent in a few short months.

It warrants mentioning that if Pak were to take on Chiu, it would be a moving experience -- she currently resides in a District 6 condo. Also, per the Department of Elections, there is no "Rose Pak" registered to vote here, or anyone named "Pak" with a birthday corresponding with a 63-year-old woman's. Rose Pak is apparently not a registered San Francisco voter. 

if  Pak -- or a Pak proxy -- runs against Chiu, could he lose? That depends, say political insiders (and it warrants mentioning that district lines will be redrawn by 2012 and ranked-choice voting might be a thing of the past). David Latterman, a USF lecturer and longtime political consultant and analyst, worked on Chiu's mayoral run. He stresses that whoever runs against Chiu won't have the support -- or, presumably, boatloads of cash -- that Ed Lee did. "They're not going to find somebody as popular as Lee who is incumbent mayor," he says. "Maybe someone from Chinatown will run against David. That person will get some votes. But David will get lots of votes, too. He's still president of the board."

Not so fast says David Lee, a San Francisco State lecturer and the founder of the Chinese American Voters Education Committee (and no relation to the mayor). The precincts that in some cases went 80 percent for Ed Lee were Chiu's core areas of support in 2008. Sure, Chiu did better in North Beach, Polk Gulch, and Telegraph Hill. But, notes David Lee, what if a third candidate -- who polls well in those areas -- jumped in the race?

What if Aaron "Payback Is a Bitch" Peskin decides to give Chiu a little payback by running again -- and sucking away the incumbent's support outside of Chinatown? Latterman is adamant that Chiu would prevail. David Lee is not so sure. "I wouldn't say David Chiu is vulnerable," he says. "But I would say he cannot take his reelection for granted."

Peskin, incidentally, is traipsing around a mountain somewhere and cannot be reached for comment. Chiu hasn't returned our messages.

rsz_avalos_2011.jpg
David Lee, CAVEC
In this map, orange represents less than 33 percent of first-place for Avalos; olive 13 to 17 percent; light green 9 to 12 percent; and dark green less than 9 percent
Over in District 11, the Excelsior, Avalos was also handily defeated by the mayor. But, unlike Chiu, notes David Lee, the core precincts that put Avalos into power in 2008 stuck with him in 2011. "He has a real base and he kept that base," says David Lee. "He'll be tough to beat." That being said, District 11 is the most heavily Asian in all San Francisco. Would Avalos be vulnerable to a viable Asian candidate supported by Ed Lee and his well-heeled backers? You bet he would.

If Ed Lee were to support an anti-Avalos candidate, "It could do nothing but provide enormous help moving forward," says consultant Chris Lee -- who is unrelated to David Lee or Ed Lee, and is the last Lee we're quoting in this story. "For a supervisor to lose his own district, in a district that elected a progressive -- that does not bode well."

Avalos knows this. But viable Asian candidates are not produced in vials -- and a carpetbagger may not fare well in the deeply rooted Excelsior. "It depends on what the establishment or the Ed Lee administration wants to do about supporting a candidate other than myself," the supervisor says. "If they want to run a candidate against me who is Chinese, that may have an impact. But I don't really see a strong Chinese leader [here] who's done work in the community who will get broad support."

If "downtown" opts to run a candidate against Avalos, he predicts "we'll have a nice campaign. And I'll lick 'em again."

Update, 3:55 p.m. David Chiu returned our call. He did not seem overly worried about being supplanted as District 3 supervisor. "As the third-highest vote-getter in this past election, I'm proud that tens of thousands of San Franciscans expressed their support for my independent leadership and my record of getting results for my district and the city."

That one of them wasn't Pak also didn't seem to get to him. "If she wants to run, this is America -- she's free to move into District 3 and run.

"I've worked very hard in my first three years for my constituents," he continued. "If someone wants to run against me because I haven't done everything that person wanted, I think my constituents appreciate that I've been my own man and have always put first the needs of my district and San Francisco."

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