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Michael Theriault headshot

By Michael Theriault, Secretary-Treasurer

Union members will hear confusing messages about whom they should vote for in this November’s election for California State Assembly in District 17, the east side of San Francisco.

Teachers, nurses, and some public employee unions have endorsed David Campos, and we who live in District 17 will have to shovel through an avalanche of mailers, door hangers, and phone calls from “Teachers and Nurses for Campos” or some similarly-titled group using the well-deserved respect and sympathy the public holds for those occupations to push his candidacy.

The Building Trades have endorsed David Chiu, as have the Fire Fighters and other unions.

In San Francisco not just we in the Trades and in public safety unions, but Labor more broadly, including teachers, nurses, and public employees, will benefit far more from David Chiu in the Assembly than from David Campos.

The dig of Campos supporters at Chiu is that he is a “Business Democrat” and a “tool of developers.”

We in the Trades understand that in our economic system business – and developers – must succeed if we are to succeed; the question is whether or not working men and women will share adequately in that success.

I have often heard business people talk about David Chiu, and know that they consider him not a friend to business, but someone who has more understanding of it and its needs than his opponent. They have their own gripes with him.

Some we share. David Chiu helped kill projects at 8 Washington and 555 Washington. His vigorous work against 8 Washington particularly angered some Trades members.

But he was the deciding vote for 222 Second Street, which is now under construction, for Lennar’s Hunters Point project, which has begun what will be twenty years of work for us, and for an expansion of ParkMerced that could also employ us for twenty years.

Most importantly, these last two projects address what has become the central issue for unionists in San Francisco: Housing in a price range that will allow us and our children to live here. Lennar’s project now is offering homes at prices accessible to working families of middle income – to us, that is – something long rarely seen in the City. Given its distance from the fashionable core, ParkMerced will do the same.

David Campos voted against ParkMerced, and for amendments that would have killed the Lennar project. He would have denied us not just homes, but tens of thousands of person-years of work.

Campos simply cannot match Chiu’s record on behalf of housing for working men and women, which began with Chiu’s chairmanship of the board of affordable housing developer Chinatown Community Development Center.

I have heard unionists claim that the central issue for workers in the City is instead the cost of healthcare. This is a legitimate contention; healthcare costs dominate most of our contract negotiations. They claim further that Campos will be a more effective champion for a likely solution, a “single payer” system, than Chiu. They point to Campos’s “Close the Loophole” legislation on San Francisco’s healthcare ordinance, and to Chiu’s compromise legislation that diluted the original to overcome a mayoral veto.

The Trades supported Campos’s legislation, but many of us at the time noted privately that its timing seemed intended to embarrass Mayor Ed Lee in his campaign for election. The entire affair may now point to why Chiu is likelier to effect statewide healthcare reform than Campos.

I cannot recall an instance of when a Campos vote departed from what had been declared “Progressive” by the arbiter of the moment, be it Chris Daly or the Bay Guardian. I have often noted here and elsewhere that in matters of Trades work the default “Progressive” position in San Francisco is profoundly conservative, one of preserving the present physical character of the City, no matter the cost to working people. Campos has been a good soldier for that conservatism. I and many another believe the timing of “Close the Loophole” was another example of Campos saluting and marching in time to “Progressive” orders.

This fealty to “Progressive” masters, as much as it may endear Campos to unionists who want to consider themselves progressive more broadly speaking, will not achieve healthcare reform at the state level.

That will instead require the skills of someone who can work through the differences of position of other politicians representing highly varied districts and electorates, who can listen to and synthesize disparate points of view, who can prod and cajole and, yes, can compromise, and yet take the tough vote that exposes him to attack when he believes it is right.

It will require the skills David Chiu has demonstrated as President of the Board of Supervisors.

These are also, by the way, the skills of a Nancy Pelosi, and Leader Pelosi has a superb record of accomplishment for the City and its working men and women. Chiu is far from reaching the level of accomplishment and influence of a Pelosi, but he has shown much more promise of it than Campos ever has.

For San Francisco, for workers, vote for David Chiu.

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