Politics is dirty business, and I should never underestimate the willingness of politicians to turn any editorial praise they receive into an electoral advantage, distorting the context as needed, a lesson that I was reminded of this week.
Several Guardian readers have called me this week to complain about a mailer dropped on voters by the David Chiu for Assembly campaign, which includes long quotes from Chiu’s endorsements by the San Francisco Chronicle and Bay Area Reporter, as well as positive quotes from the Bay Guardian and San Francisco Examiner.
Although neither the Guardian nor the Examiner has endorsed Chiu — we enthusiastically endorsed David Campos in that race, while the Examiner is waiting until the fall rematch to do endorsements — our readers said the flyer left the impression that we had.
Chiu campaign spokesperson Nicole Derse disputes that view. “It definitely did not leave that impression,” she told me. “We were very clear about who has endorsed.” She said the Examiner and Guardian were included because “it’s important to highlight objective sources like newspapers.”
The Guardian quote was from a July 23, 2013 blog post in which I indeed wrote, “It is Chiu and his bustling office of top aides that have done most of the heavy legislation lifting this year, finding compromise solutions to some of the most vexing issues facing the city.”
It was certainly true at the time, although I received a lot criticism for what I wrote from the progressive community, which pointed out how Chiu had maneuvered himself into the swing vote position on key issues such as condo conversions and CEQA reform. And the compromises Chiu forged actually allowed fiscal conservatives to erode San Francisco’s standing as a progessive city while burgeoning his own political resume.
So I ran another blog post to air those concerns, and then we ran a hybrid of the two in the next week’s paper that closes with this line, “In the end, Chiu can be seen as an effective legislator, a centrist compromiser, or both. Perspective is everything in politics.” BTW, in that original post, I also noted that the Airbnb legislation Chiu was working on should challenge his political skills and reputation, and indeed it took many more months to introduce and has been met by a storm of criticism, becoming the marquee political fight of the summer at City Hall.
After that first post, I also heard from Campos and his supporters predicting that the Chiu campaign would use my well-meaning praise to convey support from the Guardian in a misleading way, a prophecy that has now proven prescient.
But I also think that Campos has done a good job at undermining Chiu’s greatest strength in this election, that of being an effective legislator, by hammering on the reality that things have gotten worse for the average San Francisco because Chiu and his allies have been most effective on behalf of the tech companies, landlords, and other rich and powerful interests that are undermining the city’s diversity, affordability, and progressive values.
"Effective for whom? That's what's important," Campos told us during his endorsement interview, noting that, "Most people in San Francisco have been left behind and out of that prosperity."
Chiu’s campaign counters by overtly and in whisper campaigns saying that progressives can’t be effective in Sacramento, blatantly overlooking the fact that the incumbent he’s running to replace, Tom Ammiano, has been both a consistent, trustworthy progressive, and an effective legislator who has gotten more bills signed than most of his colleagues, even as he takes on tough issues like reforms to Prop. 13 and prison conditions.
And Ammiano hasn’t just said good things about David Campos, his chosen successor -- Ammiano has actually endorsed Campos.