David Chiu speaks out about his new role at City Hall

‘Certain events have tarnished the reputation of our city’s government’

Why is David Chiu coming back to San Francisco City Hall?

Lots of famous politicians have left, like Gavin Newsom and Dianne Feinstein, and they’ve gone on to hold higher offices in Sacramento and beyond. Chiu, the only three-time president of the Board of Supervisors, moved up to the capital as an assemblymember in 2014.

On Wednesday, he returned, accepting the job of city attorney – at a time when San Francisco City Hall is not at its best. The City is immediately handing Chiu a mop and asking him to help clean up a corruption scandal that started at its public works department and swept through other offices.

Why come back? The pay – $283,099 – sure beats the salary of an assembly member, which is $114,877. And, he says, provides the chance to pursue high-profile legal issues.

“My entire career, I’ve been focused on the fight for justice,” Chiu told The Examiner in an interview Wednesday. His new role will help him tackle issues facing San Francisco and the nation.

“What the city attorney’s office can do to address critical issues for The City and the country are the allure,” he said, adding that San Francisco City Hall has “set the example for our city’s shared progressive values, and the same approach will be taken here.”

Chiu said he will look for new legal approaches to address homelessness, the condition of city streets, the COVID-19 pandemic, economic inequality and civil rights.

First, he has to help right the ship — and shore up Mayor London Breed’s administration. Chiu is taking over for Dennis Herrera, who has been city attorney for nearly 20 years. Herrera is taking the top spot at the Public Utilities Commission, which he has helped investigate.

The key personnel moves show Breed is, as she said during a press conference Wednesday, willing to “do what is necessary to get our city on track and to restore public trust after a very challenging time for our city.”

“You can be assured that these public servants, like David Chiu and Dennis Herrera, have their own established reputations and will be extraordinary leaders in helping to make the right decision in these various conditions,” Breed said.

Chiu is on board with that.

“Certain events in the recent past have tarnished the reputation of our city’s government,” Chiu said. He added that it will be one of his top priorities to help “root out corruption wherever it is.”

Herrera’s resignation is effective Oct. 31, and Chiu said he plans to start shortly thereafter. He has plenty of work waiting for him.

What does the law say about city employees who refuse to get vaccinated? “I’m sure I will look into that,” he said.

What about holding tech companies accountable, especially after his 2014 campaign accepted big donations from investors? “I have always been independent, and have held some of the most deeply entrenched corporate powers accountable,” he said.

And he still as a lot of work to do in the capitol: five pieces of his legislation are on Gov. Newsom’s desk that he would like to shepherd forward in his waning days.

Chiu has kept his home in the Bayview neighborhood while serving in the Statehouse, and will move back there full-time. “Our neighborhood reflects the challenges and the future of our city,” he said of the area, which has battled crime and built new housing developments recently.

Chiu said he spoke with several people about his soon-to-be-vacant state Assembly seat, but was not endorsing anyone at this time. His departure is expected to set up a heated battle between Supervisor Matt Haney and former supervisor David Campos, who lost to Chiu in 2014.

A particularly pressing order of business? Chiu said he looks forward to cheering for the playoffs-bound Giants with a hometown crowd. “In the Statehouse, there were three assembly people representing San Francisco, and 25 representing LA County,” he said. “So we were always outnumbered.”


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