First debate, big endorsement on tap for Assembly seat race

In the first debate between dueling members of the Board of Supervisors vying for a state Assembly seat this year, voters will be looking to see how David Campos and David Chiu distinguish themselves.

But there’s more going on than just winning over voters. Also at stake is the endorsement of the San Francisco Young Democrats, the political group hosting the debate. Immediately following the candidate showdown, its members will vote on which candidate to endorse for the Assembly District 17 seat. 
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That’s important since the club also has 12 voting representatives in the Democratic Party’s pre-convention in Burlingame next month. There are 97 voting representatives made up of other official clubs, but the Young Democrats have the most of any single group, according to Walt Donner, the club’s internal vice president.

“Our endorsement is pretty crucial to the California Democratic Party endorsement,” Donner said. He noted that the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club has 11 voting representatives and has endorsed Campos.

An endorsement means the group’s representatives all vote for that candidate. Otherwise they vote with their conscience. If the candidate picks up 70 percent next month, then they pretty much secure the state Democratic Party endorsement outright.

It’s mostly the kind of stuff political insiders worry about. Meanwhile, the voters at large are excited for the debate, according to club members who expect the 235-seat auditorium at the Main Library to be filled. Donner said candidates will focus on issues impacting their member demographic — those ages 35 and under — such as affordability, soaring rents and the cost of education. Donner said club members will be looking “to see how [the candidates] distinguish themselves between each other. They vote very similarly at the Board of Supervisors.”

Chiu’s campaign manager, Nicole Derse, acknowledged Chiu’s voting record is about “98 percent” the same as his challenger, but said Chiu is a leader who brings disparate sides together to achieve results. Chiu, she said, has a record of “delivering on the issues and not just talking about them,” an apparent criticism of Campos.

As president of the board for his three consecutive two-year terms, Chiu is in a position to set the legislative body’s political agenda.

On the other hand, Campos, whose base is the more left-leaning progressives that are a minority on the board, is often on the losing end of more controversial policy debates.

“There are some very real differences between us,” Campos said, declining to elaborate. He did, however, label Chiu as the candidate of developers and big business.

As for the contest, Campos said, “It’s a pretty close race.” 

NOTE: The debate will take place at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Main Library.

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