David Chiu’s fundraising in New York? Of course, he is

David Chiu, president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, is in New York Friday to seek funds for his San Francisco mayoral run.

I’m actually surprised he’s doing it.

He’s already raised more money than any other candidate to date by far.

Maybe he’s just getting in sync with being a career politician who is always in campaign mode.

But by going to New York for money, Chiu accentuates his image as an “outsider” in a field that includes three (count ’em, three) formidable Chinese Americans: State Senator Leland Yee, SF Assessor Phil Ting, and appointed interim Mayor Ed Lee.

All three have extremely strong local ties. Yee grew up in the Mission District and is a favorite among older, progressive San Franciscans. Ting and Lee have made their mark as city bureaucrats. Lee’s choice to run (he initially said he wouldn’t) is due largely to pressure from community insiders like Rose Pak, who is tied to the old-line San Francisco Democratic machine that has propelled Phil Burton/Willie Brown and Gavin Newsom.

I suppose the old line folks like Lee’s malleability and his local connections. And he’s the incumbent.

David, however, has real appeal.

I’ve called him “Obamaesque.”

Originally from Hingham, Mass., a Harvard College and Law School grad, David came west in the ’90s to work with Eva Paterson’s civil rights group, then went on to be a founder of (Full disclosure: I, too, was one of the founding group. David survived, __I didn’t.)

Asian Americans seeking money for campaigns all over the country is not new. Gary Locke, the new U.S. Ambassador to China, would make frequent trips to California to fund his successful runs for governor of Washington.

But David is a local guy. Why would New Yorkers want to give to a San Francisco politician unless they thought that his train isn’t just the local, but the express? And to where?

Being mayor of America’s most Asian city would be a nice feather in his cap. And for Asian Americans everywhere, there’s real appeal when it comes to backing a candidate who could be a national voice. Perhaps one who could be…the first Asian American in the White House?

Indeed, with a New York fundraising trip, David seems to be positioning himself nicely not just for Mayor of San Francisco but beyond. He already is among the brightest Asian American hopes in a dim field of politicos anywhere.

But that’s David’s shortcoming. He’s long on ambition. He just hasn’t had the kind of experience you’d want.

In that sense, he’s like the tech startup going to the venture capitalists.

He’s the politician of the upside.

And he’s got a lot of it.

But why go to New York now? He doesn’t need the money really. And ranked choice voting, the format San Francisco will use in this election, is supposed to make things more fair for non-monied candidates.

The only reason I could think of is David’s testing his national appeal.

Like I said, he’s Obamaesque.

But he risks sending a message to San Franciscans, typical chauvinistic “don’t call it Frisco” types, who may take the New York foray as “unbecoming,” exceedingly ambitious, and an example that Chiu has the soul of a carpetbagger. And that’s what detractors will say about the ambitious Chiu, seen as using San Francisco as his springboard.

Read Emil Guillermo’s earlier posts on the SF mayoral race at and on the AALDEF blog.

ADDENDUM (8.19.11):

I was remiss in leaving out two other Asian Americans who are running for Mayor.

One is Public Defender Jeff Adachi, who has caught some national attention for his ideas on public pension reform. He got in on the filing deadline last Friday. The other is Wilma Pang, a music educator and a perennial candidate.

So we have Chiu, Yee, Lee, Ting, Adachi, and Pang.

But even with six candidates and ranked choice voting, it won’t be easy for an Asian American to win.

A harbinger of the election came this week when the San Francisco Democratic Party leadership voted on their first and second choices in a rank-choice vote.

In a poll among politicos, the smart ones seemed to abstain, and in the end, a Latino coalition emerged victorious.

The first choice was San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos, with the second choice going to City Attorney Dennis Herrera, according to an Asian Week report.

Interestingly, only Ed Lee, the current mayor, could eke out two votes. County Committee member and Supervisor Eric Mar voted for Avalos. Chiu had one vote—from himself. The impact of the party vote is debatable. But there will be 225,000 slate cards sent out to San Francisco’s rank-and-file party members, and the two top names will be Latino and not Asian American. -EG

Image by AALDEF

Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator. Updates at Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.

The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.

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