Campos started off defining himself with his opening statement, noting that it’s been 29 years since he arrived as a teenager and undocumented immigrant in San Francisco. “My parents knew what it was like to struggle,” he said. “People like my parents deserve a voice in government.” He talked about the “tale of two cities,” the growing wealth that is leaving so many people behind – and then shifted to a “tale of two Davids,” a contrast between candidates that’s “as stark as the Chamber of Commerce and the Tamale Lady, the developer and the tenant.” He quoted the Spanish phrase, “Dime con quién andas y te diré quién eres” – “tell me who you walk with and I’ll tell you who you are.”
Chiu also talked about immigrant roots: He was the first child in his family born in the United States, and moved to San Francisco 18 years ago “because it is a very special city.” In 2008, when he was first elected, he said, “City Hall was not as functional as it needed to be. We have brought people together to get things done.”
That’s the same message he’s been putting out in his polling: He’s been asking voters if they prefer an “outspoken activist” or a “practical problem solver.”
Campos, on the other hand, pointed out that “activist” Assemblymember Tom Ammiano get all 13 of his bills through the Legislature and signed this year.
But it’s pretty clear that this will be the tenor of the campaign: Chiu is running as someone who can build “consensus,” and Campos is running as someone who will push the envelope of social change.
Chiu used the word “effective” over and over. “We need someone in the Assembly who can be effective,” he said. “I can get legislation passed.”
Campos responded: “It’s not all about the legislation you pass, it’s about the social change you effectuate.” And he noted: “With this David, you don’t need a lobbying effort to get me to do the right thing.”
That was the Campos message all night: He would be there for progressives, and nobody would ever have to wonder where he stands.
Chiu took a very different approach: “I’m trying to work behind the scenes to get things done,” he said.
The two went after each other repeatedly, with Campos more often the aggressor. He argued that Chiu voted in favor of demolishing rental housing at Park Merced and appeared to be in support of the mayor’s plan to charge tech buses just $1 for the use of bus stops.
Chiu said that the Park Merced deal was good for tenants, who will get lifetime leases in the rebuilt units, and argued that he wanted the buses to pay more than $1. “When the mayor sent out his press release on the Google buses, your name was all over it,” Campos responded.
They clashed a bit over nightlife, with Chiu talking about the need to avoid violence in neighborhoods with a lot of nightclubs and Campos strongly supporting extending drinking hours to 4am in some areas.
Chiu noted that “when I go to the Mission, thousands of people say they signed a petition saying that crime hasn’t been tackled and the district supervisor isn’t helping.” Campos pointed out that the petition is actually the work of a developer who wants to build luxury housing at 16th and Mission.
In response to a question about women in technology from the moderator, the ever-patient Marisa Lagos of the Chronicle, you got a picture of how these two candidates see politics. Chiu argued that he has “pressed tech companies to diversity their ranks.” Campos said that there should be “no tax breaks for corporations that don’t make a firm commitment to hiring women and people of color.”
In their closing statements, the themes came back: “I know what it’s like to have nothing,” Campos said. He talked the tensions between wealth and affordability, about the need to “change the city’s course and stop rolling out the red carpet for special interests” and “take our city back and protect the heart of San Francisco.”
Chiu recalled than when he took office in 2008, “we didn’t need ideology.” During the recession, he said, the city needed job growth – “I know so many people who were unemployed” – and like the mayor, he was positive about the reduction in the unemployment rate and the economic boom.
“What we don’t need,” he said, “is people who don’t bring us together.”
So there’s your Assembly race: Compromise and consensus vs. a battle for the soul of the city. And by the time we get to the first round, the June primary, I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of confusion about who is on which side.