San Francisco politics: The inauguration of Eric Mar

January 9, 2009 at 1:23 am 1 comment

Jade and Eric Mar on the campaign trail, 2008

Jade and Eric Mar on the campaign trail, 2008

Just went to Eric Mar’s inauguration to the San Francisco Board of Supervisor’s down at City hall today. I’ve known Eric, his wife Sandy & Eric’s twin brother Gordon since we were all undergrads back at the dawn of time, so it was really great to see him sworn in today. I’m a sucker for speeches that thank family members and I was especially choked up when Eric mentioned his late father, who died four years ago right around the time my own dad passed. Eric’s daughter Jade is just three months older than my older daughter so seeing Jade out of school and all decked out in her party duds to see her dad sworn in was also a kick for me.

Eric’s been a long-time activist and organizer in the Asian American community and he’s been a tireless advocate for the disenfranchised since our college days long ago. He’s been on the San Francisco School Board for the past eight years and this past November survived a bruising campaign to represent San Francisco’s 1st District, which comprises the inner Richmond. He and fellow progressive David Chiu were targeted by San Francisco’s downtown business establishment and were both subjected to smear campaigns that impugned their character, their patriotism and their personal lives. Today both were sworn in as Supervisors (Chiu from the Chinatown/North Beach district) in large part due to a huge grassroots support from their neighborhoods. Together with incumbent Carmen Chu this marks the first time that three Chinese Americans have simultaneously been on the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco history.

As icing on the cake, David Chiu was also elected President of the board today. The process of his election was an interesting example of SF politicking—it took eight ballots to break the deadlock between Sup. Sophie Maxwell, who was supported by allies of Mayor Gavin Newsom, and the progressive candidate, who was at first David Avalos, then David Chiu. Eric Mar played a key part in brokering the deal that sent Chiu to the President’s seat. With Maxwell and Avalos in a near deadlock, with neither able to gain a majority for for several rounds, Eric switched his vote from Avalos to Chiu. He followed up his vote-switch with a cogent and articulate plea for supporting Chui as a President not only for Chinese Americans but for all San Franciscans. Veteran progressives Ross Mirkarimi and Chris Daly, who had withheld their support for Avalos, then switched their votes to Chiu, giving him the majority and electing him Board President. It was a subtle and interesting moment of political intrigue, clearly delineating the lines between various factions on the Board. It also indicated the political modus operandi of various Board members, as well as their possible future alliances. Mirkarimi and Daly clearly enjoy the bold power play—Eric Mar’s style is much more subtle and close to the vest. The five supervisors who supported Sophie Maxwell are an obvious voting bloc allied with Mayor Newsom—the remaining six supes are more loosely allied, with sub-alliances within the larger group. Interestingly enough, Daly did not support his former aide John Avalos in his bid for Board president but eventually threw his weight behind Chiu. Time will tell if the lines of allegiance will become more clearly drawn in the future, or if Board alliances continue to fluctuate throughout the next term.

UPDATE: here’s more information via my friend and colleague Malcom Collier.

Hello Valerie

Nice blog but not quite accurate – my fault maybe as I had a mental block when you were talking to me at city hall. In late 1990s we had three Chinese Americans on the Board – Leland Yee, Mabel Teng, and Michael Yaki. Yaki is 1/2 Chinese American, 2/8 Japanese American, and 1/8 Hawaiian Native. So unless you want to leave out the mixed folks, today is not the first time with three CAs on Board.

In case you are interested, I looked up the terms:

Mabel Teng, 1995-2001 – she was the first Asian American, not just the first AA woman, to win a city wide election to the board without being appointed to the position first. All previous persons won after being appointed first and running as incumbants.

Leland Yee, 1996-2001

Michael Yaki, 1997-2002

George Chinn (I think that is the spelling) was the first Chinese American to serve on the Board, appointed 1973. Gordon J. Lau appointed to the board 1977 and later elected, but not city wide – there were district elections then. Tom Hsieh Sr. won citywide after being appointed to a vacancy in 1986, then won elections in 1988 and 1992.

UPDATE 2: My buddy Danny Plotnick has another take on the board president election which takes the pols to task for their flagrant manipulation of the system. Change we can believe in or more of the same?

UPDATE 3: The effervescent sociologist, scholar and person-about-town Grace Yoo takes another look at the event, and the post-party spreads, on her brand-new blog.

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