The next board president

Pub date January 2, 2013

EDITORIAL The president of the Board of Supervisors does more than bang the gavel at meetings, tell people to put their clothes back on, and run for higher office. It’s a powerful position largely because the president makes appointments — to the Planning Commission, the Police Commission — and unilaterally decides who serves on which board committees.

Two years ago, Sup. David Chiu, who won the top post in 2009 with progressive support, wanted re-election, and the left wasn’t siding with him anymore. So he cut a deal with the conservative members, appointing the right-wing of the board to plum committee posts — and making life harder for progressives who wanted to pass Legislation or prevent bad developments from happening.

He clearly likes the job and would love to hold it for a third term. But that won’t be easy — Sup. Scott Wiener, who is to the right of Chiu on many issues, is also interested, as is Sup. Jane Kim, who has always been close to Chiu, and Sup. David Campos, who is one of the leading progressives. None of the candidates can count to six right now, so somebody’s going to have to back down or make a deal.

And before that happens, the candidates ought to tell us something about what they plan to do.

Chiu’s 2011 committee appointments were a bit of a shocker, although, in retrospect, the horse trading shouldn’t have surprised anyone. In fact, after he made his decisions, and put Carmen Chu, one of the most conservative supervisors, in charge of the Budget and Finance Committee and put the conservative Scott Wiener and the moderate Malia Cohen on Land Use and Economic Development, and put conservative Sean Elsbernd in charge of two committees, he told us that he felt he had no choice. If the progressives had voted for him, he wouldn’t have had to reward the conservatives.

This time around, with two new supervisors taking office (a more centrist Norman Yee replacing Elsbernd and a more moderate London Breed replacing Christina Olague) everything is up in the air. The progressives still have a solid three votes, and can sometimes count on Jane Kim and Chiu. That’s not enough to elect a president, but it’s coming pretty close.

Based on experience, skills, and temperament, our first choice for board president is Campos, who would be fair to everyone, approachable, and a voice for open government and community participation. But if Campos can’t get six votes, he and his progressive colleagues should ask anyone who want their support to be open about what he or she plans to do.

Who will be on the budget committee? Rules? Land Use? Where will he or she look for candidates for commissions? We know it would look unsightly if, say, Chiu named in advance his preferences for key committees — and then those people voted for him. But the reality is, those discussions are happening anyway, those deals being cut — and it’s happening behind closed doors, where the public (and the other supervisors) can’t watch.

Let’s bring all of the discussions into the sunshine, and have an open debate about the next board president.