Is the Guardian empowering Chiu or just recognizing his power?

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David Chiu: centrist compromiser, effective legislator, or both?

I’ve been hearing lots of back channel complaints and concerns from progressive San Franciscans since last week’s blog post on Board of Supervisors President David Chiu and the role he’s played forging compromises on controversial pieces of legislation this year.

Some have even suggested that the Guardian has gone centrist under my freshly minted editorship, which I actually find kinda funny given my history, perspective, and the righteously anti-corporate and progressive perspective stories that I’ve written and edited in recent weeks. I can honestly tell you that I call ‘em like I see ‘em, now as always, even if that doesn’t always hew to the progressive orthodoxy of some.

Nobody really wants to speak on the record against Chiu, which is understandable given the powerful and pivotal position that he’s carved out for himself as a swing vote between the two ideological poles and on the Land Use Committee, whose makeup he personally created to enhance that role.

So for now, let me just air some of the criticisms and offer some responses and perspective. The main issue seems to be that Chiu allows both progressive and anti-progressive legislation to be watered down until it is palatable to both sides, empowering the moderates over the progressives.

That’s a legitimate point, it’s certainly true that Chiu’s worldview is generally more centrist than that of the Guardian and its progressive community, and we’ve leveled that criticism at Chiu many times over the years. The fact that he ends up in a deciding role on controversial legislation is clearly a role that Chiu has carved out from himself, no doubt about it. And that’s certainly why he played the pivotal role that he has this year.

But when he uses that role to empower and support tenant groups, as he did on the condo lottery bypass measure, I think that’s something worth noting and praising, particularly in my quick little blog post that seems to have grown in perceived significance beyond what I may have intended.   

Many of the criticisms involved the CEQA reform legislation that was unanimously approved by the board last week after progressives opposed its initial iteration by Sup. Scott Wiener.

As some have suggested, Sup. Jane Kim does deserve tremendous credit for resisting the initial legislation and working with activists on an alternative, and I included that recognition in my initial story on the legislation. And it’s valid criticism of Chiu to note that Kim had five votes for her legislation and that it was only Chiu who stood in the way of its passage (whether Mayor Ed Lee would have vetoed it, necessitating the need for two more votes, is another question).

But I quoted Eric Brooks, an activist who spent months working on the compromise, as saying the CEQA legislation ultimately does make it easier to oppose bad projects. And when it was approved unanimously by the board, I figured it was safe to place that piece of legislation on the list of Chiu legislative accomplishments for the year.

We at the Guardian will make mistakes, as we always have from time to time. But I’m going to try to err on the side of open, transparent public debates -- while supporting a rejuvenation of the city’s progressive movement, so that it is able to start playing offense and protecting this city’s diversity, vitality, and progressive values.

And if you have any criticisms or advice for the Guardian, please come to our forum on Wednesday or offer them to me directly. Thanks for reading.