I’ve blogged many times about San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors President David Chiu: his initial run for Supervisor for District 3, the possibility of him being the first acting Asian-American mayor of San Francisco should current mayor Gavin Newsom step down. This past weekend, The San Francisco Chronicle did its most in-depth profile of Chiu to date, covering Chiu’s biography from growing up in Boston to his current governing style and success as Board of Supervisor:
“While Chiu is credited with bringing a tone of civility back to City Hall and being a tough, but fair, negotiator, it hasn’t come without consequences. Chiu’s critics say he isn’t forceful enough, complain about his inability to keep some of his allies in line and malign his reticence to leave the president’s dais and debate colleagues on the floor. … But conservatives and liberals have been less than enamored with his distaste for conflict. The left complains he’s not tough enough on the mayor. The right bemoans his inability to control members of his base. “Chiu doesn’t have that much tolerance for political pain,” said Supervisor Chris Daly. “He’s the leader of the Board of Supervisors and a member of the progressive camp without being a leader of the progressives.””
What pains me in these complaints is that this traditional characterization perpetuates the stereotype of Asian Americans being passive or non-confrontational, especially since the Chronicle did an earlier story in the beginning of the year on Chiu as he entered office, one titled “New head of S.F. supes seen as no pushover.” This commentary sends a mixed message – lauding Chiu bringing civility back to City Hall, yet not being confrontational enough to take partisan stands.
So what’s the solution? Perhaps the model for governing and leadership all along has been wrong, or can other styles or expectations of leadership be successful, even if they are not what is “standard” or status quo. In the age of Fox News and MSNBC and personalities of Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann, its seems like there can be no middle ground when it comes to analyzing a policy or leadership style on its own merits.
In the context of the article, a lot of the descriptions of Chiu describe a somewhat “model minority” Asian American upbringing, from Chiu playing the violin to having his parents making him study hard. But Chiu did take a non-traditional career path than most by interning or working in local governent from the New York mayor’s office and the city controller’s office, Democratic Sen. Paul Simon’s office, as a full-time staffer for Simons before moving to San Francisco.
The city of San Francisco, the state of California and the United States is in a big fiscal mess right now. We need more leaders like David Chiu rather than less to tackle the very serious issues at hand and focus on solving the problems rather than bickering through partisan lenses. (Easier said than done, of course.)