David Chiu

On February 21st David Chiu, President of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, visited HLS for an ACS and APLSA co-sponsored lunch talk about progressive policymaking. Mr. Chiu was enthusiastic about bringing new ideas to San Francisco, and emphasized the power of local government to improve the lives of city residents.

Mr. Chiu began his career working in the Nation’s Capital for the Senate Judiciary Committee, but after two years he decided to escape what he calls “the fishbowl that surrounds D.C.” Two years later, with some legislative experience under his belt, Mr. Chiu decided to move to San Francisco, where he has been ever since.

Mr. Chiu was elected to represent District 3 on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 2008 and elected President of the Board in 2012. There he has worked to unleash a wave of progressive policies that have helped to make San Francisco one of the best cities in the country. He boasts a bill strengthening labor through minimum wage increases, mandated sick leave, and has proposed a bill which would force companies to negotiate schedules with parent-workers to allow for child care. He helped to enact environmentally friendly policies to remove plastic water bottles from public places and has also proposed an initiative to lower the number of tree-killing phone books in the city. He even dreams of promoting equal access to the courts by making San Francisco the first city in the nation to mandate access to a lawyer for civil suits – a policy which, he notes, might assist in reducing the number of evictions and tenant problems as well.

These accomplishments and efforts are impressive to be sure, but what was truly inspiring about Mr. Chiu’s visit was the scope of his vision for public service at the local level. He envisions the success of his policies spreading to other localities, eventually growing to the state and national levels. And his dream is not just some misty-eyed abstraction. Mr. Chiu notes that the Obama administration has looked to San Francisco for inspiration. He urges HLS students not to turn up their noses at the opportunities available in local politics. As the current deadlock in DC so aptly demonstrates, policymaking doesn’t happen often at a national scale. It happens primarily in cities. San Francisco, led by David Chiu, stands as a primary example.   

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