Supervisor Campos has busy freshman year
by Matthew S. Bajko
Supervisor David Campos, the board's openly gay freshman member, has proven to be a wild card among the political body's six-member progressive majority since his swearing-in 10 months ago.
Rather than vote lock step with his allies on the board, Campos at times has taken the counter position. Nor has he been shy about going head-to-head with the mayor, and as a former police commissioner, he often asks pointed questions of law enforcement officials.
He caused a stir in August with his pushing legislation that would restrict undocumented youths suspected of criminal activities from being turned over to federal authorities until they are convicted of a crime. It would reverse a change to San Francisco's sanctuary city policy Mayor Gavin Newsom imposed last year; local authorities now contact their federal counterparts at the time of a felony arrest.
"He has set the right tone of exerting leadership on issues he cares about. He knows how to play well with others while sticking to his convictions," said former out lesbian Supervisor Leslie Katz, who supported Campos during his campaign last year. "He has been doing a great job."
With the board gearing up to return from its summer recess next week, Campos recently sat down with the Bay Area Reporter to reflect on his time in office. Despite the public feuding and heated meetings, Campos said so far he has enjoyed every minute of his new job.
"It is the best job I have ever had. It is very interesting and everyday is unique," said Campos, who turns 39 on September 28. "I go into the day not knowing what to expect."
With his stances on immigration issues, Campos has gained national attention, more so than the board's other new members. It comes as no surprise, as Campos first came to the United States at the age of 14 as an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala and promised to be a vocal advocate for the city's immigrants during last year's campaign.
But his positions have brought him withering criticism. Arthur Evans, a frequent critic of the board, took Campos to task earlier this summer over the issue of how to handle immigrant youth who are arrested.
"David Campos is out of control. Not only is he not promoting public safety, he seems to be doing everything he can to thwart it," wrote Evans, a gay man who has also attacked Campos for his policy position on regulating medical marijuana dispensaries.
In terms of his legislation pertaining to undocumented youth, Campos said "no one is condoning criminal activity" and that "we should report them to federal authorities" if they are convicted of their crimes. But he stressed "there is a distinction between being accused of criminal activity and having engaged in criminal activity."
"You are innocent until proven guilty," said Campos, who is a lawyer. "Let them have their day in court. If the court decides they committed the crime, we will report them" to federal immigration officials.
He said he is looking forward to working with new Police Chief George Gascón on the issue. While chief of Mesa, Arizona's police department, Gascón publicly quarreled with his county sheriff over the issue of immigration.
"I spoke briefly to the new police chief. I am very hopeful about this chief. He gets San Francisco and how we do things differently here," said Campos.
He may not always see eye-to-eye with Newsom, but Campos was invited to be part of a mayoral working trip to Mexico City last month. He had to decline, however, as he already had made plans to vacation in Playa del Carmen outside Cancun, Mexico with his partner, Phil Hwang, and spend time with his family in southern California.
Since January Campos said he believes relations between the board and Room 200 of City Hall have gotten better. But the supervisors, he said, also need to strike a balance between working with the mayor and fighting for their principles.
"I think there has been some improvement in the board's relationship with the mayor," said Campos, who has yet to endorse Newsom's gubernatorial bid. "I also feel we as a board need to assert ourselves more. Working with the mayor doesn't mean you give up your own views."
A member of the board's budget committee, Campos did not hide his anger at Newsom's funding priorities this year, siding with fellow progressives on the fiscal oversight panel in moving $80 million out of public safety agencies into the budgets for health and social service providers. He further antagonized foes of the funding switch when he declared that Newsom's proposed budget could only be called perfect by "wealthy, straight, white males from Pacific Heights."
He also fought to include a reserve fund to help offset funding cuts from Sacramento, and Campos has pledged to fight to see some of that money be funneled toward AIDS and HIV programs faced with nearly $4 million less from the state this year.
"We as a city need to see what we can do to protect those basic services," said Campos. "Everything needs to be on the table right now."
City staffers and department heads have also faced harsh questioning from Campos over the awarding of no-bid city contracts, something he made a priority during his campaign last year. When he served as general counsel for the city's public school district, Campos said he spent a lot of time reviewing contracts.
He has been critical of how the board has handled the issue, chastising it for spending countless hours on seemingly trivial matters while approving contracts worth millions of dollars with little debate.
"I am making sure the city is spending taxpayer money properly and we are getting the most bang for our buck," said Campos. "What I have seen has been a lot of sloppy contracting that goes on. I've made clear to departments that we will read the fine print and make sure contracts go through competitive bidding. Even though it doesn't get headlines, I think we are making progress."
Campos succeeded Tom Ammiano, now a state Assemblyman, as supervisor and has taken his seat in the board chambers next to his gay colleague, Supervisor Bevan Dufty. He said the seating assignment has proven to be advantageous, especially during marathon meetings.
"It is a dangerous proposition having two gay men sitting next to each other," joked Campos. "There is no gossiping going on, I can assure you."
Dufty had high praise for his counterpart, although at times they are at odds when it comes to legislation or policy matters. Both men served on the budget committee this year, no easy task as the city faced its worst financial crisis in decades, and Dufty said Campos carried himself with aplomb.
"I think he has been hardworking and resourceful. He is a joy to work with; he has a great sense of humor and he is fun to sit next to," said Dufty, who also backed Campos in his election campaign. "Moving into Tom Ammiano's chair is not an easy task. He has done a wonderful job; it is clear why Tom supported him so strongly."
Campos showed his independent streak early on when he bucked his progressive allies by casting the determining vote to elect Dufty chair of the San Francisco Transportation Authority. The rest of the left-leaning bloc had backed Supervisor Chris Daly for the job.
"Bevan has the expertise to do a good job in that role," Campos said regarding his vote.
It was the second time he had broke ranks. In January he nominated, and then stood by, Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi to be president of the board during four rounds of voting before finally throwing his support to Supervisor David Chiu, helping to elect the freshman board member to the post.
"With each issue I ask myself, what do I think is right," said Campos, adding that for the most part, the progressive bloc on the board has "agreed on most issues. You will always have some differences of opinion. I am trying to do what I think is right."
One of two openly gay Latino elected officials in San Francisco – the other is city Treasurer Jose Cisneros – Campos said he has also strived to serve as a bridge between the city's LGBT and Latino communities. He noted that the effort to defeat Proposition 8, the voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage, failed last fall due to the LGBT community's inability to reach out to minority communities.
"When I go to a Latino event, I try to raise issues important to the gay community. I have a responsibility to talk about gay issues. Likewise when I go to an LGBT event, I raise issues of concern to Latinos, such as immigration," said Campos. "As a community we can not expect others to support issues like same-sex marriage if we aren't supporting their issues."
LGBT leaders said they have so far been impressed with Campos's leadership on the board.
"He is one of the hardest working members of the Board of Supervisors. He really walks the walk," said Laura Spanjian, who serves with Campos on the Democratic County Central Committee and is running to replace Dufty next year. "A lot of the reforms and issues he discussed on the campaign trail he is really working on and talking about at City Hall."
Fellow DCCC member Scott Wiener, a gay man who is also running for Dufty's seat, backed Campos in his race even though Campos voted to replace him as chair of the local Democratic Party last summer. Nonetheless, Wiener praised Campos's time on the board.
"When he voted for Bevan to be chair of the transportation authority over Chris Daly, I was very happy that David did that. It showed independence and was the right vote because I think Supervisor Dufty has done a terrific job as head of the transportation authority," said Wiener. "While I have not agreed with Supervisor Campos on every position he has taken, I think he has been a very active and engaged and hardworking supervisor and I respect him."