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Breed appoints David Chiu to succeed Dennis Herrera as city attorney

Mayor London Breed appointed Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco) Wednesday to take on the role as San Francisco’s next city attorney.

In April, Breed nominated outgoing City Attorney Dennis Herrera to head up the Public Utilities Commission, though the commission just approved Herrera’s contract Tuesday. Herrera will begin his new job as PUC general manager on Nov. 1.

Former General Manager Harlan Kelly resigned last November as the City Hall corruption was publicly unfolding and he found himself implicated in the scandal. The FBI charged Kelly for allegedly taking bribes from a contractor and permit adviser.

At a press conference in the Mission District, Breed said she could not think of anyone better than Chiu to serve as the next city attorney, praising his legal work before becoming an elected official. Chiu worked as a civil rights attorney for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights in the Bay Area and as a former criminal prosecutor with the District Attorney’s Office.

Breed said:

“He has an extensive career in law, one, even before he stepped foot in the world of politics.”

As the former president of the Board of Supervisors, Breed said Chui was a consensus builder, adding:

“He was someone who was dedicated and worked hard to tackle many of the issues that he now continues to tackle in Sacramento — focusing on tenants rights, focusing on employment rights, civil rights and discrimination.”

Chiu said he will continue to work on pressing issues with policymakers as he has done in Sacramento, adding:

“I’m going to fight to make sure that we are protecting workers, we are standing up for consumers, and we are going to hold corporations accountable if they crossed the line.”

Despite Herrera and Chiu running against each other in 2011 mayor’s race, Herrera said:

“He is someone of principle and integrity. He is committed to transparency and clean government. He is independent, which is the most important thing you can do.”

Chiu, who will be San Francisco’s first Asian American city attorney, spoke of a story back in his freshman year of college when he received a phone call from a friend about a group Asian students who were attacked by football players with racial epithets while attending a formal dance.

He said the footballer players were never disciplined, and that became a defining moment in his life. 

Chiu said:

“I became a student activist. I studied the civil rights movement. I switched my major from biochemistry to government and I decided to go to law school because I wanted to fight for justice.”

Chiu’s new role includes taking on investigation into public corruption at City Hall. The City Attorney’s Office and Controller’s Office have been investigating allegations since federal charges were first filed against former Department of Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru in January 2020.

Herrera said at the press conference:

“As I’ve said all along, our investigations continue and irrespective of whether I’m in that office or not, they will continue.”

Chiu’s appointment sets up the need for an election to fill his state assembly seat, which he plans to vacate as on Oct. 31.

David Campos, former District 9 supervisor and current chief of staff for District Attorney Chesa Boudin, in August launched an exploratory committee to prepare for a campaign if Breed did choose Chiu to replace Herrera.

District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney told the San Francisco Chronicle Wednesday that he also plans to make a bid for the state assembly seat.

According to Chronicle reporting, Thea Selby, who sits on the City College of San Francisco’s Board of Trustees, and Bilal Mahmood — a philanthropist, entrepreneur and scientist — may also campaign for Chiu’s state assembly seat.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has 14 days to call for a special election once Chiu vacates his assembly seat, and the election will held between 126 days to 140 thereafter.

Jerold Chinn/SFBay Assemblymember David Chiu speaks to the press after San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced her appointment of Chiu to become the next city attorney at a press conference in San Francisco, Calif., on Wednesday, September 29, 2021.
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