Dirty Laundry

Why Doug Chan may be the best candidate for District 4

Indeed, there is a crude hasp and a padlock on the door, no curtains in the windows, and an outhouse in front. City building permits suggest the site has been undergoing a complete remodeling since 2004; Chan's putative next-door neighbors on both sides — and three across the street — say the building's been empty for quite a while.

That Chan has listed this long-empty house as his domicile on his election forms suggests a kind of carpetbagging (when a political candidate pretends to live in an electoral district in order to represent its residents). An anonymous Web site (www.electdougchan.blogspot.com) highlights Chan's living situation. A supporter of Chan opponent Ed Jew directed me to it after I began calling around asking about the elections in District 4.

Chan's campaign manager, Tom Hseih Jr., says there's an honest reason for the discrepancy. The candidate lives in an apartment near the house he owns, which has been undergoing renovations that have taken much longer than Chan expected. This revelation leads me to a triplex with a bunch of strollers in the lobby — and, eventually, to Barrueto.

"He's always taking out my laundry and putting it on top of the dryer," she says, once it becomes clear I'm seeking her upstairs neighbor.

"Can I ask you a favor? Can you not, well, be too specific about the conditions in the apartment?" asks Hseih, preparing me for the alarming but, to my mind, charming squalor before us.

Hseih lets me in to an apartment filled to the ceiling with boxes and strewn with papers and other detritus of day-to-day living. Across the living room is a thin man wearing a perfectly pressed shirt, tie, and dress pants, playing the piano — "O Amor Em Paz" by Antonio Carlos Jobim. Once we're in the room, he stops playing, gets up, offers me a seat at his cluttered dining room table, and smiles.

"You see," Chan says, gesturing around the room with an expression that suggests he's as bemused at the circumstances of our meeting as I am, "this is really where I live."

Chan took out a permit two years ago to expand the tract house he bought in the 1980s. The mass-produced houses produced by Henry Doelger, however, weren't designed with major homemade additions in mind. So for two years Chan has been in a home-repair nightmare, adding yard after yard of additional cement foundation work, living in a nearby rented apartment, thinking all the while he'd be moving back in soon.

That settled, we move from Chan's home troubles to the supervisor's race and city government.

"I think ideology is killing San Francisco," he says. "People jimmy the facts into a predetermined outcome."

He applies this notion to the city's transit problems, describing a recent "progressive" campaign to halt Muni efforts to speed up bus rides by spreading out stops, and "progressive" campaigns to halt apartment buildings.

Chan says he'd like to help turn Muni into a more customer-friendly enterprise, regardless of how that floats on ideological grounds. A former police commissioner, he describes various measures to improve the performance of the police department. (None of these involve confronting the police department for poor performance, it's worth noting.) Chan cites his decades serving on various commissions and boards as evidence of his ability to consider complex policy questions and to play nicely with other politicos.

In short, Chan comes across as a decent candidate in an average field.

He's facing reformed Republican Ed Jew, a ballot-fodder perennial who four years ago ran against Fiona Ma to represent District 4 on the Board.

Jaynry Mak is the scion of a landlord who gives speeches positioning herself as a champion of the poor and of tenants, which is not altogether credible. But it's also true that while Fiona Ma ran the supervisor's office with the weakest grasp of policy at City Hall, Ma's aide, Mak, could at least hold a conversation about the best course of government action on a given issue.

Another District 4 candidate, Ron Dudum, is an area landlord and eccentric whose income stream has given him sufficient time to telephone or knock on the door of nearly every voter in the Sunset. Dudum has also spent the last few years trying to find a financier and ghostwriter for a book he's drafted describing his personal philosophy about the betterment of mankind.

I'm not sure America needs another L. Ron Hubbard.

Even so, a friend I recommended to Dudum as a ghostwriter said, after reading Dudum's draft, that he came to believe the aspiring supervisor had his heart in the right place. "If I had to criticize him, I'd say he was perhaps too idealistic," my friend said, which isn't a terribly harsh condemnation.

This leaves us with Chan — and his laundry feud. Who wants to vote for a rude guy, anyway?

"I think this is an issue of a cross-cultural misunderstanding," Chan explains when I raise Barrueto's concerns. "My Spanish isn't so good. Generally, when it comes to respecting people's privacy, Asians are more reserved. And I will say that we never leave our clothing in the dryer."

Now that Chan's dirty laundry's been aired, I suspect he wouldn't be such a bad supervisor after all.

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