David Chiu could land mentor Aaron Peskin's dream job: mayor

Aaron Peskin, the former S.F. Board of Supervisors president, buys and sells water rights in arid Western states as director of an environmental nonprofit. The gig allows him to escape the San Francisco fishbowl at will, as he did earlier this month when he spent 23 days in the west Texas wilderness.

That Peskin, chairman of the S.F. Democratic Party and onetime favorite to become San Francisco's next mayor, would flee to the hinterlands during the board's interim mayor drama was inconceivable not long ago. But now, a favorite candidate is current board president David Chiu, who was a little-known lawyer and activist on Polk Street before Peskin helped him become District 3 supervisor.  Chiu is acting mayor if Gavin Newsom becomes lieutenant governor on Jan. 3; if Newsom delays his swearing-in to Jan. 8, Chiu is interim mayor if he's re-elected president and the board can't decide on a successor (which looks likely, as no one has the requisite six votes for interim mayor, several supervisors say). “Chiu is in the conversation,” political consultant David Latterman says. “And Peskin isn't.”

Is this Chiu's doing? An alleged rift between Chiu and Peskin was the subject of a June Bay Citizen profile piece. Since then, the two backed different supervisorial candidates in the November election (Chiu's won, Peskin's lost). There are people close to Chiu who have no love for Peskin, and Chiu is eager to dispel the notion that he's Peskin's boy.

Peskin is partly the victim of his own success: He wanted a powerful and viable successor, and he certainly found one in Chiu. In any case, a shift in power is “an inevitability of term-limit electoral politics,” Peskin observes. When moderate pundits say Peskin's “progressive machine” is dead, other observers counter that his influence — overstated to begin with — has shifted backstage.

It's not at all certain if Chiu even wants the mayor's job. He is a bona fide climber, but dodges the question when asked by reporters. Privately, confidants think he truly hasn't decided. “I'm open to a number of possibilities,” Chiu told SF Weekly, without going further. As far as he and Peskin are concerned, “there's a lot less there than people think,” he says, adding that both men were blindsided by the rift allegation.

In any case, there's no doubt who's more electable in a citywide race. Peskin's chance “was always going to be on the inside track” and not at the ballot box, said one insider, who pegged Peskin's shot now as 100-1. Peskin appears okay with that — but maybe his Zen pose is out of necessity.

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