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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

David Campos, Corporate Shill?

Posted By on Tue, Jan 20, 2009 at 7:59 AM

Hardly. But his Obama-era Harvard Law pragmatism might ring that way in San Francisco's left-wing political tradition of ideology first, facts second.

In San Francisco, as elsewhere, the term "jobs" has evolved into a euphemism for "whatever big business wants." The lobbying group for San Francisco's biggest businesses is called the "Committee on Jobs," as is the state Assembly's business advocacy panel, and some have fretted that Silicon Valley's potential for losing its edge is epitomized by the failing health of a tycoon with the last name "Jobs."

Therefore it was surprising to hear Supervisor David Campos, the most pedigreed of San Francisco's new breed of left-wing city fathers, declare at a recent gathering of pro-development types that he will make a priority of preserving and growing private sector jobs. During the past eight years, San Francisco's most pitched policy battles were waged between self-described "progressive" supervisors and business groups such as the aforementioned local business-lobbying group.

"The best thing you can do for the working poor is to make sure they have jobs," said Campos, explaining his hesitancy in supporting a downtown congestion-pricing initiative, for fear it might discourage shopping. "We have to think about revenue in ways that don't hurt economic development."

Campos is a gay attorney who came to the U.S. at age 16 as an illegal Guatemalan immigrant, and ran for supervisor last fall representing neighborhoods in the city's southeast as a civil rights advocate and a friend of medical marijuana stores.

The old crop of supervisors, who ran in opposition to a jobs boom in 2000, were known for their single-minded ideological fervor and their gossamer-thin resumes. Members of the current batch, however, are distinguished by the kind of erudite pragmatism that stems from actually knowing things -- a la Barack Obama. Campos was a Harvard Law classmate of fellow freshman Supervisor David Chiu, and a white-shoe lawyer for Arnold & Porter, the firm that has served as counsel to tobacconist Philip Morris. Campos says he has worked as a consultant advising school districts on how to employ management "principles of the private sector."

"Don't do anything that will cause things to be worse; we need to promote economic development," Campos said during a presentation last week at the San Francisco San Francisco Planning + Urban Research Association (SPUR), a smart-growth think tank. "I don't think you can kill jobs."

One example: He said he'd like to open discussions for dense, multistory apartment developments at the two BART stations on Mission Street. 

Does San Francisco's business lobby have a secret ally in Campos? Not likely -- he's an unabashed liberal. And he supports initiatives unpopular with business, such as the local law requiring companies with more than 20 employees to contribute to employee health costs.

Instead, he seems to profess membership in an Obama-era breed of left-wing radicalism, suspicious of purely ideological approaches, yet interested in comforting powerless people with whatever tools happen to work.

"My approach is one of looking at as many facts as possible and then making my decision," he said. "In life, I think it is good to have a simple mind. And I have a simple mind. My first reaction to any situation is to ask questions."

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Matt Smith


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