New supervisor voice from right

By Charlie Goodyear
Published December 7th 2006 in San Francisco Chronicle
Anyone wanting to see San Francisco's Board of Supervisors tip a bit more to the right from its typically left-leaning stance should pin their hopes on a new member, a conservative crusader who has made a name for himself fighting tax increases and controversial city school desegregation schemes. After the ballots were counted and recounted last month, Ed Jew, 46, sworn into office on Tuesday as the supervisor from District Four, became the first San Francisco candidate to use voters' secondary choices under the city's ranked-choice voting system to leapfrog into first place to capture a local election.

Now, Jew, a third-generation San Franciscan whose family has run Chinatown's Canton Flower Shop for 80 years, is about to become known to the rest of the city -- beyond the west-side neighborhoods where he went door-to-door for votes and readers of the city's Asian press, which has hung on his every word and treated him like a rock star since he was declared the winner in the Nov. 8 election.

"It's interesting," Jew said modestly last week of the increased attention during a well-publicized tour of District Four with Police Chief Heather Fong. "I'm here for the constituent base, the residents, the merchants, the seniors, the children."

What city political observers and his new colleagues are wondering is whether Jew will continue his advocacy of the political right and yet show the same political savvy that got him elected now that he has a seat at the city's legislative table.

"I think we really need to look at how our money is spent," Jew said Wednesday, the day after Mayor Gavin Newsom swore him in at a crowded City Hall ceremony. "Our city budget is greater than that of 20 states in the Union. I understand the need for social programs, but I think we should be looking anywhere we can to cut the fat."

On the fiscal front, Jew got the attention of bureaucrats at the city's public utilities agency in 2005 when he led a disciplined if ultimately unsuccessful campaign against the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission's decision to raise water and sewer rates. Jew collected 13,000 signatures opposing the increases -- and, he claims, picked up a death threat along the way, which was reported in the Chinese-language Sing Tao.

Jew helped lead protests by west-side Chinese-American families upset about their children's placement in public schools outside of their neighborhoods -- an issue that became personal when his daughter was assigned to a school far from the family's Parkside home, and one that resonated widely with voters in District Four.

"Every spring there would be another crop of angry Chinese parents, " said David Lee, executive director of the Chinese-American Voter Education Committee and a political science professor at San Francisco State University. "And every year he led the charge for those parents."

This year, Jew was the lone wolf among candidates for office to come out in opposition to a $450 million city public schools facilities bond measure. But he also serves on a city homeless committee -- and this year spoke out about the need for more housing for those living on the streets and in shelters after learning of the beating of a homeless man in front of his Chinatown store.

Jew and his wife, Lisa, who works at the Chinatown flower shop, owe their own financial wealth to not only the family business but also several real estate investments, the first of which Jew says he made at age 19.

The new supervisor has yet to file an economic disclosure statement required of supervisors and other elected and government officials under state law. It is due 30 days after he took office. But he said he has ownership interests in multiple properties -- including out of state in Arizona and Nevada.

Under the city's system of district representation on the Board of Supervisors, each of San Francisco's 11 supervisors tend to be the go-to official for constituents living in a particular district.

But Jew, who replaced Fiona Ma not only as District Four supervisor but also as the board's lone member of Asian descent, said he is willing to be of assistance to the city's large Asian American population.

"There's a lot of Asians and Chinese Americans that are calling me and who are not in my district," he said. "I am referring them to their supervisors. But if they insist on getting my help, I am not going to turn them away."

Because Ma vacated her office after she was elected to the state Assembly in November, Newsom appointed Jew to fill out Ma's term, rather than have him wait to be sworn in when a new board is seated in January.

Even before he took office on Tuesday, Jew's moves as a supervisor-elect were generating a buzz at City Hall. He has hired Barbara Meskunas, the head of the San Francisco Taxpayers Union, sending a signal that fiscal constraint will be a priority for the new lawmaker.

"I think people need to understand that the voters elected me and that it's going to be my voice representing the community," Jew said when asked about Meskunas. "The final decision on issues will be mine and made after going to and talking with residents."

City Hall insiders also have been speculating about all the time Jew has spent with Colleen Crowley, an old friend and Newsom's liaison to the Board of Supervisors, who has been closely involved in facilitating Jew's transition to office. Jew insists that he will remain independent as a supervisor.

"Each issue is going to be voted on its merits," he said. "The values of any legislation have to be in tune with the district. Nothing is etched in stone. I look forward to working with the other colleagues on the board to make San Francisco a better place for everybody."

Observers predict Jew will make his share of missteps as he sheds the role of City Hall outsider.

"Much like Chris Daly had to undergo a transformation from activist to legislator, I think Ed Jew will have to undergo the same transformation," said Lee. "I think the transition may be more challenging for someone who has never worked at City Hall. I think you're going to see, like Daly in the beginning, that Ed will be very responsive to his constituents. It may be more community-style leadership in the beginning.

"Clearly he will be to the right of the rest of the board. But I think he will learn fast. One thing he's shown is real tenacity."