Rose Pak Is The Most Powerful And Polarizing Woman In San Francisco

Nov 26, 2012 | Updated Jan 26, 2013

This article comes to us courtesy of San Francisco Magazine.

IT'S 3 P.M. ON A FALL afternoon, and San Francisco's political class has descended on an ornate Chinatown banquet hall to toast the impending nuptials of District 4 supervisor Carmen Chu. The 34-year-old politico navigates the crowd, making small talk and blushing a little from all the attention. But, apologies to the bride-to-be--most of the action centers on the event's host, Rose Pak, a rotund 64-year-old with a smoker's cough and a grasp of city politics four decades deep. The Chinatown grande dame is seated at the head table receiving a steady stream of well-wishers: city department heads, business magnates, politicians. Some are allies, some enemies. Some love her, some fear her. But they all come.

Mayor Ed Lee is here, of course. He and Pak have been best friends since the 1970s. There's Jane Kim, the District 6 supervisor Pak helped elect in 2010, and George Gascón, the district attorney whose office recently dropped its investigation into Mayor Lee's campaign operation, with which Pak was closely involved. Pak's old buddy Willie Brown is here, too. A fastidious man in a bespoke suit, the former mayor glides through the crowd, his wingtips not quite touching the ground.

Pak takes the podium. There's a rich tradition of "Rose Pak on the microphone" stories, tales to be savored over happy-hour drinks and retold during off-the-record talks. This appearance will soon join the canon. Pak starts by saying this about Chu: "Every parent wishes she were their daughter." But there's an edge to her voice when she introduces District 3 supervisor David Chiu, who once had a working relationship with Pak but has been in her doghouse since last year's mayoral race, when he went up against Lee. "It pains me to get the guy up," she tells the crowd, only half playfully. "But it's Carmen's wedding, so I have to. David Chiu, it's your turn to speak."

Uneasy laughter from the crowd. How will the supervisor respond?

"Thank you, Rose, for that warm introduction," Chiu says wryly, and the audience roars with delight. Awkwardness averted.

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