Angering Some, San Francisco Leaders Pick a New Interim Mayor

by | January 24, 2018

By Rachel Swan

San Francisco has a new interim mayor: moderate Supervisor Mark Farrell.

The vote to appoint Farrell -- led, in a twist, by the board's progressives -- happened twice, after Supervisor Katy Tang withdrew her initial vote of support, saying she had been caught up in the moment.

In the end, Farrell carried the vote 6-3, with Supervisors Malia Cohen, Ahsha Safai and Tang dissenting. It came amid shouts and jeers by supporters of acting Mayor London Breed.

"Shame on you!" shouted spectators, some of whom had waited through hours of public comment before the tense debate over who should fill former Mayor Ed Lee's term until the June 5 election. Lee died Dec. 12, at which point Breed became acting mayor.

Before the Farrell vote, a move to name Breed interim mayor failed on a 5-4 vote against her.

Farrell was sworn in shortly after 9 p.m. by City Attorney Dennis Herrera, with his wife and three children by his side. He then addressed a scrum of reporters in Room 200 -- the mayor's office -- of City Hall.

"This isn't about politics," he insisted of his election. "This is a situation that our City Charter contemplated.

"My colleagues -- I appreciate their trust and their judgment in putting me in this position," he said. "I look forward to leading the city of San Francisco for the next six months and making sure that everything that our San Francisco residents expect continues to get delivered."

Asked by a reporter what he would say to distraught champions of Breed, the new interim mayor nodded soberly.

"I heard the emotion in the room -- I was there as well, I felt it also," he said. He then promised to be a leader for all San Franciscans.

Earlier, scores of residents had shown up for the public comment in the afternoon, many to support Breed. Some accused the board of racism and sexism -- and even of reviving the Jim Crow policies of the 1950s and 1960s -- for moving to replace Breed, an African American woman, with an interim mayor.

One commenter, Angelique Mahan, who is African American, remarked on how unusual it was to see "someone who looks like me" in the city's top job.

But Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who had called for the vote on an interim mayor earlier this month, emphasized the importance of a separation of powers in city government. Breed was both acting mayor and president of the Board of Supervisors.

He pointed out that if Breed were to continue to serve in two roles, she could single-handedly fill dozens of vacant board and commission seats that are normally split between the executive and legislative branches.

The city's progressives have pushed the separation of powers argument for weeks, arguing that San Francisco needs to be led by a caretaker who is not eligible to run on June 5. The deadline to file as a candidate was Jan. 9.

Supporters of the separation of powers argument angrily deflected the charges of racism and sexism.

After a long procession of speakers, Supervisor Hillary Ronen, a progressive, delivered a 10-minute, careening speech in which she scorned the "tech moguls and real estate billionaires" who supported former Mayors Gavin Newsom and Lee -- and who had coalesced behind Breed.

She said they were threatening people in City Hall who didn't back their candidate.

"That is the grossest part of politics, and it is happening now in San Francisco," Ronen said, through tears.

So, to fight off that group, the progressives appointed someone who is, in many senses, anathema to Breed: a white male venture capitalist who represents a prosperous northern part of the city.

Farrell had contemplated entering the 2019 mayor's race for months before Lee's unexpected death turned what would have been a leisurely contest into a fierce sprint. In December, he suspended his candidacy.

Farrell will now appoint his own replacement in District Two.

(c)2018 the San Francisco Chronicle