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A difficult decision for interim mayor

by Jeff Sheehy

Supervisor Jeff Sheehy. Photo: Kelly Sullivan
Supervisor Jeff Sheehy. Photo: Kelly Sullivan  

San Francisco is a dynamic city with stubborn challenges. Residents want local government to combat homelessness and property crime with greater urgency. When President Donald Trump attacks our health care, threatens immigrants, and dismantles LGBTQ and women's rights, San Franciscans expect City Hall to fight back. These demanding times require a full-time mayor.

That's why when Mayor Ed Lee passed away I backed board President London Breed for interim mayor, with the knowledge she could appoint a new District 5 supervisor. That's the succession plan our Charter contemplates. Her commitment to every San Franciscan, her leadership of the board, and her service as acting mayor make her well-qualified to lead our city.

The Charter clearly mandates that the Board of Supervisors choose an interim mayor in the event of the mayor's office becoming vacant. That happened after the murder of Mayor George Moscone and the elevation of Mayor Gavin Newsom to lieutenant governor and the subsequent votes choosing interim mayors.

For six long weeks, City Hall insiders and political hacks haggled and bickered. Rather than schedule a meeting immediately, there was obfuscation. My position remained steadfast: we deserve a full-time mayor and 11 full-time supervisors and I have been firmly committed to the principle that we have separate branches of government, with the legislative role entrusted to the Board of Supervisors led by its president and the executive role in the hands of the mayor. Both leadership roles should not rest with a single individual.

Arguments were being made that in the event of deadlock and no one able to get the six votes to be appointed, we could sustain the status quo mimicking parliamentary systems that place both executive and legislative power in a single individual, usually a prime minister. That can be an effective system for governing, but that is not the system we have and we cannot change our system through supervisors failing to do their duty and select an interim mayor. We can only change our system by offering a measure to change the Charter that voters ultimately decide to approve.

A meeting to select an interim mayor was finally scheduled. Acting Mayor Breed's name was put forward and I eagerly voted for her. She has done a phenomenal job in leading the city over the last six weeks and she is a strong candidate for mayor going into the June election. However, she only received four votes.

During the debate, another name had emerged from an unlikely source. District 7 Supervisor Norman Yee nominated Supervisor Mark Farrell. Yee represents the district next to mine, and insiders call him part of the so-called progressive camp. I think it's more accurate to say he's independent, committed to our city's kids and focused on improving safety on Twin Peaks. When he nominated Farrell, I was taken by surprise. I listened as Yee articulated a strong case for his nomination.
His words hit home because I met Farrell before becoming supervisor. As chair of the budget and finance committee, he met with activists like me to hear our budget priorities. With then-Supervisor Scott Wiener, he delivered $2 million to fully fund Getting to Zero - a plan to end AIDS that I co-founded. Along the way, he balanced the city's entire $10 billion budget, a task the interim mayor will be called upon to perform before the next election.

As District 8 supervisor, I've worked alongside him to build more housing: increasing density through HOME-SF and adding more affordable homes for middle-class families. In my district, we opened schoolyards at Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy, McKinley, and Glen Park elementary schools so kids like our daughters could play on the weekend. Together, we got the city's Health Service Board to ensure transgender people get appropriate medical care.

When Acting Mayor Breed failed to garner the six votes needed to be named, I asked myself one simple question: is the remaining candidate, Supervisor Farrell, capable of leading our city as a full-time mayor? I found the answer to be a resounding yes.

Some people say this one vote will cost me an election, as I, too, am running in June. They submit that the powerful forces that want to control our democracy will withhold their support. They say that without it, a candidate cannot win. Yet I'm heartened by the words of one of our LGBT community's heroes, Ken Jones, who said, "Perhaps it is helpful to remember that after this election we still have to live, grow, and care for each other in this city with such a huge, huge heart."

Before this term concludes, I am committed to one simple reform: taking the money out of our local elections and demanding that voters - not powerful donors - determine who represents us.

Today, I go back to work for the people of District 8 and all of San Francisco. I look forward to working with Mayor Farrell and board President Breed in leading our city. If you live in District 8, I look forward to seeing you in the neighborhood.

Jeff Sheehy is the only gay member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and represents District 8, which includes the Castro, Noe Valley, and Glen Park.

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