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Farrell Sworn in as Interim SF Mayor

by Matthew S. Bajko

Interim Mayor Mark Farrell.
Interim Mayor Mark Farrell.  

In a move that stunned the city and shook up the June special election races, District 2 Supervisor Mark Farrell was sworn in as interim mayor of San Francisco Tuesday night.

Surrounded by his wife and their three children, Farrell took his oath of office, administered by City Attorney Dennis Herrera, shortly after the Board of Supervisors ousted board President London Breed, who represents District 5, as acting mayor and elected the board's most conservative member to lead the city over the next five months.

"This is a time for leadership. It is a time to look ahead, and I look forward to the road ahead of us all," said Farrell at a hastily called news conference in Room 200 at City Hall.

Due to her being board president, Breed, the first black woman to serve as the city's mayor, had automatically taken on the position upon the sudden death of former mayor Ed Lee on December 12. She then entered the special election in June to serve out the remainder of Lee's term through early 2020 and had sought to remain mayor while also campaigning for the job.

But after being nominated by Supervisor Malia Cohen to become interim mayor, which would have required her to resign from her board seat, Breed failed to secure the necessary six votes. Supervisors Cohen, Ahsha Safai, Katy Tang, and Jeff Sheehy, the board's lone gay member, voted for Breed, while the board's progressive bloc all voted no.

The supervisors then voted to elect as interim mayor Farrell, who was nominated by Supervisor Norman Yee. Joining Yee in voting for Farrell were Supervisors Jane Kim, Aaron Peskin, Hillary Ronen, and Sandra Fewer, as well as Tang and Sheehy. Kim earlier had declined a nomination for interim mayor made by Fewer citing her own bid to be elected mayor in June and calling for the election of a person not running for the job.

Furious supporters of Breed, who had spent the afternoon petitioning the board to keep her in place as acting mayor, erupted in chants of "shame." The board meeting was briefly adjourned as the chambers were cleared out. When the board returned, Tang moved to change her vote to no, while Sheehy stuck with his decision to vote with the progressives in electing Farrell as interim mayor.

Prior to the votes the progressives had strained to explain why it was they were ousting a woman of color as mayor and replacing her with a wealthy white man, as Farrell is a venture capitalist. Peskin had argued that there needed to be a clear "separation of powers" between the mayor and board president in calling on his colleagues to name an interim mayor. Others cited the need for "an equal playing field" for the candidates in the mayoral election, contending Breed would have an advantage over her opponents should she remain as mayor.

Ronen, in an impassioned speech that at one point brought her to tears, acknowledged how the decision to replace Breed appeared but zeroed in on how "rich white men" who are backing her mayoral bid "steered the policies of the last two mayors" that resulted in people of color, LGBTQ residents, and the working class to be gentrified out of San Francisco.

"Those same white men are now enthusiastically supporting your candidacy London Breed," said Ronen, adding that they have also threatened to ruin the careers of those unsupportive of her mayoral bid. "It happened the morning Ed Lee passed away because that is how gross these people are."

In the final vote to confirm the board's decision, the supervisors voted 8-2 for Farrell to serve as a caretaker mayor until the vote on the June 5 primary ballot is certified. Breed and Cohen cast the two no votes.

Farrell had toyed with running for mayor in June but ultimately decided against doing so. The deadline to file for the special election was January 9, meaning the only way for Farrell to seek being elected mayor would be to mount a write-in campaign.

Having resigned his seat on the board, Farrell will now name a successor to serve out the remainder of his term. Due to term limits, Farrell was set to leave the board in early January of next year, and a number of people had already mounted campaigns to be elected the next representative of the Marina come November. Whoever Farrell taps for the vacancy will be perceived as the frontrunner in the fall election for a full four-year term.

Breed will continue to serve as board president and District 5 supervisor as she runs to be elected mayor this summer. Her removal as acting mayor is seen as benefiting former supervisor and state lawmaker Mark Leno. He is vying to become the city's first gay mayor and has been leading most polls in the mayoral race.

In addition to Kim, the other well-known mayoral candidate is former supervisor Angela Alioto. The attorney twice before has sought to be elected mayor, following in the footsteps of her father, Joseph, who served in Room 200 from 1968 to 1976.

Also on the June ballot will be the special election for the District 8 seat, to which Sheehy was appointed to last January by Lee. He is facing a strong challenge from gay attorney Rafael Mandelman, a member of the City College of San Francisco board.

The two are running to serve out the remainder of gay former supervisor Scott Wiener's term, which expires in early January 2019. Wiener resigned after being elected to the state Senate in November 2016.

No matter the outcome of the June race, Mandelman and Sheehy are also expected to compete for a full four-year term on the board in the November election. Already some are speculating that Sheehy's vote in electing Farrell could come back to haunt him in June and tip the election in Mandelman's favor.


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