Former SF mayor Farrell jumps into 2024 mayoral race

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday February 13, 2024
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Surrounded by LGBTQ elected officials and supporters, Mayor Mark Farrell signed legislation April 16, 2018 to rename Terminal 1 at the San Francisco International Airport after slain gay supervisor Harvey Milk. Joining Farrell, were, from left, former state senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco); then-supervisor Malia Cohen; District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen; then-District 8 supervisor Jeff Sheehy; former supervisor David Campos; Milk's nephew, Stuart Milk; and former supervisor and assemblymember Tom Ammiano. Photo: Rick Gerharter
Surrounded by LGBTQ elected officials and supporters, Mayor Mark Farrell signed legislation April 16, 2018 to rename Terminal 1 at the San Francisco International Airport after slain gay supervisor Harvey Milk. Joining Farrell, were, from left, former state senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco); then-supervisor Malia Cohen; District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen; then-District 8 supervisor Jeff Sheehy; former supervisor David Campos; Milk's nephew, Stuart Milk; and former supervisor and assemblymember Tom Ammiano. Photo: Rick Gerharter

Following the death of San Francisco mayor Ed Lee in late 2017, then-supervisor Mark Farrell briefly took over as mayor when a majority of his board colleagues elected him to the position. He replaced London Breed, who had been acting mayor due to being president of the board at the time of Lee's passing.

Yet Farrell opted against running in the June 2018 special election to serve out the remainder of Lee's mayoral term, which Breed would go on to win. And he would tell the San Francisco Chronicle's editorial board his 170-day mayoralty was "it" for his time in elected office, with the paper labeling it the "epilogue" to Farrell's political career.

Six years later, however, Farrell has changed his mind and wants to be sent back to Room 200 at City Hall. He is jumping into the city's 2024 mayoral race, which will be decided on the November 5 ballot.

"San Francisco is the most iconic city in the world, but I have watched it crumble in front of my eyes these past five years," Farrell, 49, told the Bay Area Reporter during a February 9 phone interview. "I don't believe anybody else in this race is more qualified to turn San Francisco around than me. It is simply worth it."

Farrell is officially kicking off his campaign Tuesday at the San Francisco Baseball Academy, a local small business on Geary Boulevard. He chose it for being "a story of success" that is "a beacon for families" citywide.

"I am running as a father and for my family and families across our city. There is nowhere else I wanted to start this campaign than where we are doing it," said Farrell, who with his wife of 20 years, Liz, has an 18-year-old daughter, Madison, and sons Jack, 16, and Kane, 11.

One factor that played into his decision was his family's home in the city's Jordan Park neighborhood was burglarized over a year ago while they were asleep upstairs in their rooms.

"Someone came through our dining room window and stole a few items before leaving," recalled Farrell. "I simply believe we cannot afford another four more years of failed leadership under Mayor Breed, so I am running for mayor because of my family and for my family."

Mayor Mark Farrell joined his family in taking part in the 2018 San Francisco Lunar New Year parade. Photo: From X  

Last fall backers of seeing Farrell run for mayor went public with their entreaties. In deciding to do so, Farrell told the B.A.R. addressing public safety and the conditions of the city's streets will be among his top priorities.

He would seek to replace Police Chief William "Bill" Scott and has pledged to "massively increase police staffing" if elected mayor.

"We need a new chief for the police department who will be more aggressive in fighting for the resources our police department needs, hiring new officers, and protecting the residents of San Francisco," said Farrell.

He also promises to "clear all large tent encampments" during his first year in office, pointing to his doing so in six months when he served as the city's 44th mayor. He rejected the argument that the city is barred from removing the tents from sidewalks due to a judicial order in ongoing litigation over the matter.

"We simply need to be more aggressive," argued Farrell. "There are parameters and exceptions in the court ruling that today allow for removal of these tent encampments. We need an aggressive and determined approach from City Hall to get it done."

And he wants to shift the city from having "a narrow-minded housing-first approach to a shelter-first approach," arguing that San Francisco will never be able to build enough housing to end its homelessness crisis.

"I am running for families across San Francisco who simply want a clean, safe place to raise their children," said Farrell, who since leaving office has focused on his technology investment firm Thayer Ventures he co-founded in 2009. "I take a lot of pride in what we had accomplished in City Hall during my seven and half years. When I left as mayor in 2018, San Francisco was in a much stronger, much better place than it is today."

Gay support
Backing Farrell's mayoral bid is gay former District 8 supervisor Jeff Sheehy, who lives in the Glen Park neighborhood with his husband and daughter. He told the B.A.R. he agrees with Farrell's wanting to have a shelter-first policy as a way to move people off the streets and into shelter beds as a first step toward getting them housed.

"We cannot build our way out of homelessness. We cannot let people just suffer on our streets. It is cruel," said Sheehy. "We can't keep unhoused people on the streets languishing and falling prey to drug addiction, to violence."

Sheehy also strongly backs Farrell's commitment to fully staffing the police department. Rather than seeing it as a way to arrest more people, Sheehy said it would be a deterrent to people committing crimes if they saw more police officers walking the streets of the city.

"In my neighborhood the police department parks an empty squad car in front of our local market. It would be great if we had enough police officers for foot patrols and having an actual presence," said Sheehy. "His leadership and plan to restore the police department to full force and zero tolerance for crime will reverse the lawlessness we see on our streets. In short, he has proven himself to be an extraordinarily competent mayor."

Also backing Farrell's bid to be mayor again is Realtor Gregg Lynn, who lives with his husband, Glenn Risso, on Russian Hill near Ghirardelli Square and had voted for Farrell when he ran for the District 2 seat on the Board of Supervisors. In meetings he has each week with more than a dozen San Francisco residents, the conversation inevitably turns to the state of the city and people's desire for change, Lynn told the B.A.R.

"I can tell you that everybody is tired and angry and frustrated, and not hopeless but they're ready for a major, powerful transformation. I am on the frontlines of hearing the complaints and the anger everyday, seven days a week," said Lynn, whose eponymously named real estate firm is part of Sotheby's International Realty. "I, too, am a loyalist and longtime champion for San Francisco and its real estate. But it is time, and San Francisco is ready for its moment of transformation."

Traveling often to attend conferences and other meetings, Lynn said as soon as he says where he is from he sees a look of concern come over the people in the room. Often they ask him about "living in that hellscape" and why he doesn't move.

"We are the laughing stock of successful cities throughout the U.S. and the world. You can't go anywhere without anybody feeling sorry for you," said Lynn. "How did we get here? When I moved here in 1999, San Francisco was considered one of the greatest cities in the world."

Lynn also pointed to Farrell's wanting to beef up the police force and clear away tent encampments as for why he believes he should be elected mayor.

"There are so many ways to approach the homelessness situation in San Francisco, but what we are doing right now is not working," he said. "I think that Mark Farrell has an extreme understanding for this because he was so successful at it during his brief term as mayor. And I remember that."

LGBTQ issues
During his brief stint as mayor, Farrell enacted first-of-its kind legislation protecting transgender residents of single-room-occupancy hotels in San Francisco and renamed a terminal at San Francisco International Airport after gay icon Harvey Milk. As Farrell was viewed as the most conservative member on the board, some questioned if he would sign into law the two LGBTQ ordinances begun during Lee's administration.

Should he succeed Breed in 2025, Farrell told the B.A.R. he would maintain two LGBTQ programs she has championed, ending transgender homelessness by 2027 and having a drag laureate position funded by the city.

"We will have a dramatic impact on our homeless population here in San Francisco when I become mayor. It is one of my primary areas of focus," said Farrell. "We will get individuals off the street and into the help they need."

Noting the city's "unique history" with, and global reputation within, the LGBTQ community, Farrell said the drag laureate post would have his "full support" as mayor.

"I believe we need to continue to embrace that identity. There are so many things we have done and so many more things we can do. This is one way to celebrate our LGBTQ community in San Francisco," he said.

Another moderate candidate
Farrell is the latest moderate to run against Breed, who won a full four-year term in 2019. Because voters adopted a ballot measure in 2022 moving citywide elections to the fall ballot of presidential years instead of holding the contests the November prior, Breed is now in her fifth year of her current term and facing a tough election to secure a final four-year term as mayor.

Breed has had to contend with the city's image taking a beating in the press, both locally and nationally, since coming out of the COVID pandemic. The shuttering of businesses and glut of empty offices in the downtown financial district generated headlines about San Francisco being in a "doom loop."

Intractable issues like homelessness, open-air drug dealing, and people shooting up on city streets have further eroded the city's standing in the minds of both locals and tourists. Ongoing corruption scandals involving various city officials, local developers, and nonprofits have added to the negative pall among residents.

"People don't feel safe in their own neighborhoods. The conditions of our streets have never been worse. Our local economy has collapsed," said Farrell. "Unfortunately, San Francisco has become the butt of jokes across our country."

Last year, District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safaí and Levi Strauss heir Daniel Lurie, the founder of the Tipping Point Community that works to address poverty in the Bay Area, both launched their mayoral campaigns. To date, no progressive elected leader has done so, with District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin, the current board president who is termed out this year, recently telling the San Francisco Standard news site he is "afraid of winning" the mayoral race at a time when the city is facing projected budget deficits over the next two years, potentially reaching $1.4 billion by 2027.

Polling has shown the race remains fluid. In late January Lurie's campaign released a poll conducted by longtime pollster David Binder showing he had the largest vote share of second choice votes among all candidates, including a plurality of Safaí and Farrell voters. Under the city's ranked-choice voting system, voters can choose their top three candidates in order on their ballot.

If no one wins more than 50% of the vote on first count, then the candidates with the least votes are eliminated and their voters' second choice picks are tabulated. The process continues until a candidate emerges with 50% plus one of the vote to be declared the winner.

As for being voters' first pick, the Binder poll found Breed at 26% with Lurie at 21%, Farrell garnering 15%, and Safaí receiving 10%. The other 28% were undecided, according to the poll of 600 likely San Francisco voters conducted in both English and Cantonese that had a margin of error of plus or minus 4%.

"Daniel's powerful message of taking on City Hall insiders with new ideas and accountable leadership is energizing voters across the city," stated Lurie campaign general consultant Tyler Law. "He's the only candidate who is not from City Hall's entrenched system that's allowed crime, homelessness, and corruption to fester."

Breed's campaign has denounced Lurie as a political opportunist who "has not offered a single genuine policy idea as a candidate for mayor." She has also pointed to efforts to combat safety in areas of the city like the Union Square shopping district as having paid off, with the city seeing a 48% reduction in larceny theft, including retail theft and auto break-ins, during the holiday season.

"We have invested in public safety — including deploying officers and community ambassadors — and we have invested in making our city more active and vibrant," stated Breed in early January. "As we move into 2024, we will continue to focus on doing the hard work to lift up San Francisco, to prevent and deter crime when we can, and to respond quickly with clear accountability when people do break the law."

And Breed is drawing support from various quarters. Gay District 4 Supervisor Joel Engardio told the B.A.R. in December he endorsed her reelection because "she is very focused on fixing San Francisco, and we can see, especially in recent months, traction and improvements."

More recently, several construction unions that make up the Basic Crafts Alliance endorsed her reelection bid.

"The past four years have presented extraordinary challenges for all of us. Still, things are getting better and we're confident that we'll all benefit from another Mayor Breed administration that is laser focused on common sense approaches to building our future, creating opportunities for workers, and keeping us all safe," stated Ramon Hernandez, business manager of San Francisco-based Laborers' Union Local 261.

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