Farrell, during Castro campaign stop, says 'family values' includes LGBTQ households

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Thursday June 6, 2024
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Former Castro Merchants Association President Masood Samereie, left, talked with San Francisco mayoral candidate Mark Farrell during a June 5 walking tour of the Castro LGBTQ neighborhood. Photo: John Ferrannini
Former Castro Merchants Association President Masood Samereie, left, talked with San Francisco mayoral candidate Mark Farrell during a June 5 walking tour of the Castro LGBTQ neighborhood. Photo: John Ferrannini

Former San Francisco mayor Mark Farrell — running against incumbent London Breed this year for his old job back — wants LGBTQ voters to know that when he's talked about "family values," he's also talking about them.

That — and a strong critique of his successor's public safety and business revitalization policies — was Farrell's message while he conducted a merchant walk in the Castro neighborhood June 5.

Farrell, a married father of three who represented District 2 (covering the Marina and Cow Hollow neighborhoods) from 2011 to 2018 on the Board of Supervisors, has used the "family values" term in the past. The Bay Area Reporter asked what he meant by it, considering its use by conservative Republicans as a homophobic dog whistle.

"The great part of San Francisco is families here come in all shapes and sizes, especially in the LGBTQ community," Farrell said, adding that he "absolutely" did not mean it in a negative way.

Many LGBTQs have children or want to, he said, adding what he meant by the term was, "I want San Francisco to be the best place in the country to raise a family."

To that end, Farrell discussed his proposal for universal child care. With children under 18 comprising 13% of the city's population, San Francisco is the most childless big city in America, and the average family would have to pay upward of $20,000 for infant care annually, followed by upward of $20,000 for preschool care annually.

Farrell said he wants to use $400 million in Proposition C (the commercial rent tax for child care and early education from the June 2018 primary election) funds that he said Breed has not utilized over the past three years to help families pay for these child care costs.

"I'm unapologetically pro-family here in San Francisco," he said. "I grew up here."

Farrell was only mayor briefly, from January 23 to July 11, 2018. After mayor Ed Lee died in office in December 2017, Breed, as president of the Board of Supervisors, succeeded him as acting mayor. But in January 2018 the board's progressives elevated Farrell, who was term-limited as supervisor, to deny Breed the advantages of incumbency in the June 5 special election that spring to serve out the remainder of Lee's term.

Farrell opted not to run himself, and Breed won the special contest, taking office several weeks later. She easily won election to a four-year term in 2019. That was extended by one year when voters passed Prop H in 2022, so now the San Francisco mayor's race is on this year's November 5 ballot.

Gay former supe backing candidate

Farrell's most prominent LGBTQ backer is Jeff Sheehy, a gay married father and longtime HIV advocate. He was appointed District 8 supervisor by Lee and served from 2017 to 2018, when he was defeated by current Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, a gay man, in the same special election when Breed first won the mayoralty.

Sheehy joined Farrell on the Castro walk, which began outside the temporarily shuttered Castro Theatre. The first openly HIV-positive supervisor, whose daughter is now a young adult, Sheehy cited those as reasons he's supporting Farrell.

He pointed to Farrell's commitment toward funding HIV services, even during tough budget years, which Farrell had recommitted to doing when asked about it by the B.A.R. at his mayoral campaign launch in February. As the B.A.R. reported in late May, Breed committed in her budget proposal for the next two fiscal years to backfill some, but not all, federal HIV cuts the city is expecting this year.

"We had tough budgets before," Sheehy said. "I met him [Farrell] as chair of the budget committee. Ryan White backfill funding, Getting to Zero — Mark was there 100%."

The city's Getting to Zero program aims to reduce new HIV transmissions and HIV deaths by 90% by 2025, in addition to reducing stigma.

Sheehy said he supported Farrell's remarks on families; the two were both raised in Catholic households. Originally from Waco, Texas, Sheehy said he wishes he could have grown up in San Francisco.

"I raised a kid here," he said. "There's something about the atmosphere of fun in San Francisco. It's an amazing place to be a kid — they all know everyone, the diversity of the kids, the freedom."

Masood Samereie, a straight ally and former president of the Castro Merchants Association, also joined the walk.

"There are great candidates running at this election," he said. "Question is: 'Who is going to deliver and bring our city back to its vibrancy and glory?'"

San Francisco mayoral candidate Mark Farrell, left, talked with Local Take owner Jenn Meyer during a June 5 walking tour of the Castro LGBTQ neighborhood. Photo: John Ferrannini  

Touring small businesses
Farrell visited several Castro mainstays over the course of two hours, including Cliff's Variety, Local Take, Bottle Bacchanal, Spike's, Queer Arts Featured, and the Sausage Factory. At Local Take he bought a shirt emblazoned with 415 — the city's area code — for his daughter who is going to college in the fall, he said. It was there he met proprietor Jenn Meyer, a straight ally who is the vice president of the Castro Merchants Association.

"He's actually the first candidate that's visited me," Meyer said. "I'm glad to have the candidates paying attention to the Castro and small businesses and coming by."

The B.A.R. asked Farrell about his thoughts on business vibrancy. In the first quarter of this year, the city's commercial vacancy rate was 36.7%.

"I believe we need to increase foot traffic and bring vibrancy back to the downtown core," he said. "We should be proactive in every way to bring back employers, employees, and tourists, and opening Market Street is one part of a much larger puzzle to do exactly that."

Farrell has said he'd want a new head at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to replace current director Jeffrey Tumlin, a gay man, and that he'd want to reopen the downtown section of Market Street to vehicle traffic, which it has been closed to since 2020.

Tumlin defended SFMTA's policies in a recent San Francisco Standard article.

Farrell also sounded off on police staffing. When asked if the signs precipitating San Francisco's post-pandemic malaise started while he was a supervisor, and so why should people trust a longtime politician, he disagreed with the premise of the question.

"I reject the idea it started before the current administration," he said. "When I became mayor, we had grown the police department to record staffing levels. This mayor has seen the police department decline 25%. Until this election year, public safety was not a priority."

Indeed, a 2022 analysis found the city had 1,559 full-time officers. To be fully-staffed, the city would need 2,100 officers. In 2019, the first full year of Breed's tenure, there were 1,800 officers. Breed's recently released budget includes a major push to fund four police academy classes of 50 officers each over the next year "as a baseline," as the B.A.R. reported.

Other candidates weigh in
Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, who represents District 3 and is the progressive standard bearer in the 2024 mayoral race, had voted for Farrell to serve as mayor during the tense January 2018 board meeting.

Now, he says Farrell is being hypocritical because he was opposed to Prop C back then, and supported a failed proposition, Prop D, that would have blocked the Prop C funding.

"When San Francisco kids needed Mark Farrell's support to pass Prop C in 2018 — the funding source for his child care initiative — he turned his back on them and tried to kill it with a poison pill," Peskin stated. "Why should our kids and families trust him now?"

Breed also supported Prop D at the time. Joe Arellano, a spokesperson for Breed's campaign, stated, "Farrell's child care announcement was lifted entirely from Mayor Breed's child care and early education platform."

Arellano continued that Breed "doubled the number of children receiving early care and child care subsidies, built or renovated more than 40 early care and education facilities, and increased salaries for over 2,500 educators."

Arellano also compared Farrell to Jerry Falwell, the late homophobic evangelical pastor who founded the Moral Majority.

"In another throwback to the past, Mark Farrell is stumping across town promoting 'family values,' like he's Jerry Falwell," Arellano said.

Arellano said that reopening Market Street is "Mark Farrell's one idea" on downtown revitalization. Doing so would "endanger pedestrians and cyclists, create more traffic, and delay Muni," he said.

"What's next, bringing the Central Freeway back to the Embarcadero?" asked Arellano, referring to the Embarcadero Freeway that brought traffic from the Bay Bridge to Broadway until it was torn down after being damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. "Mark Farrell seems to be running for mayor in 1974, not 2024."

On police staffing, Arellano flipped the script, stating, "when Mark Farrell left office in 2018, he signed off on a horrible police contract that gutted the morale of the department. Mayor Breed has been cleaning up his mess ever since. Under her leadership, the department is on track to be fully staffed by 2026.

"Because of the successful passage of her public safety measure in March, Prop E, police now have the policies and technology to make arrests and pursue criminals. The results speak for themselves — arrests are up and crime is down to the lowest level in over a decade," he added.

Farrell is also running against Levi Strauss heir and former nonprofit executive Daniel Lurie and District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safaí.

When asked to respond for this report, Lurie campaign consultant Tyler Law stated, "Mark Farrell's talking points as a mayoral candidate aren't matching up with his long record in office. Under his watch tents crowded the sidewalks, open-air drug dealing went unchecked, and overdoses spiked. No one is questioning that he had the best of intentions. The issue is that he wasn't any good at delivering on them when he had the chance."

On police staffing, a Lurie spokesperson stated, "London Breed and Mark Farrell are two sides of the same coin, their records on police staffing and public safety don't match their rhetoric, and the lasting effects of their ineffective leadership are evident on our streets today. The people who got us into this mess are not equipped to get us out of it."

The San Francisco Police Officers Association was equally critical of Farrell when he was mayor.

In 2018, a POA news release stated, with regard to the 2018 contract Arellano referred to, "all indications at this time reveal that Mayor Mark Farrell, DHR [Department of Human Resources] Director Micki Callahan, and some members of the Board of Supervisors believe that either our cops do not deserve or are entitled to comparable raises of our counterparts in Bay Area law enforcement agencies."

Safaí's campaign did not return a request for comment.

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