Former SF mayor Farrell makes pitch with campaign launch

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday February 13, 2024
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Former supervisor and mayor Mark Farrell formally kicked off his 2024 mayoral campaign Tuesday. Photo: Rick Gerharter
Former supervisor and mayor Mark Farrell formally kicked off his 2024 mayoral campaign Tuesday. Photo: Rick Gerharter

Former San Francisco mayor Mark Farrell made the case for unseating his successor and returning him to City Hall at his campaign announcement February 13.

After breaking the news in a series of news articles that were published early Tuesday morning, Farrell was joined by supporters at the San Francisco Baseball Academy at 3010 Geary Boulevard on the city's westside. Farrell, a former District 2 supervisor, served as San Francisco's 44th mayor for six months in 2018 following the death of mayor Ed Lee in late 2017. Current Mayor London Breed had served as acting mayor immediately after Lee's death because she was president of the Board of Supervisors, but her colleagues shortly afterward appointed Farrell until a special election took place that June, which Breed won.

At his kickoff, Farrell recommitted to backfilling funding for the city's HIV/AIDS programs if they are cut by the federal government. With the city facing projected budget deficits, and Republicans in Congress eyeing cuts to federal HIV programs, the Bay Area Reporter asked Farrell if he would protect AIDS funding as mayor.

"It is something I committed to as budget chair," he said, referring to when he was chair of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee for four years. "It is something I did every year and I would do it going forward, hard stop."

Gay former District 8 supervisor Jeff Sheehy, a backer of Farrell's bid who once served as the city's AIDS czar, told the B.A.R. that "Mark has always been the most stand-up person on AIDS funding when he was budget chair. He started the funding for the Getting to Zero initiative, and has always been there whenever there are cuts to Ryan White funds."

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.

The Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency, or CARE, Act makes federal funding to fight the virus and support people living with HIV available to states and local municipalities. San Francisco receives the funds both directly from the federal government and as a pass-through from the California Office of AIDS.

Sheehy was supervisor of District 8, including the Castro, from January 2017 to July 2018. He was appointed by Lee, but lost to current gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman in a special election.

Farrell was mayor from January to July 2018. While Farrell opted to retire from politics after Breed was elected, he has since changed his mind and is challenging Breed's bid for a second, full term, as the B.A.R. previously reported.

Speaking to supporters at the baseball academy, Farrell articulated the case against reelecting Breed, who faced only token Republican opposition when she ran for a full term in 2019. Since then, the odd-year mayoral and other citywide elections have been changed to coincide with presidential elections, which has extended the length of her term by one year.

"Over the past five years, I have seen our city crumble," Farrell said. "We have become the butt of jokes across the country and abroad. ... San Francisco simply cannot afford another four years of Mayor Breed. No mayor has ever seen a steeper decline in our city's history."

Farrell's sprawling platform seeks to address common complaints that have emerged, or grown, in the city the past six years. For example, he would not ask public safety departments and services to accept budget cuts, as Breed did when she asked departments across the board to cut 10% due to a looming $800 million deficit.

He wants to hire a new police chief on day one, replacing William Scott, who became police chief in 2017.

"Chief Scott is a good man, and a family man, but we need a more aggressive head of our police department," Farrell said.

Responding to a question from a reporter, he said there would be an interim chief until the city's police commission could forward new names to fill the vacancy.

Farrell attacked Breed for reallocating $120 million over two years from the city's police and sheriff's departments toward the city's Dream Keeper Initiative racial equity program in the aftermath of George Floyd's murder in 2020 in Minneapolis. (Although the police budget has risen from 2019.)

"The mayor sets the tone for the city, and I will make sure and be very clear I have the police department's back to enforce our laws," he said.

Farrell also said he would clear all large tent encampments in his first year in office and launch a 24/7 centralized intake center in the first 100 days to help unhoused people access services. He said he believes in a shelter-first approach to the homelessness crisis.

On the drug abuse crisis, "we have tilted too far to a harm reduction approach that is enabling drug use on our streets rather than allowing people to recover from their addiction," he said.

Farrell called for auditing all of the city's homelessness spending to prevent waste.

On economic issues, Farrell said that the city needs to recommit to downtown. One way he suggested is allowing sales taxes from the Tenderloin and mid-Market neighborhoods to be kept there and dedicated to public safety and services.

Another is reopening Market Street, part of which was closed to vehicle traffic in 2020 and has remained so.

"Given that downtown is a veritable ghost town every single day of the week ... we need to do everything possible to create commerce and welcome people down to the downtown core," Farrell said, adding that the city should do what it can to bring workers back to downtown offices and try to keep retail shopping at and around Union Square.

The city should incentivize businesses who bring workers back to the office, he said.

"We have a doom loop," Farrell said. "We are losing our mantle as a world-class city."

Farrell said he wants to speed up the production of housing and suggested exempting small businesses that make less than $5 million in gross receipts from paying business taxes.

Farrell was introduced by the owner of the baseball academy, the former location of a movie theater, evidenced by the marquees still outside the place. Michael Aicardi said that both he and Farrell played Division I baseball in college and, when Farrell was the then-supervisor, helped him when he was trying to open the academy.

"We realized our simple plan wasn't too simple," Aicardi said. "I immediately learned Mark was a man of action after connecting with him and his team. Without Mark this ... would not be the vibrant, positive, and family-focused space we all love."

Mayoral aspirants respond to new candidate

Farrell is the fourth major entrant into the mayoral race. Breed is already being challenged by District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safaí and Levi Strauss heir Daniel Lurie, the founder of Tipping Point Community that works to address poverty in the Bay Area. No major progressive candidate has entered the race.

Safaí used the occasion to go on the offensive against Breed.

"I think Mark is a good guy, but his entry into the race speaks more to the failure of Mayor London Breed and her inability to lead our city to recovery," Safaí stated to the B.A.R. "Voters are not interested in giving her a third term — 6.5 years is enough — they are demanding change."

Lurie's campaign sent out a news release stating that Breed and Farrell are both "two sides of the same coin" and City Hall insiders.

"Daniel Lurie remains the only candidate offering new ideas and accountable leadership from outside of a broken system that has allowed crime, homelessness, and corruption to fester," Lurie campaign consultant Tyler Law stated. "London Breed and Mark Farrell are two sides of the same coin, and every political insider that enters this race widens our path to victory. Tough news for the mayor."

The release states on the Board of Supervisors "Farrell voted with Breed on 6,663 of 7,002 occasions, or 95% of the time."

"Public records also show the number of police officers fell during his time as mayor while 911 response times and the number of homeless encampments increased," it continued.

A representative of Breed's campaign did not return requests for comment by press time.

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