Board chooses Supervisor Farrell as interim mayor in surprise vote


The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted the evening of Jan. 23 to appoint Supervisor Mark Farrell as interim mayor in a move that saw the progressive faction teaming up with a moderate supervisor to prevent Board President London Breed from taking the position after a heated, racially charged debate.

The decision drew an angry response from the audience, which was stacked with dozens of Breed’s largely African-American supporters who had lined up to speak in her favor during several hours of public comment before the vote.

Shouts of “Shame on you! Racist board!” began almost immediately after the vote and the meeting was shut down for about 10 minutes before it could resume.

The initial vote for Farrell was opposed by Supervisors Ahsha Safai and Malia Cohen, who had nominated Breed for interim mayor, and then by Supervisor Katy Tang, who asked to rescind and change her previous vote in support of Farrell. A final confirmation vote for Farrell was 10-2, with Farrell abstaining and Cohen and Breed voting in opposition.

Breed’s nomination was rejected on a 4-5 vote, with progressives lined up solidly against her. Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, generally considered a solid moderate vote, supported both Breed and Farrell.

Breed had served as both acting mayor and president of the Board of Supervisors since the Dec. 12 death of Mayor Ed Lee.

However, once she announced she would run for mayor in the June mayoral election, progressives began to push for the appointment of a “caretaker” mayor who was not running to prevent her from gaining the advantage of incumbency. Breed’s top competitors in the race include Supervisor Jane Kim and former state Sen. Mark Leno, both of whom identify with the progressive camp in San Francisco politics.

Kim was nominated for the interim mayor position by Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer but declined, saying she felt it was important that the election take place on a level playing field. And while a number of speakers called for the appointment of City Administrator Naomi Kelly to the position, she had previously told supervisors she wasn’t interested.

The Jan. 23 debate was heavily colored by racial politics, with Breed’s supporters arguing that the move to remove her from the acting mayor’s position was driven in part by the fact that she is a black woman.

Speakers calling for an interim mayor were outnumbered during public comment, but argued that having Breed act as mayor, Board President and District 5 supervisor not only gave her an unfair advantage in the upcoming election but violated the separation of powers envisioned in the city’s charter.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who introduced the legislation calling for a vote, said the conversation was a necessary one.

“It is not a pleasant conversation to have, it is a very painful to have. Watching the divisions around racial divides, around gender is very painful, but it is a conversation we are supposed to have,” Peskin said.

Breed, who appeared visibly shaken after the vote, stepped outside the board chambers and thanked her supporters, reminding them that there was still a campaign to run.

“I am born and raised here, I will still do everything I can to take care of the city,” Breed said. “I am still on the ballot on June 5. We need to get lined up and ready to go.”

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