The same city that gave us Twitter, medical marijuana and one of the nation’s first openly gay elected officials just pulled a jack move on its first black female acting mayor.
In a wild meeting marked by tearful comments from residents, the Board of Supervisors—San Francisco’s version of a city council—voted Tuesday night to oust London Breed from the interim or “caretaker” mayor spot that she’d held since Mayor Ed Lee died unexpectedly six weeks ago. After the surprise vote, Breed, who had been serving as board president when Mayor Lee died in December, said that she plans to run for a full mayoral term in the regularly scheduled election in June.
To those who might say, “Well, Breed was only named ‘acting’ mayor after Ed Lee died, so what’s the big deal about Tuesday night’s vote?” be advised that there is a direct precedent to the unique situation: In 1978, then-San Francisco Supervisor Dianne Feinstein was voted in as acting mayor by her fellow board members mere days after then-Mayor George Moscone was gunned down in his City Hall office by a deranged former supervisor, Dan White. (Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California history, was also killed in the shooting.)
In ’78, there was no dramatic coup from fellow board members: Feinstein fulfilled the interim role, then went on to win a full mayoral term months later during the regularly scheduled election.
So why was Breed’s fate so different Tuesday night?
At a national political moment when, for the first time, black women have been elected mayors in New Orleans and Charlotte, N.C.—two moderately liberal American cities—San Francisco, for all its stubborn reputation as a wacky, anything-goes progressive stronghold, just exposed the diet racism at its core. Breed could have relinquished her title of board president and remained in an acting-mayor capacity while also campaigning for the seat, much as Feinstein did.
But, as Alicia Garza of Black Lives Matter put it:
In the manner of black women who have been thrown under carriages, buses and Uber cars since the beginning of time in America, Breed, of course, made a gracious statement after Tuesday night’s vote:
The six board members who sucker punched Breed out of the acting mayor’s spot Tuesday night replaced her with a white male fellow board member, Mark Farrell—who had not ever expressed any interest in the interim role, at least not officially.
There is a lot of awful in this story, starting with what Tuesday night’s vote signals about Breed’s standing among her fellow supervisors. She is one of the few elected officials who champion the shrinking population of black San Francisco residents. A few of Breed’s African-American constituents turned up Tuesday night and began shouting “This is WAR!” after the vote to remove Breed from the acting mayor’s role.
I’ll spare you all the behind-the-scenes shady dealings that likely drove Breed’s ouster Tuesday night, but it is important to note a particularly telling detail: Hillary Ronen, one of the white female supervisors who voted to place Farrell in the acting mayor’s role, actually got up and made a tearful speech about how terrible it was that Ron Conway, a wealthy white venture capitalist, was supporting Breed in her bid to be the city’s first black female mayor.
It is absolutely the case that the tech companies have run roughshod across the city, causing rising housing costs and crazy-bad traffic from all the car-hailing services and tech-company buses that ferry workers back and forth to nearby Silicon Valley; they have also refused to hire local blacks and Latinos.
But why would Ronen and the other supervisors who voted to oust Breed assume that Breed would somehow become Conway’s or the tech industry’s puppet? In typical bogus “liberal progressive” fashion, Ronen apparently assumed the worst of Breed. And in a lame attempt to “protect” the interests of the struggling populations in San Francisco from what she apparently imagines to be Breed’s coming greed-fest, she voted to push Breed out of the acting mayor’s seat and replace her with Farrell, who is (wait for it!) a wealthy venture capitalist representing the city’s wealthiest area, the Marina District.
And here’s a bonus note of progressive-liberal hypocrisy: Ronen and a few other supervisors who voted to remove Breed Tuesday night had, just two days earlier, been on the agenda at the Women’s March in San Francisco, espousing intersectional unity and resistance.
A homegirl, Breed was born in San Francisco in 1974, four years before Feinstein came to prominence as a result of the tragic events at City Hall in 1978. In the years since, Breed watched as the part of the city she would represent as mayor, Bayview-Hunter’s Point, became the last corner of the city where blacks could afford to live—and now this area, even, is in danger of being gentrified.
True, it is not over yet, and as a native of San Francisco, I am rooting for Breed to win a full term. But if you consider what happened Tuesday night and feel a bit pessimistic, you are not alone.
I’ve long given up believing in the city’s long-ago reputation as a hippy-dippy, peace-and-love kinda town. As we saw Tuesday night, in the Board of Supervisors chamber at City Hall, the tech-driven boomtown that is San Francisco today projects a force field of resistance to genuine political and economic unity.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Atlanta had elected its first black female mayor.