London Breed Had a Clean Shot at Becoming San Francisco’s 1st Black Female Mayor; Then She Got Kneecapped by Her Colleagues

San Francisco Board of Supervisors President and now former interim Mayor London Breed (center) speaks at a news conference at City Hall in San Francisco on Dec. 12, 2017. (Jeff Chiu/AP Images)
San Francisco Board of Supervisors President and now former interim Mayor London Breed (center) speaks at a news conference at City Hall in San Francisco on Dec. 12, 2017. (Jeff Chiu/AP Images)

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.

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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.

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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.

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But, as Alicia Garza of Black Lives Matter put it:

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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:

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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.

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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.

Mark Farrell (San Francisco Board of Supervisors)
Mark Farrell (San Francisco Board of Supervisors)
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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.

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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.

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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.

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Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Atlanta had elected its first black female mayor.

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DISCUSSION

bassguitarhero
bassguitarhero

I’m a black guy who’s lived in San Francisco since 2000.

This city is racist as fuck. If you don’t believe it, you haven’t been looking.

I have a good job, I make good money, I have a great apartment, but don’t let anyone tell you this city isn’t racist as fuck. I’ve had cops pull me over, put a gun to my head and a gun to my date’s head, and threaten to blow our brains out on the spot.

I’ve spent months or years apartment hunting, sending emails on Craigslist, only to show up in person and have those same “liberal, progressive” whites look at me, purse their lips, and immediately say that the apartment is filled or that I’m just not “the one” (I eventually just got my own apartment. Bliss.)

My jobs for the last 10 years have been going from job where I know someone to job where I know someone because showing up for an interview with people you don’t know means that they’ll immediately freak out over a qualified black man showing up, get the interview over with as quickly as possible, and send me out the door, never to hear from them again.

This city is filled with progressive, liberal, “bleeding-heart” white people who think black people should have every right to be equal to them, just so long as they do it in another city. They think less of us when they have to interact with us in person, but can’t get themselves to admit to it.

Earlier this week, at a senior staff meeting, we were talking about an employee (black and filipino), who had left last week, and my coworker (the only senior staff member of color, a woman who’s half-asian and half-white), mentioned that in his exit interview, he felt like he was treated as “lesser than” by so many of the people in the city he had to interact with, while those same people preferred to defer to his younger, white, female colleague. All of the rest of the senior staff, all white, were debating about how maybe he wasn’t showing that he knew enough, and maybe he wasn’t coming across forcefully enough, and I said, “it’s because he’s black. That’s literally it.” and then a big “No, that can’t be it.”

Yeah, it really is. Even San Francisco. Even in the hearts of people who tell themselves that I am their equal, that there is no difference between us - racism is that deeply ingrained.