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Will Voters in San Francisco Go for a Different Kind of Mayor?


Famously liberal San Francisco is irritable these days.

Poll after poll shows its residents aren’t confident in the future of their city and don’t support their leader, Mayor London Breed. They lament that their downtown isn’t coming back after the pandemic as quickly as other cities’ cores, that drug overdose numbers continue to skyrocket and that property crime remains a stubborn problem.

But what’s not so clear is what kind of mayor they want to fix what’s broken.

Mark Farrell, a venture capitalist who served as interim mayor for six months in 2018, believes he has the answer: a firm style of governance that would “massively” increase police ranks, clear all homeless encampments, detain drug overdose victims who survive and return cars to the city’s main thoroughfare.

He’ll test his platform — which he calls common sense and his detractors will surely label too conservative for San Francisco — on the November ballot. Mr. Farrell, the city’s 44th mayor, plans to announce on Tuesday that he wants to be its 46th one too.

“I’ve watched San Francisco crumble over the last five years,” Mr. Farrell, 49, said recently over coffee at a downtown cafe. “Public safety has never been a bigger concern. The conditions of our streets have never been worse. Our local economy has collapsed. And we’ve become the butt of jokes across the country.

“This mayor has completely failed us.”

Maggie Muir, a political consultant for Ms. Breed, accused Mr. Farrell of spending the pandemic years at his venture capital firm instead of helping the city get back on its feet.

“It’s easy to run, but it’s hard to lead,” Ms. Muir said. “Mayor Breed is the one who’s had to make the tough decisions, leading the city through the pandemic and its aftermath, while the others were nowhere to be found.”

She said Ms. Breed’s efforts were beginning to pay off — with downtown starting to come back and crime dropping.

There’s no love lost between Mr. Farrell and Ms. Breed, also 49. In December 2017, when Mayor Ed Lee died of a heart attack, Ms. Breed became acting mayor by virtue of being the president of the Board of Supervisors.

But the majority of her colleagues, wanting to ensure that she would lack the status of the incumbent in the race to fill Mr. Lee’s seat six months later, voted to make Mr. Farrell, then a supervisor representing the wealthy Pacific Heights and Marina neighborhoods, the city’s short-term leader. After Ms. Breed won the race anyway, Mr. Farrell returned to his previous job at Thayer Ventures, a San Francisco firm that invests in travel and transportation companies.

If Mr. Farrell is successful in ousting Ms. Breed again — this time through the action of voters, not of his fellow politicians — it will indicate that San Francisco has moved from the left to much more centrist politics. That trend has already seemed apparent after the recalls of the city’s far-left school board members and its district attorney, as well as the elections of some moderate members of the Board of Supervisors.

Ms. Breed, also a political moderate by San Francisco standards, has seemed to sense the city’s shifting political winds and has tacked to the right herself. She is backing measures on the March ballot to expand police officers’ access to surveillance cameras and drones and to require welfare recipients to be tested for drug use and to enter treatment if they test positive.

Ms. Breed has no challengers yet from her left. But Mr. Farrell’s platform is the most rightward leaning — on the narrow, very blue San Francisco political spectrum — of anyone else in the race. Every serious contender, including Ms. Breed and Mr. Farrell, is a Democrat.

Mr. Farrell said the plight of San Francisco — slammed in local and national outlets regularly, many residents think unfairly — had hit home for him about a year ago. He said he had awakened one morning to find the dining room window in his home in Jordan Park, a wealthy neighborhood in the northern part of the city, shattered. Someone had entered the home while he, his wife, Liz Farrell, and their three children slept and stole his laptop. The thief was never caught.

Ms. Farrell, who was active in the campaign to recall District Attorney Chesa Boudin, said she supported her husband’s re-entering the sometimes nasty world of San Francisco politics because she was tired of hearing so many stories from her friends and neighbors about people smashing their car windows, breaking into their homes and stealing their bicycles.

“You start to think that’s how life goes, that that’s how you should live, and it’s not,” she said.

Mr. Farrell said that if he were to be elected, he would fire the police chief, Bill Scott. He would also spare the Police Department from budget cuts and work aggressively to add hundreds of officers to the department.

He said he would also add shelter beds rather than building more permanent housing for homeless people — and require that those in tents move into shelters and seize their tents and belongings if they did not do so.

He said anyone given Narcan, the medicine that can reverse overdoses, at least two times would be detained at San Francisco General Hospital in a mandatory 72-hour hold. State laws allows holds for those who pose an imminent danger to themselves or others or who are gravely disabled and unable to care for themselves, though it’s not clear if Mr. Farrell’s plan would fit that definition. He said he would also create an intake center that would always be staffed and open for homeless people and those addicted to drugs.

He also called for putting cars back on Market Street, a main artery in the city; they were banned from much of it in early 2020. The idea was to turn the road into a European-style promenade, but that hasn’t happened, largely because of the pandemic and lack of money.

The other major candidates in the race so far are Supervisor Ahsha Safai and Daniel Lurie, an heir to the Levi Strauss fortune who founded the anti-poverty nonprofit group Tipping Point Community.

On Monday, both men said Mr. Farrell’s entrance into the race reflected broad dissatisfaction with Ms. Breed’s management of the city.

“She has failed the city,” Mr. Safai said. “That’s what this speaks to more than anything else.”


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