Mark Farrell is sworn in as interim mayor by City Attorney Dennis Herrera, as he stands with his wife and children at City Hall after being voted interim mayor by the board of supervisors, Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018, in San Francisco, Calif. Photo by Santiago Mejia (Hearst Corporation).

[dropcap]Moments [/dropcap] after he provided the sixth and deciding vote to oust London Breed from the position of acting mayor and install Mark Farrell as caretaker, Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, all six-foot-four of him, was sprawled out in a seat in his City Hall office. He looked spent. He was spent.  

He had voiced his “ayes” for Farrell in a willowy near-whisper, triggering an extended period of bedlam in the board chambers in which Breed’s largely African American supporters noisily shut down the Tuesday night meeting, accused the board of reviving Jim Crow in 2018 and locked eyes with the District 8 Supe and charged him  — yes, you, Jeff Sheehy — with wholesale racism. When livid members of the public leaned in, shouted his name, and unloaded vast quantities of vitriol, Sheehy didn’t return their gaze. He seemed to be in a faraway place.

Afterwards, in his office, he offered a wan grin. “Well,” he said after a moment’s thought referring to the tech billionaire who supports Breed, “I guess Ron Conway won’t run an independent expenditure campaign for me.”

One office over, Supervisor Aaron Peskin was in a far more sanguine place. Several days earlier, he had told me he was working out “Entebbe scenarios” in his head, referencing the famously audacious 1976 military raid. All in the interest of successfully unseating Breed and installing a caretaker.

And, lo, that came to pass.

Peskin and his progressive cohorts successfully pushed Breed out of her awkward and untenable dual role as mayor and board president on the cusp of June’s mayoral election, providing what progressives would call “a free and fair election” in the forthcoming race between Breed, Jane Kim, Mark Leno and others.

As is the case when landscapes suddenly change, there were earthquakes and fire and rumbling. It was a deeply ugly scene.

In short, the left-leaning bloc of the city’s legislative body, at this particular moment in American history, chose to unseat a black woman who worked her way from public housing to City Hall and replace her with a well-off white venture capitalist who graduated from St. Ignatius High and lives in the Marina.

The optics here are so bad they border on evil. Breed’s incensed supporters shouted down the proceedings for a good 10 minutes; the room was cleared and, after the meeting was subsequently curtailed, the supes were escorted back to their offices by sheriff’s deputies. The deputies offered to escort the legislators back to their cars as well. Peskin, for one, refused. “I am not leaving until I see the mayor sworn in,” he said. “Tonight.” Waiting any longer would be unacceptable. “Shenanigans,” he explained.

[dropcap]There’s [/dropcap]a saying in politics that when you’re explaining, you’re losing. Quintuple that when a Caucasian person attempts to explain to Breed’s largely black, largely female — and extraordinarily fervent — backers that what happened tonight wasn’t racist and regressive.

That unenviable task falls to Peskin and his cohorts. “The more Ron Conway openly became the kingmaker for London, the more people like me who have come to respect her and work with her very well became more and more reticent,” he explained.

Conway, the billionaire tech investor and Ed Lee’s preferred financier, had purportedly begun stumping for Breed while attending Lee’s private funeral — coalescing the powers-that-be around the acting mayor literally over her predecessor’s dead body.

This brazen act was followed by reports of Conway cajoling supervisors into backing Breed — or else (This would appear to be the financial repercussions Sheehy, who must defend his seat against Rafael Mandelman, was alluding to).

When an unelected billionaire purportedly hijacks a private funeral and refashions it into a campaign rally, then follows up on that by shaking down sitting legislators, politicians must act — or lose credibility. Conway hovered over Tuesday’s meeting like a white, billionaire Banquo’s ghost. His gauche behavior was not rebuked by those he would favor. So it became fodder for those he would not.

At the tail end of last night’s marathon meeting, Mission District Supervisor Hillary Ronen launched into a 10-minute stemwinder of a speech. It was one of the rawest and most emotional deliveries your humble narrator has ever seen delivered in board chambers. Ronen praised Breed and her supporters — “I can hear the love in the room.” Breed appeared circumspect throughout. She was waiting for the “but.” It was coming.

“I have to say it,” Ronen continued, “there are white, rich men, billionaires, in this city who have steered the policies of the past two mayoral administrations. if not more.”

At this point, Breed’s most vociferous backers in the chambers began shaking their heads — no, no, no, no! They knew where this was going.

“They got us into this absolute mess we are in today, where poor people and people of color cannot afford to live in this city,” the supervisor continued. “It is absolutely ridiculous and outrageous and it weighs on me as a supervisor. I can’t sleep at night.”

Ronen broke into tears while saying this. Others’ tears would come later.

“I hate to say it, I wish it weren’t so, but those white men are so enthusiastically supporting your candidacy, London Breed. And what you haven’t heard because you’re not in this inside world we all inhabit in City Hall is that they’ve been threatening people. They’re all saying if you don’t support London Breed that people’s careers will be ruined. … It is happening right now in this Board of Supervisors chamber. It happened the morning Ed Lee passed away. That’s how gross these people are. Because they are gross.”

When, moments later, progressive supervisor Norman Yee nominated moderate Marina supervisor Farrell for the mayor’s spot, the writing was on the wall (Jane Kim declined her nomination and city administrator Naomi Kelley long ago took herself out of the running). To rebuke white billionaires, Ronen et al. elevated a white millionaire.

It’s complicated. Lots of explaining is in order. 

This was a long-rumored deal. Peskin smiled and declined to answer just how recently this arrangement had been struck, but few failed to note that Farrell’s wife and three beautiful kids — dead ringers for the Von Trapp family all — had time to put on nice suits and dresses for his 9 p.m. press briefing.

It would be a stretch to say Farrell answered questions at that presser. He did, however, say “this was not about politics,” which didn’t draw outright laughter from the weary crowd. But should have.

Farrell will name his own successor as District 2 supervisor. Sheehy, who all along has claimed to be an independent and voted for both Breed and Farrell, will be facing a competitive District 8 race.

Today was an ugly day. Expect many more. And, in six months’ time, we’ll have a new mayor.  

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Managing Editor/Columnist. Joe was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left.

“Your humble narrator” was a writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015, and a senior editor at San Francisco Magazine from 2015 to 2017. You may also have read his work in the Guardian (U.S. and U.K.); San Francisco Public Press; San Francisco Chronicle; San Francisco Examiner; Dallas Morning News; and elsewhere.

He resides in the Excelsior with his wife and three (!) kids, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

The Northern California branch of the Society of Professional Journalists named Eskenazi the 2019 Journalist of the Year.

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  1. From the article:
    “Peskin and his progressive cohorts successfully pushed Breed out of her awkward and untenable dual role as mayor and board president on the cusp of June’s mayoral election…”

    What dual role? Whey would she not have done exactly what Farrell did, which was to step off the board when made interim mayor and appointed someone in her place?

    Peskin his merry band of Regressives have slimed themselves and SF with this embarrassing power play. They don’t surprise me, though Sheehy’s vote did. Why are these folks (and now I’m including Mission Local even as I love it) acting like Breed is just a puppet of Conway? She’s a strong, grown woman who can balance donor demands with city interests better or as well as anyone.

  2. So we have come to an age where a black woman in politics is automatically preferable to a white man SIMPLY because she is a black woman? Can we talk about something OTHER than these POLITICIANS’ race and sex, like, say, maybe, their POLITICS?

  3. This isn’t meant to be a burn on MissionLocal, MissionLocal you are quality, but more and more I suspect that sock-puppets, and local non-Russian bots are playing the platform. These comments don’t sound representative. Sounds like same people writing them. Its weird how some interesting MissionLocal stories get zero comments, and then others are blasted with too many comments saying virtually the same things.

  4. I’m no fan of any of the names put up for acting mayor. That said, London should have gotten the position. The rules state that the Pres of the BOS shall be appointed as acting mayor if something happens to the mayor. The BOS knew that when they voted for London to be the Pres of the BOS. It’s no different than Trump wanting to resort to the nuclear option in wanting to change the vote to a majority to avoid the filibuster……

  5. So racism put Breed in and more racism removed Breed? Everything is racist. San Francisco is a violent garbage heap anyway and only repentance and turning to Christ will change it.

  6. Hillary Ronen’s ridiculous “speech” clearly demonstrates an absolutely myopic view of history and that she is utterly clueless when it comes to understanding the actual forces at play in this City over the past 40 years that have led to today’s skyrocketing housing costs and the attendant displacement of populations she professes to care about.

    Hillary, now that you’re over a year into your (hopefully first and only) term, how are you doing on your campaign promise of producing 5,000 affordable dwellings in your district within 10 years? You should have at least 500+ units built by now, right? Haven’t heard much about that lately —- because you haven’t done squat.

    What a hypocrite.

  7. Peskin was wired tight as …

    Watching w/a bowl of good smoke and a vodka over ice and Peskin’s voice was louder than all during the reciting of the Pledge. He was straining at the bit as they say. Once they finished he sa!d with conviction loudly and firmly …

    “Play Ball!”

    He was a man with a plan.

    He still after those poor parrots? I heard they moved to Mission Dolores for Sanctuary.

    Go Giants!


  8. London Breed has shown herself to be a competent, no-nonsense leader who will not indulge the race-baiting and extortionism that MEDA and the Campos dynasty rely on to stay in power. This prospect is so terrifying that Hillary Ronen threw a woman of color from the SF projects under the bus to support a white male hedge fund manager (all while railing against rich white men, bizarrely). Ronen has exposed herself as the hypocritical old school partisan machine politician that she is.The Mission deserves better.

  9. tRump has stuck his big toe in SF City Hall. Embarrassed to be living here. Last night defiled Ed Lee.

  10. It’s only interim mayor, she will run in June for the actual seat. No reason for everyone to get their panties in a twist.

  11. meanwhile a person who actualy lives in a master lease nonprofit slumlord SRO pulled papers for Board of supervisers district #6 its unlikely that he will recieve contributions from Billioners 🙂
    Steven Torry Rappolee