Kate Sofis was formally announced the new head of the War Memorial today, after a selection process in which the former head of the San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development beat out several ostensibly better-qualified candidates to claim the spot atop San Francisco’s premier performing-arts complex.
Mission Local first reported this eventuality on May 31 after Sofis’ former colleagues at the OEWD were gathered in an all-hands meeting and told by a mayoral staffer that their former department head would be “staying within the city family and moving to War Memorial.”
“The [War Memorial] Board is confident that her invaluable experience will drive the War Memorial’s mission to operate safe, accessible, world-class venues which promote cultural, educational, and entertainment opportunities in a cost-effective manner for enjoyment by the public,” reads a Tuesday morning press release.
Sofis has no professional arts experience; the posting for the managing director position, a role equivalent to a department head, required five years’ minimum experience in a managerial role at a performing-arts complex.
But because the War Memorial is governed solely by an 11-member board of trustees, all mayoral appointees, those requirements function less as rules than guidelines. The board voted to offer Sofis the position last Wednesday.
The press release announcing Sofis’ ascension made mention of “an impressive background in creative sector-based economic development and extensive experience in non-profit leadership, entrepreneurship, building and capital project management, and regional economic development strategy.”
The only mention of an arts background came in a section noting her “deep personal connection” to the arts and noted that Sofis was “raised in a family of professional symphony musicians.”
Asked last week about Sofis’ lack of professional arts experience, the War Memorial did not respond to requests for comment. Sofis also did not respond to requests for comment.
More than half of the candidates who interviewed for the role had the required level of experience, Mission Local is told. The two finalists alongside Sofis, for instance, had each close to two decades with the War Memorial’s flagship tenants, the San Francisco Opera, Symphony, and Ballet.
The vote last week was 8-1, with just former supervisor, state senator and judge Quentin Kopp voting against Sofis’ appointment; two trustees were absent. Kopp had earlier told Mission Local that Sofis was being forced onto the War Memorial.
Asked about the appointment Tuesday morning, Kopp said he felt Sofis was “less qualified” than the other finalists, and that the appointment was a political play.
“City Hall needed a place for her,” he said.
The internal May pronouncement that Sofis would be “staying within the city family” was made during a meeting in which her colleagues were formally told that she was leaving her role at the top of OEWD, where she was in charge of job training, grants for small businesses, and charting a post-pandemic recovery for the city’s downtown, among other tasks.
Sofis left amid controversy: She is named in two lawsuits against her former nonprofit, the manufacturing advocacy group SFMade, alleging conflict-of-interest stemming from her city role. She had also previously failed to disclose contacts with Amazon in her nonprofit job, though she subsequently had dealings with the retail giant in her city role — an apparent contravention of ethics rules.
The War Memorial directorship offers a salary range between $188,448 to $240,448, which would be a pay cut for Sofis; she previously made $292,699 as the head of OEWD.