Update: On Wednesday afternoon, the War Memorial Board of Trustees “voted to make an offer of appointment to a candidate,” according to Francesca Cicero, a spokesperson for the War Memorial.
That person was not named, but Kate Sofis was in the audience during the public portion of the meeting; the vote itself occurred during closed session.
The War Memorial’s applicant pool was vast and experienced: One finalist spent 13 years as a director at the San Francisco Symphony, and four years managing events with the San Francisco Opera Guild. Another spent six years at the San Francisco Opera and 10 years overseeing ballet companies, including the San Francisco Ballet.
Others cited years in management at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Madison Center for the Arts, the Fillmore, the Vogue Theater, and the Marsh; one even spent time on the set of Oprah Winfrey’s talk show.
None of them will be the War Memorial’s next managing director, however.
That job, following a vote at the War Memorial Board of Trustees tomorrow, will all but certainly go to Kate Sofis, the former head of the San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development, and Mayor London Breed’s ally.
Hers is the sole name being considered by the board, which has hiring and firing power over the War Memorial’s leader. The board is composed entirely of mayoral appointees.
Sofis beat out 29 other candidates with more relevant experience; Mission Local is told that many of them listed years working in theaters, dance troupes, art centers, and entertainment venues across the country.
Sofis, on the other hand, does not meet the role’s minimum qualifications of five years in a performing arts management position. She has decades of experience working in manufacturing-related nonprofits and in city government, but none in the arts.
“She has none of it,” said Quentin Kopp, one of the 11 members of the War Memorial Board of Trustees, who has reviewed the applicants and said he will oppose Sofis’ nomination tomorrow.
The managing director position, a department head role with a salary range of $188,448 to $240,448, involves overseeing the War Memorial and Performing Arts Center, a city department with a $38 million annual budget that houses the San Francisco Symphony, the San Francisco Opera, and the San Francisco Ballet. The complex hosts hundreds of performances annually and typically brings in a million guests a year.
Its prior director, John Caldon, led the War Memorial for nearly four years before moving to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in February. Rob Levin, the War Memorial’s interim director, submitted an application for the top spot but withdrew it in early May.
Though Kopp will ask others to oppose Sofis, he knows his chances of sinking her nomination are slim to none: Already, Sofis was advanced unanimously by a five-member subcommittee of the board on May 31, and Kopp does not envision the other six members voting against her.
“They wanted to give this woman a place,” Kopp said, despite her qualified rivals: The two other finalists considered by the board’s selection committee each had more than 15 years’ experience with the War Memorial’s anchor tenants themselves: the Opera, Ballet, and Symphony.
And, Kopp said that Sofis’ lack of expertise might be a particular problem for the War Memorial’s credibility: A novice at the helm could “raise question marks among our tenants,” he said.
Asked if Sofis was being forced down the board’s throat, Kopp was terse: “Yes.”
Sofis began saying her goodbyes to colleagues at OEWD on May 26. She spent two years as its executive director, a position to which Breed appointed her in 2021.
And Breed was confident enough of tomorrow’s vote that on May 31 — more than two weeks ago — a mayoral representative addressed OEWD staff and confirmed that Sofis would be helming the performance center. Sofis, the representative said, would be “staying within the city family and moving to War Memorial.”
Her departure was not without incident: Sofis has been named in two lawsuits, one state and one federal, in which she has been accused of a conflict-of-interest for using her city role to benefit her former nonprofit, SFMade.
Neither the mayor’s office, Sofis, the War Memorial’s staff, nor several board members responded to requests for comment.
Supervisor Aaron Peskin, for his part, said he was puzzled by the appointment, given the caliber of the other candidates, and laid Sofis’ appointment at the mayor’s feet.
“I am having trouble understanding why the mayor would choose somebody who doesn’t meet the minimum qualifications for the position,” Peskin said. The director position “is not an easy job” and would benefit from someone who “has experience in the industry” and can “hit the ground running,” he added. “There was no shortage of applicants who appear to have met that,” he said. “It just doesn’t make sense.”