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Pick for interim San Francisco mayor upsets black activists

January 25, 2018

San Francisco Interim Mayor Mark Farrell, joined by family members, speaks to reporters after being sworn into office at City Hall in San Francisco, Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors on Tuesday appointed Farrell, one of its members, to serve as interim mayor until a new mayor is chosen in a citywide election in June. (AP Photo/Joel Angel Juarez)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — San Francisco supervisors chose a white man to serve as mayor until a June election, replacing the African-American woman temporarily serving in the position and infuriating activists in a city that is celebrated for its progressive politics but also has a dwindling black population.

The racially diverse Board of Supervisors booted acting Mayor London Breed by selecting another supervisor, Mark Farrell, as interim mayor in an emotional Tuesday night vote. Those who supported the move said Breed, who’s running for a full term as the city’s top leader, should not have a leg up on the seven other candidates in the June 5 contest.

But the vote angered Breed supporters who packed the board meeting. Some booed and yelled “shame” when supervisors chose a white man who represents an affluent part of San Francisco over a black woman who grew up in public housing near City Hall.

“I’ve been pastor for 42 years now, and I’ve witnessed how so-called progressive white liberals have played the black community and have never been honest, straightforward participants in the welfare of black people,” the Rev. Amos C. Brown, president of the San Francisco branch of the NAACP, said Wednesday.

Breed became acting mayor by law when Mayor Ed Lee died suddenly of a heart attack in December. Her supporters said the city should not change rules midstream.

Some people hankering for a “caretaker” mayor were still smarting from the last time the mayor’s office was vacated in the middle of a term. Ed Lee was appointed interim mayor in 2011 and was supposed to be a short-term leader, but he changed his mind and later ran for office.

This time, supervisors waited until the election filing deadline had passed before picking an interim mayor. The 11-member board includes Asian-Americans, African-Americans and a gay man.

Supervisor Norman Yee said he nominated Farrell for interim mayor because he wanted candidates to compete on an even playing field.

“It is unfortunate, but understandable, that some saw last night’s vote as being racially motivated,” Yee said Wednesday. “This is not the case.”

The race could make San Francisco history.

Besides Breed, the candidates include former state Sen. Mark Leno, who would become the city’s first openly gay mayor; Supervisor Jane Kim, a Korean-American who would become the city’s first female Asian-American mayor; and former Supervisor Angela Alioto, whose father was mayor from 1968 to 1976.

Complicating the identity politics in the race is that Breed is considered the candidate favored by the technology sector. Critics who say the business-friendly Lee turned the city into a haven for the wealthy fear Breed will do the same.

Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who represents the city’s traditionally Latino but gentrifying Mission District, addressed that issue directly, saying that the “same rich, white men” who created the deep disparities in San Francisco are also the ones backing Breed.

Despite San Francisco’s reputation as a sanctuary for all, the city’s population of black residents has plummeted from 100,000 in 1970 to fewer than half that today.

African-Americans have not benefited from the technology boom that has made housing costs among the most expensive in the country, the NAACP’s Brown and others say. Redevelopment in the 20th century destroyed the Fillmore neighborhood, once called the Harlem of the West.

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