Reynolds Rap

Former Mayor Mark Farrell

Why he’s running, and how he plans to get San Francisco back on track

“Public safety and homelessness are the two issues I’ve heard the most about and spent the most time on as a supervisor, and without a doubt they will remain two areas of focus for me as mayor. In terms of public safety, the property crime epidemic, whether it’s car break-ins or burglaries, is out of control.”

—Mayor Mark Farrell in an interview with the Marina Times, March 2018

I first met Mark Farrell during the 2010 campaign to elect a new District 2 supervisor when I invited all three candidates to my house for interviews. The reason was a personal one: My pit bull, Jazzy, was recovering from cancer surgery. Kat Anderson, Janet Reilly, and Mark Farrell all accepted, and I hosted each of them over the course of a weekend. I’m a fan of the adage, “I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t like dogs,” and all three candidates passed the test with flying colors. Janet even knelt on the floor in an expensive suit and allowed Jazzy to give her a big kiss. Mark did that too, but he took it to the next level — he brought dog treats. It was that thoughtfulness, along with a boyish charm free of political baggage, that made me think this Farrell guy might actually have what it took to be the next District 2 supervisor.

A political unknown, Farrell, a native San Franciscan, was raised in the Marina District. An attorney who worked in venture capital, he was tall and good looking, had a lovely wife who was also an accomplished journalist (she writes a column for the Marina Times), and two adorable children (now three).

The campaign was grassroots — his parents went door-to-door passing out flyers and stumped for him in grocery store parking lots. The hard work paid off, and he won the election. Nearly two terms later, he became the 44th mayor of San Francisco, voted in by his peers on the Board of Supervisors to serve until June when voters elected someone (the current mayor, London Breed) to serve the rest of the late Ed Lee’s second term. 

When we sat down in Room 200 for a March 2018 interview, it was clear Farrell was the ideal pick because he was ready, after his stint as mayor, to return to the private sector, and to be fully present for his young family. “Our three children are the most important thing to Liz and me. Period. And Liz — well, I definitely married up. The thought of spending the next six or seven months gone from the house, on the campaign trail, not being able to coach our son’s baseball team … to not be there for their school plays, and their activities, and just be the present father that I am today would have killed me, because we’re not getting these years back,” he said.

Many of the city’s problems that we discussed during our 2018 interview still exist today, but they’re much worse. So why is Farrell jumping into a crowded race that features not only incumbent Breed but also heir to the Levi’s fortune Daniel Lurie? For Farrell, it’s personal. 

One of the most common questions I get from readers is ‘Why doesn’t Mark Farrell run for mayor?’ You were resistant for so long. Why now?

Over last five and a half years I’ve watched our city crumble. For me this is personal. This is because of our family. Last year my house was broken into while we slept upstairs. I want a city that is clean, thriving, and welcoming to families. I have a unique background with over seven years working in the private sector and as a private citizen. 

What are the main differences between you and London Breed?

Breed has a great story, but after five and a half years, she has a failed record. I spent years practicing law, but I am also the longest serving budget chair on the Board of Supervisors. Breed’s policies haven’t worked. Our city has crumbled. No mayor has ever led such a steep decline. My policies will be very different, distinct, and effective. I will hit the ground running with a plan to set the city on the right track day one of my administration, starting with hiring a new police chief.  

What are the main differences between you and Daniel Lurie?

Lurie is a good guy, but we come from very different backgrounds. I have 20 years in private sector law, in finance, and in business. I spent seven and a half years at City Hall. Lurie ran a nonprofit and has no civic background and no private sector background. We need a mayor coming out of the gate with policies for a safe, clean city with a vibrant economy, not someone who learns on the job. 

What is the top priority for your administration? 

Public safety. That has always my top priority. We’re in a crisis. It has to stop. San Francisco will no longer turn a blind eye. I will have a zero-tolerance policy toward all crime — from bike thefts and car break-ins to neighborhood crimes like burglaries at our homes and at our small businesses. We will enforce all existing laws and publicly back the SFPD to do so.

We need a change of leadership at the San Francisco Police Department. I will hire a new police chief who inspires our force and can help improve the recruitment and retention of officers — someone who will be vocal about the budget and advocate for [the] department.

We will aggressively hire transfer officers from other Bay Area cities; reconstitute a program to allow retired officers to come back to work without hurting their pension; and flood the police academy with new recruits. 

When I was mayor and budget chair of the board, the city funded an average of five academy classes a year with an average of 50 recruits versus three academy classes a year under Mayor Breed, with the last class coming in at only 19 recruits. Mayor Breed has directed all city departments to provide 10 percent cuts for this fiscal year, but I will make no budget cuts to public safety departments and services. The city budget grew approximately 30 percent over the past five years, SFPD’s has only grown by $16 million, and San Francisco is down over 500 police offices during that period. It’s not surprising that public safety is our number one concern. 

What do you think of your fellow mayoral candidate Ahsha Safaí’s so-called cop tax?

I 1,000 percent support hiring new police officers, but I do not believe it should be tied to new taxes. It should be the job of our city government to fully fund our police department.

Other California cities are removing homeless encampments — in fact, Judge Donna Ryu who upheld the San Francisco injunction lives in Albany where encampments are banned. When you were mayor, you removed encampments and even showed up on scene. How would you deal with the city’s encampments in light of the Coalition on Homelessness injunction?

I will clear all encampments during my first year in office. I did it in six months as mayor and I will do it again. The current administration is hiding behind this Coalition on Homelessness lawsuit but we have tools at our disposal, including Proposition Q, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) laws, and public nuisance laws. We need to make it inconvenient to sleep in tents in the middle of the sidewalk. We will offer people help, but we will not make it hospitable for those who choose to live on our streets. 

San Francisco’s homeless crisis is a drug and a mental health issue. When we cleared out large encampments, people proactively started leaving the streets. We have to take the high ground — we will treat people with compassion, but if they reject our offers of help, we will make it inconvenient. Kids and the elderly shouldn’t have to step over tents. The streets belong to the residents.

Where we are going to see results is with a mayor who won’t tolerate it. I will revamp Homeward Bound. When I was mayor I quadrupled their budget. Under Mayor Breed, the program is a shell of what it used to be. 

Coalition on Homelessness executive director Jennifer Friedenbach was a full-time lobbyist for Proposition C. She controlled the funds and moved the last of the campaign money to her own nonprofit. Would you consider shutting down the Our City Our Home committee, where Friedenbach now sits and decides where the money goes? Would you look for ways to move funds out of Friedenbach’s control?

Both. COH and all the nonprofits have controlled the narrative for the last five and a half years and we need to take our city back. We need to get people the help they need, and I don’t believe those decisions should be vested in COH.

In 2016, as District 2 supervisor, you sounded the alarm bells on Tenants Owners and Development Corporation, but your colleagues ignored your warnings. Would you pursue them again? And how big a priority is the corruption at City Hall for you?

It’s a huge deal. Residents deserve to feel officials are acting in their best interests. Allowing nonprofit developers like TODCO to do cash-out refinances and not put the money back into the properties but use it to fund political campaigns? I can’t believe it’s been allowed for so long. It has to end. If residents truly understood what goes on, they’d be shocked.

Would you support an audit of all nonprofits receiving millions for homelessness and harm reduction, then end current contracts and make them apply again with a results-based model? In other words, “Meet your goals or your contract won’t be renewed”?

I will do it on day one.

Many people feel the San Francisco Police Commission has too much power. Would you support an overhaul of the appointment process or disbanding the commission all together as some have recommended?

I would support an overhaul. Right now, the Police Commission is one of more destructive forces in San Francisco and has made the job of our police officers much more difficult.

Would you work with San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins and the United States Attorney’s Office of Northern California to prosecute fentanyl dealers with harsher sentences and deportation?

Yes. I believe D.A. Jenkins is doing a great job and I welcome the new United States Attorney [Ismail Ramsey]. San Francisco had the highest number of drug overdose deaths in 2023 we have ever seen. We cannot allow what goes on in the Tenderloin and South of Market neighborhoods to continue. We need the police staffing to arrest dealers, but if you use on public streets and are revived on Narcan, by law if that happens a second time, you can be taken into custody — and they can hold them longer under a fentanyl hold. We can’t just revive someone and think things get better. Sober housing is a must. Get them a chance for a better life. We have to change our policies.

How important is it as mayor to bring the San Francisco Unified School District up to par, and bring the school board’s priorities in line?

It starts with electing the right school board members — yanking algebra and renaming schools made San Francisco the butt of jokes all over the country. We are far from the best, so it was hard to watch. We must put the needs of kid first. Algebra is a must and shouldn’t even be a discussion.

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