In the October 2015 Marina Times, I wrote a column about tech-investing billionaire Ron Conway’s influence over Mayor Ed Lee (“Project Political Runway: In Mayor Lee’s regime, if you’re not in with Ron Conway, you’re out”). I noted that in 2012 Conway and his cronies spent nearly $180,000 to help elect District 5 supervisor London Breed, and $104,000 against her opponent. The morning the issue hit the newsstands I received an e-mail from Breed in which she distanced herself not only from Conway, but from the mayor himself. Breed said she won on her own merits as an African American woman raised by her grandmother in San Francisco public housing, and she didn’t need their money or their support. The problem is, she didn’t turn down their money or their support in 2012, so no matter how many times she says it doesn’t influence her decision-making, there’s a whole bunch of people who don’t believe her.
That was certainly the case on Tuesday, Jan. 23, when the Board of Supervisors chose District 2 Supervisor Mark Farrell to serve the rest of Lee’s term over interim Mayor Breed, who, as board president, immediately ascended to the position when Lee died of a heart attack Dec. 12. Of course Breed’s supporters immediately started shouting charges of racism, even accusing the board of reviving Jim Crow right there in chambers. But Breed’s ouster had nothing to do with her race and everything to do with a potent cocktail of Conway, too many jobs, an unfair advantage, and the new kingmaker of City Hall.
THREE DEVILS ON HIS SHOULDERS
Before then-mayor Gavin Newsom left for Sacramento to become California’s lieutenant governor in 2010, he joined forces with Conway and former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown to conjure up a deal giving them a voice in city politics for years to come. Numerous stories abound of back-table dinners where the power brokers sat like three devils on the meek shoulders of Ed Lee, then the city’s chief administrator, cajoling him to serve the rest of Newsom’s term as a “caretaker mayor.” The plan worked. Once in office, Lee realized he liked the gig and — though he vowed he wouldn’t — ran for a full term. I remember wandering around the Civic Center farmer’s market with Lee as he campaigned. He introduced me to some of the vendors, who obviously knew him and liked him. It was here with the people that Lee seemed most comfortable, but when I began asking questions about his plans for the city’s future, Lee stiffened up. His answers were robotic, seemingly coached. When I looked at the weak field of competitors, however, it became clear the Marina Times would endorse Lee — the only newspaper to do so, and a decision I often regretted.
The night Lee was elected, he left a voicemail thanking me for writing the article. “I can’t tell you how many people mentioned it to me,” he said. “I know it really helped, and I just wanted to thank you.” As his tenure wore on, it became blatantly obvious that, while Lee was a kind and decent man, he wasn’t a very good mayor. Lee was a puppet for the three devils on his shoulders, giving tax breaks to tech start-ups backed by Conway, pushing to build on the waterfront as Newsom wanted, and working to elect candidates from Brown’s stable — including Breed, who got her start in politics working as an intern for Brown’s Office of Housing and Neighborhood Services.
TOO MANY JOBS AND AN UNFAIR ADVANTAGE
As far as I’m concerned, Breed was fooling herself to think she could preside over the board, be the mayor, run for mayor, and represent troubled District 5, where I have lived for 30 years. If you’ve been to the Haight lately, which is still overrun with violent, drugged-out street thugs, or to McDonald’s in the Western Addition, where a visit to the drive-through can get you caught in the crossfire of a drive-by shooting, you know why I say it’s troubled. Breed can’t take care of her own district, never mind the entire city.
Then there’s the question of whether she’s even qualified to be mayor. Her supporters constantly point out she’s a San Francisco native. Why they think that makes her more qualified than her competitors I don’t really understand — I’m a Silicon Valley native but that doesn’t qualify me to run Apple. Keep in mind new interim Mayor Mark Farrell is also a San Francisco native. For Breed’s supporters to play the race card because Farrell is white is ridiculous. Not one of the board members who voted for him over Breed is racist. Farrell was the safest choice because he didn’t file to run in the June mayoral election, thus making him what the progressives had wanted in Ed Lee — a caretaker mayor. It also levels the playing field so Breed doesn’t have an unfair advantage going into June as the incumbent.
CONWAY AND THE KINGMAKER
According to the San Francisco Examiner, Conway gauchely started stumping for Breed at Lee’s private funeral service standing just feet from his casket. Things got even more vulgar (if that’s possible) when rumors circulated about Conway padding the floors of City Hall pressuring supervisors to back Breed. Those rumors got a dash of reality when, at the end of the meeting to select the interim mayor, District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen gave a lengthy, impassioned speech. “There are white, rich men, billionaires, in this city who have steered the policies of the past two mayoral administrations, if not more,” Ronen said through her tears. And then she dropped the bomb: “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.”
The push to unseat Breed started almost as soon as she stepped into Lee’s shoes and intensified when she officially declared her candidacy for the June 2018 election. Some of Breed’s colleagues raised concerns about her filling multiple roles, which they saw as undermining the separation of powers in city government. In early January, District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin began asking for a special meeting of the board to discuss a possible vote.
“I am one member of this body who has said that while the charter allows the president of the board to also serve as the mayor, I don’t think we should have a mixing of the two branches of government for a prolonged period of time,” Peskin said. While all of his reasoning makes perfect sense, Peskin also took issue with Conway. “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 told Mission Local while waiting for Farrell to be sworn in.
He won’t admit it or take the credit, but it’s not a secret Peskin engineered the entire deal with Oz-like precision from behind the curtains of City Hall. All I have to say is move over Mr. Conway, there’s a new kingmaker in town, and his name is Aaron Peskin.