London Breed became the first African American woman to serve as mayor of San Francisco today, taking the oath of office in a modest, straightforward ceremony that featured an interfaith convocation, the Gay Men’s Chorus, the Glide Ensemble and Renel Brooks-Moon as MC.
I say modest in a good way: This is a city with deep economic issues, thousands of homeless people, and many more clinging to their homes by the thinnest threads. She was elected by the narrowest margin in decades. I’m glad the pomp and circumstance was relatively limited, and it didn’t appear that vast sums of money were spent on the event.
As the political situation in Washington spirals more and more out of control, and racism and bigotry are becoming an ever-more-terrifying part of the Trump Era, San Francisco made and celebrated history today.
But Breed’s inaugural speech and program – while on the surface striking a tone of togetherness and shared goals – was remarkable at times for its sharp political edges.
Brooks-Moon, reading from a list provided by the Breed campaign, profusely thanked all of the elected officials on hand who had endorsed her – and gave second billing to those who hadn’t.
She mentioned the supervisors who endorsed Breed first, then barely mentioned the others – and completely ignored Hillary Ronen, who was a leader in the effort to elect a caretaker mayor, Mark Farrell.
It was, one longtime elected official told me, pretty unusual: “You normally just acknowledge all the supervisors in order of seniority,” the official said.
Maybe leaving Ronen off the list was an oversight – but given the politics, it seems unlikely.
Breed’s speech started off with her amazing life story: Raised by her grandmother in a pretty nasty housing project not far from City Hall, she survived poverty and violence to rise to the position of the 45thmayor of San Francisco. Her grandmother supported her and her siblings on $900 a month.
She talked about how public services – public housing, public transit, and public schools – made her life possible. “I stand here,” she said, “because our city services looked out for me.”
That’s an important statement in an era when there are so many attacks on the public sector and the need for well-funded public services.
“Together,” she said, “We can build a San Francisco where the next generation of young people can go from public housing to the Mayor’s Office.”
She said “together” at least four times; “together, we can accomplish anything.” “Together, there is nothing we can’t do.”
She had some good lines: “We are going to tell the president that we don’t put children in cages, we put them in classrooms.”
But she also said:
“We can’t let the politics of progressives and moderates that have torn the city apart get in the way.”
I don’t think the “politics of progressives and moderates” have torn the city apart. I think the tech boom, the housing crisis, the vast economic inequality that’s been created by City Hall policies, a police department that keeps shooting young people of color, a culture where big money rules elections and people feel disempowered – that’s what’s damaged the city.
In fact, Breed said:
“We are not a tale of two cities, we are one San Francisco.”
There are many, many people facing eviction and displacement in one of the richest cities in the history of civilization who would disagree with that.
At no point did she do what so many chief executives do at times like this, and offer to “reach across the aisle” and work the people who don’t agreed with her policies. I found that a little surprising; she’s going to have to work with a progressive majority on the Board of Supes.
The Yimby folks will be happy with her address. She said that she wants to build more housing, faster, and get beyond “the politics of no that has plagued this city.”
She had no specific policy suggestions for what he called “the crisis of affordability,” but said she was prepared “to roll up my sleeves” and get to work on it.
Breed’s life and career and success is and should be an inspiration to everyone. As a policy and political matter, her inaugural speech made me nervous about the future of this city.
Then about an hour later, Rafael Mandelman was sworn in as supervisor, cementing the progressive majority. But his comments were much more conciliatory – he praised Breed, he said that he wanted to work with everyone on the board – and indeed, most of his colleagues were on hand.
In fact, he delayed the program to give Board President Malia Cohen time to show up (she was so late that they had to start anyway).
He praised the board in general, saying that he has, as a lawyer, worked with city councils and boards all over the state, and “this group is well above average.”
It was an interesting contrast – the progressive supervisor, who had by his side Ronen and Sup. Sandra Fewer, his earliest and strongest supporters, seemed a lot more willing to mend political fences than the moderate mayor.
We shall see how this plays out in the next few months.