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News + PoliticsBreed's moves, and recall elections, could give her more power over local...

Breed’s moves, and recall elections, could give her more power over local politics

She's just appointed a city attorney. In the next year, she could appoint a DA, a supervisor, and three School Board members. No wonder she's not opposing the recalls.


I don’t know why Mayor London Breed decided that Dennis Herrera should be the new director of the SF Public Utilities Commission. She doesn’t talk to me.

But the move, approved last week, set off a series of political changes that, combined with the pending recalls, could amount to one of the most significant political power changes in the city in years.

Mayor Breed is silent on the recall efforts, which could give her more appointments.

Breed has shown she has little in the way of coattails when it comes to local elections. The candidates she has backed for supervisor, district attorney, School Board, and Community College Board have had a dismal record.

That’s not unusual: San Francisco mayors in the era of district elections generally don’t have much luck convincing voters to accept their choices for other offices. The voters seem to like electing supervisors who are independent from the mayor.

That’s been a huge source of frustration to Breed. Her candidates for supe in most of the contested districts have lost; her candidate for district attorney lost.

But San Francisco has an unusual City Charter, and it gives the mayor the ability to fill any vacancy in any elected office. Former Mayor Willie Brown used that to great advantage; at one point, a majority of the supervisors were mayoral appointees and mostly did his bidding.

So now Breed is using, and could in the next year use, her appointment power to make major changes in the city.

She’s already started: The city attorney is, by most accounts, the second-most powerful person at City Hall, and she just installed a longtime ally, David Chiu, in that job.

Now Chiu’s Assembly seat is up—and one of the candidates, Matt Haney, is a sitting supervisor. If he were to win, she would appoint his replacement.

Breed has said not a word about the efforts to recall District Attorney Chesa Boudin or three members of the School Board. That’s unusual: The mayor of a city where four officials could lose their jobs would normally take a stand. Breed was very visible opposing the Newsom recall, but in San Francisco? Nothing.

So let’s look at what might happen if her allies—and yes, the Boudin recall, at least, is led almost entirely by Breed allies—get their way.

Boudin won a close election against Breed’s choice, Suzy Loftus. The recall campaign—at least, the part that’s open—has been run mostly by Loftus supporters. It’s a bit weird: Boudin won, has pretty much done what he promised to do in the campaign, and now the losers seem to want a re-do.

But there’s a lot, lot of money behind this, and a lot of scare tactics, and if a recall were to qualify, it would be on the ballot in the spring, possibly at the same time as the special election for Chiu’s seat, or possibly in the June primary, and the School Board recall could be on the ballot at any of those points.

If Boudin were to be recalled, Breed would be able to put her own choice (probably Loftus) in that office.

The last SF district attorney went on to be the DA of Los Angeles. The person before that is now the vice president of the United States. Another former SF DA became governor of California. It’s a job with a future. Potentially controlled by Breed.

For better or for worse, the San Francisco School Board is a stepping stone to the Board of Supes and beyond. Current or former supes Jane Kim, Matt Haney, Shamann Walton, Eric Mar, and Norman Yee got their start on the School Board. So did Tom Ammiano, who went on to serve as a supervisor and state Assembly member.

If the School Board recall qualifies, the voters won’t be looking at the merits of the three individuals; they’ll be voting up or down on all three. Although one of the people facing a recall was actually appointed by the mayor, she hasn’t made any effort to support him.

Three appointments to the School Board would give the mayor three chances to put her allies in a position to establish a record and run for higher office.

Again, Breed has said nothing about the state Assembly race. Community College Board Member Thea Selby ran against her for D5 supe way back when, but she was never a serious challenger and is more of a moderate who might appeal to the mayor.

But the bigger issue is D6.

The top two contenders are most likely Haney, who has clashed with the mayor repeatedly and is part of a progressive group that has challenged her, and former Sup. David Campos, who constantly disagreed with Breed on the board. Sup. Hillary Ronen, who was chief of staff for Campos before winning election, sought to keep Breed from being mayor.

I think it’s safe to say that London Breed has no interest in allowing Campos to move to the state Assembly. She will probably oppose him in any way she can.

Again, she has not been a Haney fan, either—but she might prefer him to Campos, and if he won, she would get to appoint his replacement.

So: the mayor who has had virtually no success getting her allies into office in regular elections, could, in less than a year, appoint the city attorney, the district attorney, a supervisor, and three members of the School Board.

I still have to ask: Why does the chief executive of San Francisco get to appoint members of the legislature? I don’t think there’s any place else where that happens.

Why does the mayor get to name a DA or city attorney? Why does the mayor get to appoint members of the School Board?

The recall process for governor is weird, and there’s talk of changing it. What about the SF City Charter?

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.
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  1. Haney is the only person who stood a chance against Breed in 2023. My guess is he struck a deal to stop opposing her, be her ally from State Assembly on issues of development, etc. if she appoints his aide, Honey Mahogany to D6 supe should he win the Assembly seat.

    Haney gets to go to State Assembly with Mayoral and Progressive support, Breed gets a new ally in state assembly, and a clear path to reelection in 2023.

  2. I have to say I’m disappointed in Matt Haney for running for Assembly at this time precisely for the reason stated — potentially leaving D6 to a Breed appointee. Who would that be? Sonja Trauss? I think he will lose a lot of progressive votes for that reason.

  3. I find it really strange the mayor gets to appoint someone to the state assembly. While I don’t necessarily think Mayor Breed is the mover for these various recalls, she definitely stands to gain from them, and it further illustrates how recall campaigns can be a way to use power of office instead of direct governance by the people. It seems that recall campaigns are never ‘grass-roots’ operations.

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