San Francisco, California, USA: Board of Supervisors President London Breed, 43, made history on Wednesday as the first African American woman to be elected mayor of San Francisco. Breed now permanently holds the role, which she held temporarily late last year when she stepped in as acting mayor after Lee’s sudden death in December of cardiac arrest.
London Breed also becomes the eighth African American woman presently serving as the mayor of a large U.S. city.
“I’m so hopeful about the future of our city,” Breed told a cheering crowd of supporters Wednesday afternoon on the steps of City Hall. “I’m looking forward to serving as your mayor, and I’m truly humbled and truly honored.”
A short time earlier, her closest opponent, former state Senator Mark Leno, who conceded the race,said he had called Breed to congratulate her and “to wish her every success — personally and professionally — in her new job as mayor of San Francisco.”
“She is a remarkable young woman and she is going to do a very fine job and we wish her all the best, because her success is San Francisco’s success,” Leno said in a brief news conference at a sign shop he runs near City Hall.
At mid-afternoon, Breed emerged with a broad smile from the front door of City Hall to stand before supporters and reporters.
“Whether you voted for me or not, as mayor I’ll be your mayor, too,” Breed said.
She thanked Leno and paid tribute to the late Mayor Ed Lee, whom she called a “good man” who had “worked to move the city forward.”
Lee died of a heart attack Dec. 12 and Breed became Acting mayor. Breed was elected to serve out his term as Mayor, which runs to January 2020.
Leno held a slim lead in the ranked-choice balloting after election night last week, but Breed soon pulled ahead and has steadily widened the gap. On Tuesday, she had a 1,861-vote advantage over Leno with about 9,360 votes still to be counted, according to the city Department of Elections.
Leno said he saw no point in waiting for the additional ballots to be tallied, as the trend in Breed’s favor was clear. “Just doing the math, we do not see that it is likely to change,” he said.
Another former candidate, Supervisor Jane Kim, also congratulated Breed.
“I’m proud to live in the largest city in America with a woman as mayor,” said Kim, who had encouraged her voters to list Leno as their second pick on their ranked-choice ballots. “I also want to thank Mark Leno and acknowledge his nearly two decades of service as a publicly elected official who has accomplished so much on behalf of our city.”
As Board of Supervisors president, the 43-year-old Breed became acting mayor after Lee’s death. But she lost the job after a month when her board colleagues voted to give Mark Farrell the job through the special election to pick Lee’s successor.
In a statement Wednesday, Farrell offered his “sincere congratulations to Mayor-elect London Breed on her election victory. I commit my full support, both personally, and through my staff, to make this transition between our administrations as smooth as possible.”
Of the three main candidates, Breed was the one most closely identified with the city’s moderate political faction. She portrayed her life’s trajectory — starting from an impoverished childhood in Western Addition public housing, where she was raised by her grandmother — as an uplifting example to a city that is struggling with issues of income disparity, as well as a sign to others who come from disadvantaged backgrounds that they can aspire to great things.
In early January, Breed brought 10 young girls with her to the city Department of Elections to watch her fill out the paperwork that would officially launch her bid for San Francisco’s top job.
“I wanted these young ladies to know that if I can be mayor, they can be mayor, too,” Breed said.
Breed will enter office at a pivotal moment for San Francisco, one in which the city is confronting an epidemic of homelessness, trash-strewn streets and a housing shortage that threatens to squeeze middle- and low-income residents out of the city.
Breed’s ascent to the mayor’s office will also lead to a number of changes at the Board of Supervisors.
One of the board’s first tasks will be to elect a new president to finish out her term, which ends in January. Breed will also appoint her successor for the District Five board seat, probably in time for the replacement supervisor to vote on a president.
The board itself will look very different after the November election. Seats in Districts Two, Four, Six, Eight and 10 are up for grabs, and only the District Two election features an incumbent supervisor, Catherine Stefani. She was appointed by Farrell after the board installed him as mayor.
London Breed, a lifelong San Franciscan was first elected to the Board of Supervisors in 2012 and was named its president in 2015.
The candidates clashed mainly over their visions of how to address San Francisco’s housing shortage and its skyrocketing cost of living. Their divergent perspectives on SB827, a stalled statewide proposal to give developers broad freedom to build multifamily housing complexes near public transportation regardless of local zoning restrictions, emerged as a defining issue for many voters.
Breed fully supported the proposal and has often argued that encouraging new construction is as an opportunity to let luxury housing provide funds for middle- and lower-income living spaces. Kim emerged on the opposite end of the spectrum, arguing that it would allow developers to destroy the character of neighborhoods and would put more pressure on San Francisco to build while letting suburbs with minimal public transit off the hook. Leno and Alioto settled somewhere in the middle on the issue.
The winner was selected through the city’s uncommon ranked-choice voting system, which is thought to save money on expensive runoff elections and elect the most broadly supported candidate. The system asks voters to rank their first, second and third choice for mayor, and if one candidate wins at least 50 percent of the vote, that person is named the winner. But if not, a complicated process ensues in which the last-place finisher is eliminated and any voters who ranked that person first will now have their vote count toward their second choice. The process continues until there is a majority winner.
Under that system, it’s possible that the candidate with the most first-choice votes won’t win. Oakland, San Francisco’s neighbor to the east, saw that happen with its mayoral race in 2010.