District 5 Supervisor, London Breed, is hoping to complete a narrative in which she rises from a childhood in public housing to Room 200 of City Hall as San Francisco’s next mayor.
The 43-year old Breed is one of eight candidates vying to win the June 5 mayoral election. At an editorial board meeting held by the View last month, she answered a variety of questions about the City’s future, frequently depicting herself as a consensus builder and politician who isn’t afraid to discuss unpopular solutions, such as her sponsorship of a safe injection site task force last year. “I won’t do this job in fear of losing it,” she promised.
Breed was raised by her grandmother in the Western Addition in the since-rebuilt Plaza East housing project, once nicknamed “Outta Control” for its rougher element. She remembers people, friends or cabdrivers, wouldn’t come to her home because of the neighborhood’s stigma. “One of the things I won’t do as mayor is treat people any differently because they work for a certain industry or because they are poor or wealthy or what have you,” she said. “When you are a mayor of a city like San Francisco what’s most important is that you represent everyone.”
Breed graduated from Galileo High School and obtained a bachelor’s degree in political science and public service from the University of California, Davis and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of San Francisco. In 2002, then Mayor Willie Brown appointed her executive director of the African American Art and Cultural Complex, a position she held until successfully running for the Board of Supervisors as the District 5 representative in 2013. In 2015, she became Board president. When former Mayor Ed Lee died in December, she served as acting mayor for 22 days.
She’d like to preserve San Francisco’s ethnic diversity and community culture. She touts writing legislation requiring 40 percent of new affordable housing units to be set aside for neighborhood residents as one of her biggest supervisorial successes. When that law hit a snag with the Willie B. Kennedy Apartments, a senior housing development on Turk Street, she flew to Washington D.C. to negotiate a deal with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The project used federal money; HUD rules forbid reserving units for local residents. She negotiated an anti-displacement clause in the rule, which applies to areas where gentrification is occurring based on U.S. Census data. New affordable housing units in the Western Addition, Bayview-Hunters Point, the Mission and Chinatown now qualify for the 40 percent inclusion even if accepting federal funds.
Breed supports sturdier preferences for allowing students to attend schools within their neighborhood. “I feel strongly that kids should be able to go to the school within close proximity of where they live,” she said. “Now we have parents zig-zagging kids all across the City,” something that affects pupils’ study time and parents’ ability to coordinate.
Breed said greater amounts of housing of all types needs to be built to keep families in San Francisco. As supervisor, she led efforts to expand the affordable inclusionary rules to accommodate more middle-income housing. “I think we have been operating under 1960s housing laws and we say, ‘No, we can’t,’ rather than how do we get creative and do what’s necessary to address the issue,” she explained.
She’d like to see connections between schools and job opportunities within the City’s various industries. As a youth, she held a paid internship through the Mayor’s Youth Employment and Education Program. “It kept money in my pocket and it kept me out of trouble,” she said. In comparison, her brother failed to finish high school and is in prison. She said she often asks, “How do we avoid that from happening to other people?”
Breed came under fire early in her campaign for being the only major candidate to not distance herself from independent expenditure groups, essentially Super Political Action Committees, that can accept unlimited donations on a candidate’s behalf, though they’re banned from coordinating efforts with the candidate. When asked about ways to keep money from influencing politics, Breed said she feels the City has already made positive strides with public disclosure rules and the $500 limit on individual donations directly to the candidate, a sufficiently low figure that was unlikely to sway any politician’s decisions.
“People are always going to make hay over money and politics,” she said. “I think people have really accepted the fact that money and politics are just something that exist. What we need to do a better job of is when there is wrongdoing we hold people accountable. But sadly, too often in politics people use it as a way to accuse someone of something unethical and that’s not right either.”
Breed pointed out that as supervisor she sponsored legislation to replace Muni’s aging train and bus fleet, and pushed to hire 700 new drivers, in part by changing hiring standards to allow those with past criminal records to be considered. She’s been a proponent of engaging more police officers, and wants them to patrol commercial corridors. “They just help to deter the crime from happening if they are in the particular area,” she said. “We need a more visible presence in our police force on the ground.” She’d like to see more local employment in construction projects. “There is a real connection between job opportunities and infrastructure improvements,” she said.
Breed supports State Senator Scott Wiener’s (D) Senate Bill 1045, which would create a procedure for placing chronic homeless with serious mental health or substance abuse issues under conservatorship. While she doesn’t want to take away people’s rights permanently, she said people’s dignity should be preserved when they’re incapable of caring for themselves. She favors transferring non-criminal mental health conservatorships from the District Attorney’s Office to the City Attorney’s Office, which would move oversight from social workers to the Department of Health.
She’d like to see more accountability for unsavory actions on the street and frequently tells organizations that work with the homeless to pass that message along to their clients. “Even though I lived in the projects, my grandmother cleaned up and made us clean up in front of where we lived,” she recalled. “It is our responsibility as people who are part of this City, whether we are housed or not, to take care of it.”