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San Francisco Mayoral Candidates Spar at Lively Castro Debate

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San Francisco mayoral candidates Angela Alioto, London Breed, Richie Greenberg, Jane Kim and Amy Farah Weiss at a debate in the Castro Theater in San Francisco on March 19, 2018. (Samantha Shanahan/KQED)

Housing and homelessness dominated a spirited debate among five mayoral hopefuls Monday night at the Castro Theatre, where the audience was more aggressive at times than the candidates.

The event, sponsored by KQED, Horizons Foundation and the Bay Area Reporter, was billed as an LGBT-themed discussion among the top five mayoral candidates, as decided by recent polls. But there was a last-minute shakeup when former state Sen. Mark Leno bowed out, citing a health issue, about 90 minutes before the debate was scheduled to start.

That left former Supervisor Angela Alioto, Board of Supervisors President London Breed, businessman and lone Republican Richie Greenberg and Supervisor Jane Kim on stage with KQED politics editor Scott Shafer as moderator.

But as the event got underway, candidate Amy Farah Weiss fought her way onto stage and demanded she be allowed to participate. After security tried -- and failed -- to stop her, Weiss was ultimately allowed to stay.

The drama stayed high from then on. The audience heckled, booed and drowned out nearly every candidate at some point as they worked their way through four rounds of questions. There were few surprises -- but a lot of drama and some laughs -- as most of the candidates stuck to their long-standing positions on issues.

Security attempts to remove San Francisco mayoral candidate Amy Farah Weiss from the stage at the Castro Theatre on March 19, 2018 after she demanded to be allowed to participate in the debate. Farah Weiss was allowed to partake in the debate. (KQED News)

Angela Alioto won cheers for her one-liners and insistence that the city needs to compassionately house homeless people and clean the streets. She was light on policy details for accomplishing those goals, repeatedly insisting that the plan she worked on with former Mayor Gavin Newsom, known as Care Not Cash, was working, but was defunded when Newsom left the mayor's office.


Breed, a San Francisco native who grew up in public housing, pushed back when asked about criticism that she is too close to tech executives and former Mayor Willie Brown -- and whether they have too much power.

Former San Francisco Supervisor Angela Alioto speaks at a mayoral debate on March 19, 2018 in San Francisco. (Samantha Shanahan/KQED)

"Every time I get this kind of question I think about everything I experienced in my life. I find it really offensive when every single time someone like me ends up succeeding in a position it’s attributed to someone else," Breed said.

Asked whether the tech community is too powerful, Breed struck a moderate tone, saying there needs to be a better relationship between the industry and San Franciscans.

Greenberg, in a clearly hostile room, attempted to paint his right-of-San Francisco viewpoints as at least more moderate than the national GOP.

San Francisco Board of Supervisors President London Breed speaks at a mayoral debate on March 19, 2018. (Samantha Shanahan/KQED)

But he stumbled -- and garnered boos -- several times, including when he said he would greet President Trump at the airport if he was mayor, and when he insisted that the San Francisco Republican party is a "cross section of San Francisco" and includes gay, African-American and Asian members along with "several Jews."

Greenberg also drew fire from the other candidates, including when he suggested that the city's homeless problem is the result of liberal policies that are drawing people here from other cities.

Weiss pushed back, noting that 70 percent of the people on the streets of San Francisco became homeless in the city and endorsing a measure on the June ballot that would guarantee legal representation to people facing eviction. She also expressed support for a change to state law limiting rent control.

Businessman and lone Republican Richie Greenberg at a San Francisco mayoral debate on March 19, 2018. (Samantha Shanahan/KQED)

"This is a manageable crisis. I want everybody in the room to believe that," Weiss said.

Kim spent much of her time recounting her legislative wins around affordable housing and stressing the need for regional and statewide solutions to the city's homeless crisis.

"When counties like Marin refuse to have a 365-day shelter system, that's a problem," she said.

Kim also got into a memorable back-and-forth with Greenberg when he interrupted her to note that the free City College of San Francisco program Kim helped create isn't free for home sellers paying a higher transfer tax, which funds the initiative.

San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim at a mayoral debate on March 19, 2018. (Samantha Shanahan/KQED)

"I know Richie, it was a tax on the ultra-luxury property owners in the city," Kim said to applause.

The issues of homelessness and affordable housing dominated the conversation throughout.

Breed said the city needs to get more creative providing support services for people before they lose their homes and aggressively helping people on the streets with substance abuse and mental health issues. She's endorsed a plan to change state law so that counties have more leverage to force people into conservatorship programs.

"We have to treat this like a crisis," she said.

An edited version of the debate will run Wednesday at 8 p.m. on KQED Public Radio 88.5 FM.

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