Gift SF Mayor Breed Received From Mohammed Nuru May Have Violated City Law

San Francisco Mayor London Breed speaks to reporters on Friday, Feb. 14, 2020, shortly after revealing that she once dated and received a gift from disgraced former Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru. (Kate Wolffe/KQED)

In a remarkable statement published online Friday, San Francisco Mayor London Breed acknowledged not only having a past romantic relationship with disgraced former Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru, but also accepting a $5,600 gift from him for car repairs.

"The estimated cost of repairs seemed more than the 18-year-old car was worth, but Mohammed had it fixed," Breed wrote. "Later, when the car still wasn’t working, he helped secure a rental. The estimated value of those things is about $5,600. It had been my intention to sell the car (which is still not running consistently, even after the repairs) and reimburse Mohammed."

She added, "To be clear: I never asked Mohammed Nuru to do anything improper, and he never asked me to do anything improper. I was not aware of the schemes alleged by the FBI until shortly before they became public, and when I was informed, I immediately reported the information to our City Attorney."

While rules from the California Fair Political Practices Commission, the state's campaign watchdog, do not require disclosure of gifts "by an individual with whom the official has a long term, close personal friendship unrelated to the official’s position," Breed said she would voluntarily report the gift on her Statement of Economic Interests form that's due on April 1.

What Breed did not mention is that the gift she received from Nuru appears to violate city ethics rules.

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"San Francisco law prohibits city officials from accepting gifts from subordinates," said Patrick Ford, senior policy and legislative affairs counsel at the San Francisco Ethics Commission. "This means that an official cannot accept a gift from an employee if the official directs or evaluates that employee’s work or the work of the employee’s supervisor. Department heads are considered employees of the city."

In the Medium post, Breed also acknowledged her long-suspected former romantic relationship with Nuru. "Mohammed Nuru and I have been close personal friends for more than 20 years. We dated for a brief time, two decades ago, long before I ever ran for office," she wrote.

San Francisco Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who has clashed with Breed in the past, dismissed the focus on Breed's relationship with Nuru.

"It’s nobody’s business but their own if they had a relationship," Ronen said. But she said the gift Breed received from Nuru was consistent with a "culture of corruption" in city government and called on the mayor to resign.

"There has been corruption scandal after corruption scandal unfolding in this city over the past few years," Ronen told KQED. "She’s admitting to playing fast and loose with our ethics laws. She needs to step down."

Nuru was indicted last month as part of a federal investigation into official corruption in San Francisco and announced his resignation earlier this week.

Of Nuru, Breed wrote, "I’ve been both a friend and a colleague. This situation has forced so many of us to examine our relationship."

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For Breed, who assumed the mayor's job after the death of Mayor Ed Lee, and was reelected in November, the disclosure and investigation are surely unwelcome as she faces mounting challenges related to homelessness, a housing affordability crisis and concerns about a range of quality-of-life issues.

Speaking to reporters Friday morning, Breed acknowledged hearing rumors about her relationship with Nuru and said she wanted people to hear about it from her directly.

"It's quite frustrating to have people constantly ask me about who I'm dating or who I dated or did I date somebody," Breed said when asked if she thought she was being treated differently because she was a woman. "I don't know if this has ever occurred. I mean, we've had mostly male mayors and I don't necessarily know if this has occurred with them."

Breed said in the years since dating Nuru, she's maintained a close friendship with him.

"We were still spending time with each other, still hanging out still. I mean, even to this very day — I mean, not this very day — but even up until recently, you know, we have always had a close personal relationship. I'm very close to his daughters in particular," Breed said.

The 45-year-old mayor insisted that despite the FBI investigation into Nuru and San Francisco restaurant owner Nick Bovis, including allegations they tried to bribe a San Francisco International Airport commissioner, she has nothing to hide.

"I am not concerned because I haven't done anything. He hasn't asked me to do anything and I haven't asked him to do anything," she told reporters. "I'm concerned more so that we get to the bottom of the truth and that we make sure that whatever it is, it is disclosed and it's dealt with appropriately in the court."

In addition to the FBI, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera is investigating allegations of corruption.

This week his office announced it had issued subpoenas for documents from PG&E, Recology and other companies it said were involved in "funneling donations to fund city programs and events, including funding Public Works holiday parties."

“We’re following the facts, and we’re following the money,” Herrera said. “We are going to follow the evidence wherever it leads. We will get to the bottom of this. San Franciscans deserve no less.”