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Mark Farrell Enters Crowded SF Mayor's Race, Searches for Support

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A white man stands with his arms crossed, posing for a photo.
Mark Farrell announced he's joining the crowded field to oust Mayor London Breed. (Courtesy of Mark Farrell)

Mark Farrell entered the San Francisco mayor’s race Tuesday and will formally announce his campaign at 10 a.m. at the San Francisco Baseball Academy on Geary Boulevard.

Farrell, a venture capitalist, served as San Francisco mayor for six months in 2018. He grew up in the wealthy Marina neighborhood and attended St. Ignatius College Preparatory School. Farrell represented District 2, an area that includes the Marina, Presidio Heights and Pacific Heights, on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors for seven years.

He’s got a lot of ground to make up if he wants to catch the other candidates who have already staked their paths to victory. And Farrell’s past business dealings are getting renewed attention, potentially leaving him susceptible to attacks.

Mayor London Breed, who has long enjoyed support from the Black community, is pushing public safety measures to ignite a moderate Democrat base. Daniel Lurie, the Levi Strauss heir and nonprofit CEO, is courting Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, hoping they’re dissatisfied enough with Breed to jump ship. And Supervisor Ahsha Safai is expected to capitalize on his relationships with unions during labor negotiations with the city this year.

Who is clamoring for Farrell to become mayor?

“Everybody in San Francisco that is concerned about public safety,” he said. “Everybody in San Francisco that is concerned about the tent encampments and drug abuse happening on our streets, and everybody in San Francisco that is concerned about our local economy, about small businesses surviving and the downtown corridor that has turned into a veritable ghost town on a daily basis.”

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Farrell told KQED that as mayor, he would hire a new police chief, “aggressively” hire more police officers and “clear all tent encampments” in his first year in office. He also said he’d exempt small businesses making less than $5 million in gross receipts from paying business taxes, among other tax reforms.

Both Lurie and Breed are already pushing anti-crime agendas. Jim Stearns, a campaign consultant not representing any mayoral candidates, said Farrell might find it difficult to distinguish himself.

“There’s a couple problems with the strategy. It’s very crowded on the right side of the field right now,” he said. “I think what it does is leave a very wide gap for other candidates who have a more holistic balance to the city’s problems.”

Phelicia Jones, the founder of Wealth and Disparities in the Black Community, a group focusing on the inequities and historical injustices experienced by Black people in San Francisco, said Farrell’s campaign lacks a natural springboard given his time away from city politics.

“Where have you been in the last five years, and what have you been doing?” said Jones, who supports Breed. “So now you come out of the woodwork and you want to be mayor?”

She said San Francisco’s Black community will best remember Farrell for replacing Breed as mayor after a heated vote by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Breed was the Board of Supervisors president and became acting mayor after Ed Lee’s death. Farrell was chosen as the replacement to serve out Lee’s term.

The board cited a need for a “caretaker” who would not carry the power of incumbency during the election to replace Lee. Farrell repeated the justification in an interview with KQED last week.

It was viewed as a backroom deal to oust the city’s first Black woman mayor in favor of a wealthy white man. Jones, a San Francisco native, said that’s what her community will remember about Farrell.

More on London Breed

“It was a coup,” she said.

Farrell contends his time as mayor was more successful than Breed’s.

“Mayor Breed has a great personal story. We should all acknowledge that,” he said. “But after nearly six years in city hall as mayor, she also has a track record now. And more importantly, a track record of failed leadership — manning the ship as it’s gone down.”

During his time as mayor, Farrell authored an $11 billion city budget, which increased funding for supportive homeless services, like the once-controversial homeless navigation centers, as well as the Homeward Bound program, which helps send homeless people to live with loved ones across the country. The budget included funding to hire 250 police officers but also more than $7 million for criminal justice reform measures like a pilot program to divert criminals from jail before trial.

The diversion program would be a controversial funding measure in today’s political atmosphere, where groups like Stop Crime Action are running candidates against the San Francisco Superior Court judges they have accused of not being tough enough on alleged criminals.

Much like Breed, Farrell clashed with progressives on the Board of Supervisors during his tenure as mayor. The board rejected his two appointments to the San Francisco Police Commission, accusing them of being too cozy with the San Francisco Police Officers Association, the union representing officers.

Farrell’s most controversial moments as mayor came as he began his tenure. In February 2018, a letter written by a partner of Farrell’s at the investment firm Thayer Ventures leaked.

“We are incredibly excited about this development, both because we believe Mark’s role as Mayor of San Francisco (as short as his term will be) will inure to the long-term benefit of Thayer Ventures,” wrote Thayer partner Chris Hemmeter, in a confidential memo, according to ABC 7 news.

The letter raised concerns Farrell would profit financially from relationships built during his time in City Hall. It’s an issue that could give his opponents ammunition. In a 2022 YouTube clip, Georgetown University students asked Farrell what his most successful investment was. He said Sonder, an Airbnb-like company.

“We’ve loved the team from the beginning, literally met them inside city hall of San Francisco,” Farrell said. “Translated to discussions outside with our venture fund.”

Farrell told KQED he met the Sonder team when the supervisors were considering approving regulations around short-term housing rental companies. He said a partner at Thayer introduced the Sonder team to the investment firm.

“One had absolutely nothing to do with each other — period,” Farrell, a managing director at Thayer, said.

Patrick Ford, the executive director of the San Francisco Ethics Commission, declined to comment on Farrell’s relationship with Sonder. He did say that city rules bar lawmakers from voting on regulations with companies they have financial relationships with. City law doesn’t bar connections made in government from continuing in private life.

Sonder went public in 2022 with a $1.9 billion valuation, according to Yahoo Finance.

Stearns said voters might have reason to question if there are other financial agreements Farrell made with companies he came across while in office.

“People have to wonder what else is going on,” he said.

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