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SF Mayor Breed Talks Crime, Tourism and Pandas Ahead of China Trip

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Mayor London Breed walks along Irving Street in the Inner Sunset on April 11, 2024, to meet voters during her reelection campaign in San Francisco. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

San Francisco Mayor London Breed spent part of Thursday afternoon doing a time-honored routine of political candidates: the merchant walk.

Breed used a sprinkling of Mandarin and Cantonese phrases to greet people. She walked down Irving Street in the Sunset neighborhood, popping into cafes, grocery stores and restaurants asking, whoever would listen to put a “Breed for Mayor” sign in their window.

Many did.

Dogged by low approval ratings from voters weary from crime, homelessness and fentanyl dealing, the mayor is facing several serious candidates in what appears to be an uphill race to win a second four-year term.

Saturday, the mayor and a delegation of business and community leaders leave for a weeklong visit to China, where she hopes to drum up more tourism, investment, and, hopefully, score two or more panda bears for the San Francisco Zoo.

KQED’s Scott Shafer sat down with Mayor Breed at a falafel shop on Irving Street on Thursday. Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

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Scott Shafer: You’re going to China at a time with lots of tension between the U.S. and China. How does that figure into this trip in terms of how you’re going to approach things?

Mayor London Breed: I’m approaching it from a desire to continue to build upon the relationship that has always existed between China and San Francisco. In fact, the first Chinatown in the 1800s was established right here in San Francisco. The first [Chinese] consulate in San Francisco in the U.S., the first Sister City relationship right here between Shanghai and San Francisco. It’s a relationship that runs deep.

We want to talk about opportunities to focus on tourism and flights with a number of airlines, business growth and development, as well as, of course, the pandas. President Xi called it “panda diplomacy.”

Mayor London Breed takes a selfie with John Murphy during a walk along Irving Street in the Inner Sunset to meet voters during her reelection campaign in San Francisco on April 11, 2024. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

San Francisco’s had a hard time in the media nationally. Smash-and-grab videos and all that. Do you feel you have to overcome those perceptions?

We definitely are going to need to talk about the facts related to safety and what San Francisco has experienced, and what is actually the reality. At the height of some of the issues we had with anti-Asian hate, so many people have been surprised to know that there were 60 crimes, and half of those 60 were committed by one person. And right now, that person is facing the consequences. We’ve seen anti-Asian hate crimes reduced by over 80% here in our city. (KQED has not independently verified those statistics.)

You and the mayors of San José and San Diego are supporting a ballot measure to reform Proposition 47 (passed by voters in 2014, it reduced many non-violent crimes like drug possession from felonies to misdemeanors). But Gov. Newsom and most Democratic lawmakers in Sacramento don’t want anything on the ballot. Newsom thinks the Legislature can address it. Why are you going further on this than they are?

Well, it would be great if we had the support to do something in the Legislature to help address this. And I know that there are some retail theft changes and some other things that folks are talking about. But I also appreciate and respect the plans to make some adjustments to Prop. 47.

There has to be some consequences to behavior that yields harm to others. What we’re trying to do is a course correction. We’re not trying to stop, you know, the important criminal justice reforms. We move forward, but it’s important to make sure that we have the tools to hold, especially repeat offenders, accountable.

We’ve seen former Mayor Frank Jordan endorse Daniel Lurie for mayor. Art Agnos has endorsed Aaron Peskin. What about Willie Brown and Newsom — I’m sure you’d like to get both of their endorsements. Where are they?

We will be rolling out some significant endorsements very soon.

Mayor London Breed talks with Josie Azcona in Sheng Kee bakery during a walk in the Inner Sunset on April 11, 2024. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

And that might include the governor and another former mayor?

It might (smiles).

In the past, at least one trip to China was very controversial in terms of who funded it. Some people went to prison because of free trips and perks related to the trip. What do you think about that?

I’ve gone on trips in the past [and] the reporting requirements I have always honored. This trip is being paid for through the resources we raised privately from APEC (San Francisco hosted the group’s international summit last year, attended by President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping). Everyone is paying their own way. And so, our goal is to make sure that everything is above board. Everything will be appropriately reported. So I’m not concerned about that.

How many pandas are you going for?

Oh, I’ll take as many as I can get. But for now, two. So that they’re not lonely.

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