Today, the Board of Supervisors will discuss — and potentially proceed with — appointing someone to supplant London Breed as acting mayor of San Francisco until June. It’s a terrible idea. Here are eight reasons why:
1. A “caretaker” mayor is accountable to no one.
Once installed by the Board, the “caretaker” could close homeless shelters, inflate a bouncey house in the Mayor’s Office and appoint college drinking buddies to run Muni. And we would never have anything to say about it, because an unelected caretaker will never face the voters, never again need board ordainment. If that bad idea sounds familiar, it’s because the voters of San Francisco just rejected the very same concept in the last election, 2016’s Proposition D.
2. Who is this mysterious sage supposed to be?
Seriously, the board could nominate and appoint a mayor today — anyone in The City: your cousin Larry, Norman Yee, that Lyft driver who likes Creed. Whom do the progressive supervisors want to be our mayor? I’m fairly close to the issue, and I have no idea.
Doesn’t it seem a bit odd and undemocratic for 850,000 people to be left in the dark until the day of the vote? “Nice to meet you. I’m told you’re our mayor now?”
3. London Breed is the most democratic choice.
No unelected bureaucrat or anonymous caretaker has the level of democratic support that the President of the Board of Supervisors does. Breed was twice elected supervisor by the voters of her district, and board president by her colleagues. She has been carefully vetted and chosen, by voters and the supervisors who represent them. Our mayor during this unexpected transitional period ought to be the person with the most legitimate, democratic reason for being there.
4. Breed is arguably the most qualified person.
The board president runs a city department, serves on the Capital Planning and State Legislative committees, assigns supervisors to their committees, is the first to see all new legislation, works closely with the mayor and mayor’s staff and speaks for The City when the mayor is unavailable. As board president for the last three years, Breed is eminently qualified to manage our government now. And by the way, she’s been doing a pretty good job for the last six weeks.
5. Installing a different mayor would be highly destabilizing.
Deposing Acting Mayor Breed and installing a caretaker would mean San Francisco could have four different mayors in a six-month period (Ed Lee, Breed, caretaker and winner of the June special election). This would be tremendously disruptive to city services and the people, nonprofits and private entities who rely on them, and make it very difficult for The City to complete its long-term labor negotiations, public safety and transit improvements and budget and staffing plans.
6. Breed is serving exactly as the voters intended.
The City’s charter, as mandated by the voters, is very clear that the president of the Board of Supervisors becomes acting mayor if the mayor passes away. The Administrative Code reinforces this succession.
When Breed’s colleagues unanimously re-elected her board president last year, they did so knowing she would be called to serve if anything happened to the mayor. And as City Attorney Dennis Herrera reiterated last month: “The Board of Supervisors may, but does not have to, appoint” someone else to serve now.
7. Temporarily serving as acting mayor and board president is not a conflict of interest.
It is precisely what the voters established in the charter; it is common democratic practice; and it has been happening for the past six weeks, not to the detriment of city stability, but to its benefit.
In parliamentary governments, the prime minister is a district-elected member of Parliament and serves as both the legislative and executive leader for the country. The American vice president also serves as president of the Senate. And in many other American cities, the mayor sits on the city council and holds both voting and veto powers.
San Francisco mayors and boards always overlap. Mayor Lee appointed two of the board’s current members. The City Charter gives the mayor authority to join and speak at any board meeting. And supervisors serve as acting mayor all the time, occasionally signing their own legislation.
8. What would it say if progressive supervisors removed Breed?
Do they really want to unseat an African-American woman because she “can’t have two jobs at once”? Is that the message San Francisco wants to send? We just marched for women on Saturday, only to depose one on Tuesday?
Some may write me off as biased. But they can’t ignore the voters who established Breed’s service in the charter, the unanimous vote re-electing her to this successor role, the editorial boards of the San Francisco Chronicle and Bay Area Reporter who agree she should remain mayor and the thousands of women who, as Christine Pelosi and Lateefah Simon wrote, are watching and will remember.
Conor Johnston is a cannabis consultant and former chief of staff to Board of Supervisors President London Breed. The views here are his own.
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