“You’re racist! … This is war!”
The cries of a handful of black women echoed under our gilded City Hall dome Tuesday after a startling vote to replace London Breed with Supervisor Mark Farrell as mayor.
Headlines in the New York Times and the Washington Post, and even the conservative Breitbart News and black-focused publication The Root, expressed the rage some felt when a black woman from public housing was replaced by a white venture capitalist — in San Francisco!
How racist. How sexist. How hypocritical and conniving.
Those accusations, and more, were hurled with a muscular arm of righteousness reaching back — way back — to the 1950s mass evictions of black San Franciscans during the “urban renewal” of the Western Addition, to the recent grief after the San Francisco Police Department shot and killed Mario Woods, and landed at the feet of self-described progressive supervisors who sought to oust The City’s first black woman mayor.
“San Francisco dislikes Black women so much that they appointed a white conservative to be the caretaker mayor,” opined Alicia Garza, a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, on Twitter.
Yet, those claims of racism and sexism also went largely unexamined. Who in our prim, sensitive city has the moral authority, or will, to speak to that alleged oppression?
I decided I’ve had it up to my neck with the prognosticators. Ultimately, it’s most important we listen to our city’s black women; that’s why only those who identify as black women are quoted hereafter.
Some women who know Breed felt passionately she was robbed of her mayorship. Others believed her own record damned her.
JIM CROW SAN FRANCISCO
Local activist Mattie Scott told me her family fled New Orleans in 1965 to escape the Jim Crow south. At the vote to oust Breed, she felt its shadow chill her again.
“This message sends to black women that we’re not good enough, no matter how hard we’ve tried,” Scott said. The vote to oust Breed was especially outrageous, she said, considering her colleagues voted her in as Board of Supervisors president — twice.
Scott, whose son was a friend of Breed’s before he was fatally shot in 1996, is the executive director of the group Healing for our Families & our Nation, formed to help the families of gun-violence victims. She praised Breed for reinstituting a $250,000 reward to anyone providing tips that leads to the conviction of those committing gun crimes.
Scott spoke in support of Breed at City Hall the night Farrell became mayor.
“It was a stab in the heart for all of us, to be truthful,” she said. “I feel like it was racial profiling by the Board of Supervisors. I really do.”
TENANTS LEFT BEHIND
For Scott, it seems as though Breed carried her through a fire. Fillmore District resident Mary Watkins, however, feels Breed left her to burn.
Originally from Mississippi, Watkins, now 47, is a retired hotel worker and longtime tenant of the Midtown Park Apartments, a 139-unit, low-income housing complex at the corner of Geary Boulevard and Divisadero Street.
The City bought the site out of foreclosure in 1968 and, for a time, allowed tenants to manage their housing through a nonprofit. However, The City and Mercy Housing have proposed demolishing Midtown in 2020. For years, Watkins and others begged Breed for help.
“I’m not saying anyone was going to make a miracle,” Watkins said, acknowledging that, even with herculean effort, Breed may have still failed.
Yet, Breed missed meeting after meeting with tenants. “All we asked of her was to come,” Watkins said.
Phyllis Bowie, a 24-year Midtown resident and San Francisco native, said Breed broke promises to help along the way.
That’s the Breed who Bowie feels was ousted as mayor.
“Is it sexist and racist she was voted out? No, no. You have people in your district you’re not serving,” Bowie said. She said Breed didn’t have time to help Midtown, let alone to serve both as Board of Supervisors president and acting mayor at once.
“London Breed is bold, beautiful, and brilliant,” said Francee Covington, a retired journalist with KGO, KPIX and KQED who now serves as a San Francisco fire commissioner.
Covington has lived in District 5, which Breed represents, for 40 years. Neighbors there voted Breed into office twice, she pointed out.
When progressive supervisors alleged Breed was backed by the unsavory tech billionaire Ron Conway, who invested in Airbnb and Google and has a vested interest in the tech industry’s regulation in The City, Covington didn’t buy it.
“How is it possible that a millionaire — the richest person on the Board of Supervisors, by far — is selected when you’re complaining about people with money?” Covington said.
She was unconcerned that Conway spent thousands on Breed’s previous campaigns or whether he threatened supervisors into backing Breed, as they have publicly claimed.
Covington believes “unintentional bias” drove the supervisors’ machinations to oust Breed.
“It’s so ingrained in the society that so many people don’t understand they have these biases, against women and women of color,” she said.
‘INSULTING’ RACE DISCUSSION
Yayne Abeba grew up in the Haight-Ashbury and actively campaigned for Breed’s political opponents because she believes Breed left the Fillmore and other parts of District 5 in the dust.
“One of the biggest things you notice is black-owned businesses are shuttering at an alarming rate,” she said. For Abeba, too many have focused on Breed’s ethnicity.
“I don’t approve of Farrell being put in as a caretaker mayor,” she said, “but what I have seen in London since her first campaign for supervisor is she plays the race card when she thinks she’s losing.”
Abeba’s list of grievances is long: Breed was among the last to call for SFPD Chief Greg Suhr’s ouster following the police shootings of black and brown people; Abeba also blamed Breed for failing to revitalize the Fillmore neighborhood after the flight of Yoshi’s, a neighborhood jazz club.
Most of all, Abeba decried Breed for failing to help Iris Canada, a 100-year-old black woman who died a month after her eviction from the neighborhood last year.
“No one has brought up [Breed’s] record at all,” Abeba said. “As a black woman, that’s insulting to me.”
BLACK S.F. WILL FIGHT BACK
Andrea Shorter feels revolution in the air.
“You have a lot of people, not just folks in City Hall that day, that were angry,” said Shorter, a consultant with a long record in San Francisco politics.
Phylicia Jones, founder of the Justice 4 Mario Woods Coalition and a union leader, echoed Shorter’s surprise at the progressive supervisors’ claims.
“Mark Farrell goes against everything they believe in,” she said. “Why would they vote for someone like that? He’s huge on [the police union] and San Francisco police. He’s anti-homeless.”
Jones dismissed concerns that Conway’s money influenced Breed’s politics.
“Even if London does not win, whoever sits in Room 200 [the Mayor’s Office], you better believe Ron Conway would sit across that desk,” Jones said.
Shorter recalled the 10 young girls who accompanied Breed when she filed with the Department of Elections to run for mayor in January. Photos showed the young girls, some of whom were black, smiling wide and clapping for a mayor who looked like them.
“Those little girls will still look up to London,” Shorter said. And, they will be galvanized.
“That this was not acceptable,” she said. “It was an affront. And it was offensive. And I think people will respond.”