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Farrell takes leave of absence from venture capital gig to serve as SF mayor

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Mayor Mark Farrell on Tuesday announced additional funding for the Adult Probation Department to hire five probation officers to confiscate firearms from gun owners convicted of a felony or a violent misdemeanor. (File photo by Mira Laing/Special to S.F. Examiner)

San Francisco’s interim Mayor Mark Farrell is no longer working two jobs — something he had done the entire time he was serving as the District 2 supervisor.

The venture capitalist went on sabbatical from his job at Thayer Ventures, where he is the managing director, after being named Tuesday the interim mayor by the Board of Supervisors. The firm invests in technology companies that focus on the travel and hospitality industries.

The company’s website posted news of his hiatus, also stating he plans to return once his stint as mayor ends in June when the winner of among eight candidates will replace him. Farrell also confirmed his temporary leave on Friday.

“On January 23, 2018, Mark was elected to serve as the interim Mayor of the city of San Francisco,” Thayer Ventures’ website reads. “He will be on sabbatical fulfilling these duties through June, 2018, and will return to Thayer full time in July 2018.”

Farrell had no choice. The City Charter requires that he must serve as mayor full-time and “and shall not devote time or attention to any other occupation or business activity.” The mayor’s salary is $326,527 annually. A board member’s salary is $121,606 annually.

SEE RELATED: Supervisors defend pick of Mark Farrell as interim mayor

“I am receiving no [private sector] income until the next mayor is sworn in,” Farrell said. When asked if it was a hard decision, he said,”Not at all. It’s the rules.”

Farrell has not sold off his stock holdings in the tech industry, he said Friday. He said they do not present a conflict of interest. “None whatsoever. Everything is publicly disclosed,” Farrell said.

The rule of not working a second job doesn’t exist for members of the Board of Supervisors.

Farrell’s second job as a venture capitalist did keep him from voting on short-term rental legislation in recent years.

He didn’t have a legal conflict, but with an investment in a business that engages in short-term rentals in other cities he wanted to avoid the “appearance of a conflict,” Farrell said at a November 2016 board meeting. He added then that the business “does not do business with Airbnb.”

Farrell catapulted to the most powerful position at City Hall Tuesday when the board named him interim mayor, taking the position of acting mayor away from Board President London Breed, who had held the post since Mayor Ed Lee died on Dec. 12. And the moderate supervisor did so in a surprising way. He had the five-member progressive bloc vote for him along with Supervisor Jeff Sheehy.

Breed supporters decried the decision as racist and sexist. Breed is a black woman who grew up in public housing, while Farrell is a white male who lives in the wealthiest part of town.

The progressive board members who voted for the moderate Farrell blamed angel investor Ron Conway for their move. Conway, who has invested in such companies like Airbnb, was Lee’s prominent backer and pushed pro-tech policies, and has spent considerable amounts of money rewarding those who support his agenda and penalizing those who do not. Conway threw his support behind Breed when she became acting mayor, as had former Mayor Willie Brown.

Farrell, however, has long been aligned with that same tech agenda and has benefited from Conway’s spending power. Conway donated $49,999 to Farrell’s Proposition Q homeless encampment measure on the November 2016 ballot. Other tech moguls contributed as well.

Homeless advocates decried that measure as mean-spirited and politically motivated. Farrell had long been rumored to be running for mayor in November 2019, but Lee’s death led to the June 5 mayor’s race which Farrell did not file to run for.

The difference, presumably, is that Farrell isn’t a candidate for mayor and Breed is. And progressives, like Supervisor Aaron Peskin — who helped Farrell become interim mayor — support mayoral candidate and former state Sen. Mark Leno. Leno made clear he wanted Breed out so that no one in the contest had the power of incumbency.

One faction of San Francisco’s left-leaning crowd, however, is wary of Farrell being interim mayor, even as they called for Breed’s ouster and a caretaker mayor, someone who wouldn’t run in the June election. San Francisco Progressive Alliance, which includes Berniecrats, posted a statement on Facebook Thursday expressing its concerns.

“Members of our alliance, led by many women, LGBTQ leaders and people of color, advocated strongly for women of color to hold the caretaker position. We are deeply concerned about the powerful corporate interests behind Mark Farrell, and with his harmful positions on Sanctuary City, raids and other attacks on homeless people, and his pro-corporate, trickle-down economic agenda,” the statement read.

Farrell tweeted Friday his commitment to uphold San Francisco’s sanctuary city laws and his spokesperson said he planned to meet with immigration advocates Friday.

Also Friday, Farrell said he will continue existing strategies to addresses homeless encampments but also look for improvements.

“We are going to look at everything. I am very confident in Jeff Kositsky [the director of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing tapped by the late mayor]. What I want to do is follow the direction and legacy of Mayor Ed Lee. But we are always going to look for room for improvement in our city government and I think San Francisco residents deserve that,” Farrell said.

Ron Conway’s nonprofit advocacy group sf.citi sent out an email announcing Farrell’s new position, with a photo of Farrell with Lee.

The item reads, “Mark Farrell is a long-time advocate and supporter of the tech community, who has worked with sf.citi on various projects over the years such as the Bay Area’s Commuter Shuttle Program and the Free Wifi in the Parks program. sf.citi congratulates Mayor Farrell on his success and are confident in his leadership of our city.”

Farrell wouldn’t say whether Conway contacted him following the outcome of Tuesday’s vote or before.

“I have spoken with a lot of individuals both before the vote and after the vote. I don’t want to comment on one particular person,” Farrell said.

He also declined to say if Conway’s behavior played a factor in his decision to accept the nomination for interim mayor.

Some clarity as to where Farrell is politically following the deal cut with progressives over becoming interim mayor is expected to come soon.

As mayor, Farrell will appoint someone to fill the District 2 seat he vacated. Farrell reiterated Friday his decision will come “sooner rather than later.” The election for that seat is in November.

“I have started outreach to community leaders. I will be starting to meet with them over the next few days as well as potential candidates,” he said.

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