London Breed first mayor in 50 years from SF public school

Mayor-Elect London Breed stood beaming under City Hall’s gilded dome Wednesday morning, her right hand held high as she repeated the oath of office to become San Francisco’s 45th mayor.

Before a crowd of roughly a thousand supporters, Breed spoke directly to young San Franciscans with stories much like her own. “I want young people to know their opportunities will be brighter,” Breed promised, eliciting cheers from supporters on the Civic Center lawn. Among them sat Elisa Rae Yeung, 18, one of the many boots-on-the-ground volunteers who helped deliver her win.

Yeung rang phones and knocked on doors by the dozen in the Sunset District, a key mayoral battleground. The University of San Francisco freshman told me she was inspired by Breed’s speech at the late Mayor Ed Lee’s funeral, and felt a particular connection because of their shared roots in The City.

“Since I’m born and raised in San Francisco, and one of my parents is as well, what spoke to me the most is she says she wants people like her who are born and raised in San Francisco to continue to live there,” Yeung told me.

Elisa Rae Yeung at her alma mater, Raoul Wallenberg Traditional High School. Yeung, 18, worked on London Breed’s mayoral campaign. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Moreso than the cadre of past white and mostly male mayors who attended San Francisco’s fancy-pants private schools, or who came from relatively alien locales (the Texas-born Willie Brown, for instance, or the Washington state-born Lee), Breed’s story mirrors Yeung’s own.

Both are women of color who attended San Francisco public schools.

Yes, London will be our first black woman mayor, and her oft-repeated personal story has inspired many. But less discussed is that — in point of fact — Breed will be the first San Francisco mayor to have attended a San Francisco public high school in precisely 50 years.

Mayor John “Jack” Shelley, who helmed our foggy city for a single four-year term ending in 1968, attended Mission High School, according to biographical info compiled in the San Francisco Public Library San Francisco History Center. Since then, Mayor Frank Jordan has hailed from Sacred Heart High School, and Mayor Dianne Feinstein attended Convent of the Sacred Heart High School. The late Mayor George Moscone also hailed from a private school — St. Ignatius College Preparatory.

Now let me not denigrate those fair institutions — as uniquely San Franciscan as any — but with Breed’s inauguration, our public schools finally get their due.

Yeung gets it. “It’s actually really inspiring,” the young Breed supporter told me.

Of course, mayors have little direct authority over the San Francisco Unified School District. But to San Francisco natives who ask “Where did you go to high school?” as habitually as canines sniff derrieres, this is a factoid granting invaluable insight into our new top politico.

Breed attended Galileo High School, home of the Lions. Yeung attended one of my two alma maters, Raoul Wallenberg Traditional High School, home of the Bulldogs.

To learn more, I went straight to the source: Her yearbooks!

Galileo high school yearbook the “Telescope,” 1990, 1991 and 1992, years London Breed attended Galileo.

School secretary Bettie Grinnell has served Galileo High — now Galileo Academy of Science and Technology — since 1972. On Tuesday, she led me through its empty hallways to those holiest of high school books. It was a strange sensation — my brother, one of my best friends and father all attended Galileo but I haven’t set foot inside myself since I was a teenager sneaking in for mildly-nefarious reasons.

“London asked me not to publish her school photos from her yearbooks,” I told Grinnell as we sat down in the school office. She was mystified as to why. “I think she looks great in the yearbook, and she shouldn’t be so bashful!” Grinnell told me.

Indeed, the first photo we found in the 1992 edition of the Galileo Telescope was Breed in a very, very ’90s two-tone baggy jacket as she smiled alongside a dozen members of student government. She was a “student advisory council representative,” which is an obvious path to mayorship, right?

This was far from her only yearbook photo, which makes sense: The day before her inauguration, our new mayor told me she was also yearbook editor.

On page 17, is Breed’s senior photo in a strapless black dress, her bangs styled low over her forehead. On page 48, Breed sports a long yellow outfit with double breasted buttons — again, very ’90s — at the senior homecoming dance. Her earrings are gold hoops. “She was a popular person,” Grinnell recalled, seeing Breed hold her arms wide around friends in her homecoming dance photo. “You know that yourself,” Grinnell added. “She’s not shy.”

Breed’s gregarious nature launched her into many school activities: She played softball, joined the Black Student Union,and participated in the Black History Month assembly.

Perhaps the most revealing Breed factoid in her yearbook can be found on page 158, the senior pop polls. No, she didn’t win best dressed or biggest flirt (that was a senior by the name of Darnell Thompson, who I hope has carried on that tradition into adulthood). Prophetically, our new mayor won “most likely to succeed.”

Recounting London Breed’s high school career, tellingly, cast parallels to the high school career of Yeung.

Before she campaigned for Breed, Yeung was encouraged to go into politics by her high school AP government teacher, Bobbi Kezirian, and later ran for and won a race for senior class vice president. Her future career will mirror Breed’s too, Yeung said.

“I was really inspired by her, and one day, I hope,” she then caught herself hedging, stood up straight, and corrected herself, “I’m going to, actually, be a labor attorney and become District 1 supervisor.”

Yeung paused, and her face suddenly brimmed with confidence as a thought occurred to her. Her grin mirrored Breed’s inauguration day expression all too well.

“Maybe you’ll be covering a story of mine one day,” she said.

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at joe@sfexaminer.com, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at facebook.com/FitztheReporter.

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez
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