Supervisors mull ‘caretaker’ mayors to replace London Breed in January

Acting Mayor London Breed may not hang onto her gig very long, if some members of the Board of Supervisors have their way.

Though The City has hardly had time to mourn the death of Mayor Ed Lee — may he rest in peace — the supervisors are already considering who may lead San Francisco during a tumultuous election cycle.

Lee’s death accelerated the November 2019 mayor’s race to an incredibly early June 2018, catapulting the potential for early political conflict.

To avoid giving any one mayoral candidate a leg up in the race — including rumored candidates like Breed and supervisors Mark Farrell and Jane Kim — the board may vote to instate a “caretaker” mayor, who would pledge not to run.

From left: Former Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, former Mayor Art Agnos, former City Controller Ed Harrington and former Mayor Willie Brown have all been floated as possible “caretaker” mayors in the wake of Ed Lee’s passing. (Jessica Christian and Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner; Courtesy USF)

Former mayors Art Agnos and Willie Brown are two names being discussed behind the scenes as possible caretaker mayors, according to multiple background sources, as are former City Controller Ed Harrington and former Assemblymember Tom Ammiano.

All have leadership experience, and two — Agnos and Harrington — were names floated for caretaker mayor in 2011, when Gavin Newsom left the Mayor’s Office for greener pastures. They’re also a bit — how can I put it? — older, which slims the chances they’d run for mayor and spoil the chances of other rumored candidates.

Politicos across the spectrum declined to go into details, citing a need to respect Lee’s recent death.

“I have to say, our responsibility right now is to show that we’re unified, that we can govern, that The City is going to be stable, and mourn the passing of Mayor Lee,” Supervisor Aaron Peskin told me on Wednesday.

“There are no names I’ve heard that you haven’t heard, ranging from the absurd to the interesting,” Peskin said.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” he added. “Right now, our job is to be unified and show we can mind the store.”


Some supervisors may take issue with Breed’s newfound power because it gives her an inside track in the June 2018 race, said Jim Ross, a local political consultant.

“The best way to be elected to being mayor is to be the mayor,” Ross said.

That means the five progressive board members — Peskin, Kim, Sandra Fewer, Norman Yee, and Hillary Ronen — may want to appoint someone else to act as a caretaker mayor, blocking Breed’s ascension to Room 200.

That would leave the progressives deadlocked with the five moderate supervisors, who would presumably vote for Breed. Breed cannot vote for herself, so progressives would need to peel off one moderate supervisor to overcome a deadlock.

“Can any of them count to six? That’s the first question before we talk about any caretaker. The board is split,” said David Latterman, a local political consultant who last worked for state Sen. Scott Wiener’s campaign.

To vote for a new caretaker, Latterman said, the board would need to draw a line in the sand.

“In order for there to be a caretaker — forget about a real contender — someone has to make the conscious decision that they do not want London to have that position,” he said. “Six people have to say, ‘No, London, we don’t want you in that role.”

Farrell may be one of those people. He’s heavily rumored to be a mayoral candidate, which may be enough incentive to side with the progressives. But the accelerated June 2018 election schedule gives Farrell far less time to campaign, and polls shared on background show his voter name-recognition is sorely lagging.

That’s more than enough reason for Farrell to have a change of heart over his mayoral run over the winter break, potentially leading him to coalesce behind Breed.

But here’s the problem: Jan. 9 is also the last day to file for a mayoral run in the June 2018 election. If the supervisors appoint someone as caretaker mayor on their first day back from recess, they could give a leg up to someone who — for all they know — may also file to run for mayor that day. (Recall the famously broken promise of our dearly departed mustachioed mayor in 2011.)

That means the vote may not take place until Jan. 16 at the earliest, if it happens at all.

Breed has until January to figure out her next move. Still, she’s staying quiet about her intentions.

On Wednesday afternoon, a gaggle of reporters asked Breed if she would run for mayor during a gun buyback event at the United Playaz on Howard Street.

“I haven’t even thought about that,” Breed said before a row of cameras. She said she’s still mourning Lee’s death.

While I’m sure that’s true, I also know she’s been inquiring around town about her potential mayor’s race for months. Most politicos agree Breed is almost guaranteed to run for mayor.

The only question is: Will her colleagues yank the mayoral rug out from under her before she runs?

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

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