Here is an advance of the Q&A that will appear in the spring Genesis this April:
When Supervisor Mark Farrell '92 was sworn in as the city's 44th mayor on Jan. 23 after a vote by his fellow supervisors, it seemed another "only in San Francisco" moment.
When Mayor Farrell was elected to replace Acting Mayor London Breed, who was also serving as the President of the Board of Supervisors at the time, many were surprised, as Farrell had earlier declared he would not run for mayor.
It did, however, give Farrell a unique opportunity — a six-month window to tackle some of the city's perennial problems and to do so unaffected by shifting political winds. As he told reporters in the days following his swearing-in, knowing that he is ending his political career gives him the freedom to escape political compromises that can water down or delay solutions.
In early February, he sat down with Genesis Editor Paul Totah '75 in City Hall to talk about his goals for the next few months.
Q. Within a day after your being named mayor, you were on the scene of a fire on West Portal that affected three businesses. How does this paint a picture of the kind of politician you are and the kind of mayor you will be?
A. The most effective elected officials, whether on the Board of Supervisors or the mayor, are ones who spend less time inside City Hall and more time in the neighborhoods. Our small businesses are the heart and soul of neighborhood commercial corridors and I'll always do everything I can do to support them in times of success or times of stress.
Q. Does having only six months to serve as mayor offer an advantage in trying to fix problems that have plagued other mayors for decades – issues that include homelessness, congestion, crime and housing prices?
A. It's both an advantage and a disadvantage. There are longer-term projects that I won't be able to get over the goal line in half a year. At the same time, I have the luxury of not running a campaign. That means I can do what I think is in the best interest of San Francisco residents without the burden of politics. That is a unique opportunity that not many, if any, elected officials ever get.
At the same, the idea of solving a problem is a false notion. Whether you take on homelessness or crime, you need to make a significant difference in the lives of residents. One of the most successful programs to combat homelessness in San Francisco was started by Mayor Gavin Newsom and Police Chief Greg Suhr '76 —the Homeward Bound program. If the city can find a loved one on the other end of a phone line to take someone in, then the city will pay transportation and meals for that individual to get home.
The success ratio for these individuals is staggering compared to any other program San Francisco has ever initiated, with 70 to 80 percent of the participants still housed. Many of those individuals even found employment. Our goal has to be to move individuals off the street and onto their own two feet so that they may have better lives. This program, while wildly successful, is controversial for some people. However, I want to do things that work for San Francisco residents — for those we're trying to serve — and so this year I'm doubling the budget for Homeward Bound. I would not have been able to do that in any other circumstance, as I'm not running for reelection.
Q. Every time I venture downtown, I see more and more homeless camps. It seems that the number of people living on the street has skyrocketed.
A. Homelessness is one of the biggest problems we face. A dozen years ago, we had approximately 7,000 people living on the streets. Today there are 7,000 – the same number. Looking at those numbers from one perspective tells us that we are not doing enough, and I have been the loudest voice on the Board and now as mayor articulating that the status quo is unacceptable. However, what I would also suggest is that the programs and initiatives that San Francisco has undertaken over the past decade have actually worked to great success. We simply need to do more of them.
For example, Los Angeles in the last six years has seen its homeless population increase by 75 percent. Could you imagine the impact of that increase on the streets of San Francisco? The difference we've seen in our own city is that our homeless population in years past was largely hidden from plain view, especially under the freeways south of Market Street. Over the past decade, our South of Market area has been transformed by high-rises and a booming economy that has displaced thousands of previously forgotten residents, bringing them into neighborhoods for the first time and making the issue more visible to San Francisco residents.
Q. The other issue I hear spoken about is property crimes, especially car break-ins. Can you do anything in six months to address this?
A. Property crimes, along with homelessness, are the two issues I hear about the most, as they affect residents in every neighborhood of the city. Putting up with crime shouldn't be the price to pay to live or work in San Francisco. We have men and women in our police department who are some of the best officers in the nation. We just don't have enough resources on the street to combat property crime right now.
Over the past six months, Chief [William] Scott doubled foot patrols in neighborhoods and created a separate Property Crimes Unit. I asked him last week to put together an analysis of realistic staffing needs for his department as well as other departments involved in monitoring our streets — such as the Departments of Public Health and Public Works — those who deal with everything from mental health issues to picking up used needles on the street. We need an honest conversation about the real costs of what it takes to make San Franciscans feel safe in their own city. We owe that to our residents.
Q. Why the decision to close the door forever on politics? I understand for the short-term, wanting to spend time with your children. What about when they are grown?
A. I have a unique opportunity as the mayor for the first half of 2018 to govern without the burden of politics or any compromise in my positions due to campaigning or responding to other outside influences. I don't want to do anything to compromise that opportunity. I believe San Franciscans deserve a mayor who will only look out for their long-term best interests and those of the city. That includes my decision not to run for mayor this June and not to run for mayor in 2019.
I am looking forward to rejoining my firm in the private sector. I've been managing director at Thayer Ventures since co-founding the firm in 2009. The moment I was sworn in, I took an unpaid leave of absence that will continue until the next mayor is sworn in. I'm lucky because I love what I do outside of City Hall. Later in life, who knows what opportunity may present itself, but the reason I decided not to run in June is because we have three small children, and I want to enjoy every moment possible with them. I know in a blink of an eye they will be off to college.
Q. SI has been in the city almost as long as it has been part of the U.S., yet you are only the third graduate to serve as mayor. In my experience, SI grads are the men and women behind the scenes, serving in quiet yet effective ways — people like Al Cleary, a 1900 graduate of SI who served as the city's first chief administrative officer under Mayor Rossi, and Mike Farrah '85, a senior advisor to Mayor Newsom. Is that your take, too, or do you see things differently?
A. There are many ways to serve your community, whether in public office or otherwise. Being an elected official inside City Hall and serving as a member of a staff are different in some ways, but in many ways, we are part of the same team. I would argue that you can make an equal if not greater contribution to City Hall as a staff member. Still, being mayor is something uniquely different. It presents a rare opportunity that I will not take for granted as I represent residents of the city.
Q. How do your Ignatian values influence how you see yourself as a public servant?
A. Ignatian values influence everything I do in life. They are the biggest part of who I am. What I came to value so much about my experience at SI was how the school did such an amazing job of instilling the notion of being "men and women for and with others" into the student body. It's not a catchphrase; it's who we became. My time in public service is simply an extension of that and a unique opportunity to express those values. I am an Ignatian and Jesuit-educated through and through, from my time at SI to my years at LMU. My family even attends church at St. Agnes, which is a Jesuit parish served by pastor Ray Allender, S.J. '62, who was also my high school baseball chaplain. Being an Ignatian is simply who I am and I'm very proud of it.