San Francisco Elects Its First Black Female Mayor

By Sara Boboltz
Black Voices

London Breed (center) won a tight June 5 election and will be San Francisco’s first black female mayor. (Photo by Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

London Breed will not be the first female mayor of San Francisco. (That was Democrat Dianne Feinstein, in 1978.) Nor will she be the first black mayor of the city. (Democrat Willie Brown claims that title.)

After her victory on Wednesday ― after a full week of ballot counting ― Breed will be the first San Francisco mayor to combine those two identities.

She will ascend to the mayor’s office at a precipitous time: Some of the city’s natives feel their historically diverse home becoming less and less so. For longtime black residents, a shortage of affordable housing and accessible jobs, combined with a skyrocketing cost of living driven by Silicon Valley’s affluent startup crowd, has put strain on the community.

Many have left.

“I can go several hours without seeing another black person, depending on where I am and what I’m doing,” San Francisco Black Community Matters President Shaun Haines told HuffPost. “When I was young, that was not an issue or a concern because everywhere I went, there was somebody I could identify with.”

He said the city “attracts people from all across this entire world,” creating a population that melds global cultures; a third of its residents are Asian American. Yet for people who have lived in San Francisco all their lives, he said, “we’re also losing a portion of our diversity.”

In the June 5 election, Breed beat out her chief competitor, Mark Leno (a fellow Democrat who would have been the city’s first openly gay mayor), and two other candidates. Leno conceded the neck-and-neck race on Wednesday.

As the president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Breed became acting mayor in December after the sudden death from cardiac arrest of Mayor Ed Lee, a Democrat who had served in the role since 2011. She was replaced as interim mayor after announcing her candidacy to fill the rest of his term, which ends in 2020. She will likely take the oath of office in July, and another election will be held next year for a full mayoral term.

To Black Young Democrats President D’Vonte Graham, her election is an inspiring moment for the black community.

“Every kid is looking up today,” Graham told HuffPost. “Especially if you’re a black kid in San Francisco, with everything that’s been going on in national politics, I just believe they’re dreaming a little bit bigger today.”

The city’s black population soared in the first half of the 20th century as people left the South for greener pastures. For a time, San Francisco was home to the “Harlem of the West,” otherwise known as the city’s electric Fillmore District, where you might have spotted Dizzy Gillespie or John Coltrane.

Yet the black population has slowly dropped off in San Francisco since the 1970s, when it stood at 13 percent. Now just about 5 percent of the city’s residents are black, according to local Fox affiliate KTVU. Haines puts the estimate even lower, around 3 percent.

Breed is one of them.

Like most of the city’s black residents, she grew up in public housing. She recalled the experience in a column for the San Francisco Examiner, remembering watching her friends move away as the city routinely pushed out its poorest residents through policies or rising rents as it redeveloped housing in low-income areas.

“I’ve lived in poverty. I’ve seen my friends, my community forced from the city I call home,” Breed wrote, touting her record of working to make housing more affordable. Her efforts included full-throated support for SB 827, a now-stalled bill that would give developers permission to build more affordable housing complexes near public transit regardless of existing zoning rules.

San Francisco is one of the nation’s most expensive housing markets. With its median home price climbing to $1.61 million in April, plenty of residents have been priced out.

Median income in the city has also soared ― at least for those who work in the tech industry. In an effort to allow more people in the area to enjoy Silicon Valley’s prosperity, Breed would like to see the tech industry provide more jobs to native San Franciscans.

The clock will soon start ticking on the mayor-elect’s shortened term. However, Haines and Graham see Breed as a person who can bring all sides to the table, regardless of race, status or income, to alleviate inequality across San Francisco.

“You have everybody under the rainbow in your city, and you have to create a message that resonates with a majority, and she was capable of doing that,” Haines said.