London Breed, San Francisco’s New Mayor-Elect

London Breed

When she’s sworn in July 11, London Breed will become the first elected mayor of San Francisco who is black and a woman, and the only female mayor of one of the country’s 15 largest cities.

She’ll preside over a city where only about one out of every 20 people is black, compared with about one out of every seven in 1970. Black people have been moving away in large numbers in recent decades as housing costs have skyrocketed, fueled largely by incoming tech industry workers. Breed, 43, was born and raised in the city—she grew up living with her grandmother in public housing in the Fillmore District, a black neighborhood that used to be known for its jazz clubs. She’s acutely aware of how the city has changed.

“In San Francisco, I think about this school, I think about the people I went to school with and I think about the fact that many of them don’t live in this city anymore,” Breed said during an appearance shortly after her election victory at the Rosa Parks Elementary School, which she attended as a child, according to the San Francisco Examiner. “We have to build more housing. We have to build more housing. We have to build more housing, and I will be relentless in my pursuit to get the job done.”

Breed defeated two other progressive Democrats to win an election in which she was commonly called a “moderate,” though few of her positions differed significantly from those of Jane Kim or Mark Leno. Her opponents teamed up during the race, encouraging voters to rank the two of them ahead of Breed on the ranked-choice ballot because they thought she was too close to tech industry billionaire Ron Conway, who had endorsed her and helped fund her campaign. When the San Francisco Chronicle endorsed her in April, the paper praised her pragmatism: “One candidate stands out for both her commitment to address the concerns she shares with her opponents and her willingness to listen to competing arguments and come up with adjustments that achieve a progressive ideal in a more workable and reasonable manner.”

Breed gained legislative experience working for the city as executive director of the African American Art and Culture Complex, which she did for a decade before running for and winning a seat on the Board of Supervisors— San Francisco’s version of a city council—in 2012. She became its president in 2015. Along the way she got to know former Mayor Willie Brown (she worked as an intern in the Office of Housing and Neighborhood Services during his tenure) and California Senator Kamala Harris, who was San Francisco’s district attorney, and she considers both mentors.

When Mayor Ed Lee died of a heart attack last December, Breed was named interim mayor because of her position as president of the Board of Supervisors, but when she announced her plans to run in the election, the Board made a controversial decision to replace her, thinking her brief incumbency might give her too much of a leg up.

Now that she’s won the office back, Breed tells the New York Times that her priorities are cleaning up the city and dealing with the homelessness problem, as well as focusing on efforts to increase the city’s affordable housing stock. “I’m a native San Franciscan—I grew up in some of the most challenging of circumstances,” Breed told local reporters last week. “I think the message that this sends to the next generation of young people growing up in this city [is] that no matter where you come from … you can do anything you want to do.”