A group of people standing in front of an american flag.
Mark Farrell is sworn in as interim mayor of San Francisco by City Attorney Dennis Herrera, as he stands with his wife and children at City Hall after being voted interim mayor by the board of supervisors, Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018, in San Francisco, Calif. (Santiago Mejia/San Francisco Chronicle via AP)

Once — and future? — mayor Mark Farrell is today lifting the loose veil that had somewhat obscured his long-in-the-works mayoral campaign. 

“I do not believe San Francisco can afford another four years under Mayor London Breed’s failed leadership,” said the 44th mayor of San Francisco, in a broadside against the 45th mayor of San Francisco at the onset of his campaign to become the 46th mayor of San Francisco. 

Breed, Farrell says, “is a mayor without a vision for San Francisco. … Part of the embarrassment of San Francisco is this mayor throwing spaghetti up against the wall and seeing what sticks.” Not much has stuck, in Farrell’s estimation. In the nearly six years since he left City Hall Room 200, he says, “I have watched San Francisco crumble.” 

Farrell’s announcement was timed to not compete with Super Bowl fallout (and to allow city residents a day to decompress and nurse their postgame hangovers). He released a number of policy positions he said would right the ship he accused Breed of allowing to founder. 

His policy proposals focus on the San Francisco issues that have long bedeviled this city but, in recent years, have become something of a municipal and even national obsession: Rampant property crime; shanty towns, overt drug use, antisocial behavior and filthy streets; and the one new malady affecting San Francisco, an entire downtown full of vacant office space. Farrell’s specific proposals include

  • Dismissing police chief Bill Scott on day one and “flooding” the police academy with new recruits; 
  • A “zero-tolerance approach and policy for all crime in San Francisco;”
  • Clearing all city tent encampments within his first year of office;
  • Shifting from a housing-first to a shelter-first approach to homelessness;
  • Creating tax incentives for businesses that bring workers back downtown. 

Providing more resources and support for law enforcement is the backbone of Farrell’s platform. Farrell has complex notions of how to begin downtown’s metamorphosis but, he says, no plan to resurrect San Francisco’s moribund FiDi will succeed until businesses and their workforces feel comfortable traversing its streets. Law-enforcement solutions are like sand at a Baker Beach picnic; they get into everything. 

A bolstered investment in law enforcement is a message San Francisco mayoral candidates are betting that put-upon and uneasy voters want to hear. And it’s one Farrell is uniquely well-positioned to deliver. 

“Public safety could not be happier with Farrell,” said former police union spokesman Nathan Ballard in 2018, after the Board of Supervisors supplanted Acting Mayor Breed and tapped the erstwhile District 2 supe to serve as a caretaker mayor for six months following the death of Mayor Ed Lee

“He has always been the one supervisor they don’t have to lobby; he understands all their issues,” Ballard said. 

Mark Farrell, seen here with London Breed in a 2018 photo. The latter is now San Francisco’s incumbent mayor, while the former is running to unseat her.

“Chief Scott,” says Farrell, “is a good man. I respect him personally.” But the numbers don’t lie: Hundreds of his cops have left the police force in the past five years, and Farrell says Scott needs to do the same. 

And that goes for the mayor, too: “It’s not rocket science to project retirements and attrition from the police department and understand how many officers you need to recruit to backfill every departure,” Farrell says. “This mayor has not done that. The time this mayor has presided over has been one of the worst in public safety history in San Francisco.” 

Mark Farrell is 49 years old and a city native; within his living memory, Dan White gunned down Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone. More germane: The violent crime rate in the 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s make the present resemble a child’s experiment. National reporters may flock to San Francisco to write about crime and dystopian scenes, but the California county with the highest homicide rate, believe it or not, is Merced. The murder rate there is a shade less than twice as high as San Francisco’s. As we’ve written before, while an individual San Franciscan’s feeling of unease or safety is a subjective matter, San Francisco has, objectively, rarely been safer

During the recall campaign against since-ousted District Attorney Chesa Boudin, there were ample statistical analyses revealing this. As well as the stubborn fact that the San Francisco Police Department registered an arrest in roughly every 16th reported property crime, which surely outweighs any hand-waving over the DA purportedly not charging enough or seriously enough. 

Breed and others downplayed these statistics then. But, now that Boudin has been banished to academia and it’s the mayor who’s facing the wrath of the voters, she and her allies are brandishing statistics that reveal the city’s crime situation is on the mend. 

“Blood is in the water. Politicians are seeing that London Breed is in real trouble.” 

Political strategist Jim ross

You know what? Those statistics are accurate. But, thanks in part to the mayor’s behavior in 2022, San Franciscans in 2024 may be inured to statistics — or any form of evidence-based analysis. “Mayor Breed can throw out all the statistics she wants,” says Farrell. “I encourage everyone to walk or drive across San Francisco and ask people how they feel.” 

In short, Mayor Breed has the same problem regarding the perception of crime and disorder that President Joseph Biden does regarding the perception of a bum economy (but, unlike Biden, Breed has some personal culpability in this). When you ask San Francisco voters how they feel, they’ll tell you they don’t feel so good. About this city. Or its mayor. And everyone believes the statistics and evidence-based analysis regarding that: Breed’s approval rating, for a six-year incumbent, is atrocious. 

When asked what Farrell’s imminent entry into the race indicated, longtime Bay Area political strategist Jim Ross replied “Blood is in the water. Politicians are seeing that London Breed is in real trouble.” 

A man in a blue shirt standing in front of a building.
Mark Farrell, the 44th mayor of San Francisco, has launched a broadside on successor London Breed, the 45th mayor of San Francisco, in hopes of becoming the 46th mayor of San Francisco. Credit: Eli Turner

What, exactly, does it mean to have a “zero-tolerance policy” for all crime in San Francisco? Will cops be stationed outside the Horseshoe Tavern in Farrell’s native Marina to bust inebriates for public intoxication as they stumble out at closing time? 

In a word: No. When asked to enumerate, Farrell talks about car break-ins, garage thefts and chain drugstores being looted. So, we need more police. But San Francisco cops, again, have an abysmal clearance rate on property crimes, have a decades-in-the-making reputation for failing to do follow-up investigations, and have spawned an entire subgenre of news article in which they either refuse to involve themselves in property crimes taking place right in front of them or blow off citizen sleuths who’ve been forced to track down their own stolen property. 

When asked if we need more officers or more from our officers, Farrell responds, “we need both.” But he puts the blame for any sort of blue malaise not on the cops, but on elected officials. 

“The fault lies not with our police officers, but with City Hall for not giving them funding and support to do their jobs,” he says. “We need to grow our police force back to what it was when I was mayor. They will be able to do their jobs as they’d want to do.” 

tents on 19th street
Tents on 19th Street, Aug. 12, 2021. Mark Farrell has vowed to, if elected, clear all major encampments in the first year of his term. Photo by Walter Mackins

Switching from a housing-first to a shelter-first homeless policy? That’d be a big deal. A big, big deal. The city is presently being sued due to its propensity to sweep homeless residents off the streets without offering them viable housing or shelter. The scuttlebutt of this lawsuit, in spite of its plaintiffs’ wishes, might be the city beefing up its available shelter space. At the expense of housing.  

Farrell would want this. “We will never have enough money to build permanent affordable housing for everyone who is homeless and everyone who will come to San Francisco in the future,” he says. “There will never be enough tax dollars to support that. To continue down that path is Sisyphus rolling a rock up a hill.” 

San Francisco is a town with no shortage of hills, but that’s not how Farrell rolls. The sidewalks, he says, are for everyone. “We have to be more aggressive about offering shelter and housing,” he says. “But, more than that, if people do reject that, we have to be aggressive about getting them off the streets and taking their tents away.” 

Nobody is disputing that the city can do this, lawsuit or no lawsuit. 

“I believe we need to shift our priority to get people off the street by first focusing on shelter. It’s cheaper and easier to build,” Farrell says. “Getting homeless people off the streets has a dual benefit of not just cleaning up the sidewalks, but getting people into a condition where they might be able to seek help, and get better, and get up on their own two feet. This is the vision I have for San Francisco.” 

A collage featuring Mark Farrell in a suit.
Campaign strategists are happy to tell mayoral contenders, from left, Mark Farrell, Daniel Lurie and Ahsha Safaí that a $1M Independent Expenditure campaign imparting an “Anyone But Mayor London Breed” message would drive the incumbent into the ground. Or the three aspirants may rip into one another like crabs in a barrel. Or both. Photos, from left, by Eli Turner, Xueer Lu and Joe Eskenazi

What can we expect, now that Mark Farrell is officially in the race? Among other things, a number of the heavily funded BigMoneySF political pressure groups proliferating in San Francisco may begin going his way. These outfits are largely bankrolled by wealthy businessmen and VCs, and Farrell is one of their own. The 501(c)(4) TogetherSF Action is run by Farrell’s former staffers, and has been — only somewhat humorously — referred to as the Farrell Administration in Exile. Farrell’s wife serves on the board of directors of the 501(c)(3) TogetherSF.

It would be more than a little surprising if TogetherSF Action doesn’t throw down for its own returning King Aragorn. And more will follow. 

It would also be surprising if Farrell doesn’t win the support of the building trades. The jocular, back-slapping former mayor and ex-collegiate baseball pitcher surely expects to close the deal in one-on-ones with old-school city players and tech and money types in a way the more staid Daniel Lurie might not. Farrell could present himself as Lurie with a resume. Lurie, meanwhile, will have to double down on his outsider status — which would indeed be valuable if voters are furious with any and all vestiges of organized government. 

Yes, Farrell, Lurie and Ahsha Safaí could grapple with each other like crabs in a barrel. But it’s hard not to see Farrell’s entry as yet another drag for the mayor. It figures most of the challengers’ salvos will be fired not at each other but at the incumbent. And there is now a viable Anyone But Breed ranked-choice slate that disgruntled voters could opt for. With a modicum of discipline, the challengers could gang up on Breed and vanquish her, à la Don Perata in Oakland in 2010. If, again, they don’t fecklessly destroy one another. Which could happen. For sure. 

Of course, voters’ behavior isn’t always rational. It was odd for so many San Franciscans to punch the ticket for Nancy Tung and Chesa Boudin or, going back a few years, for Jake McGoldrick and Lilian Sing. But the level of discontent exhibited in San Francisco casts into doubt how many No. 2 and No. 3 votes Breed can get. Is it a realistic scenario for an appreciable number of voters to opt for her challengers but then go back to the incumbent at No. 2 or No. 3? It wouldn’t make intuitive sense, but it may yet happen. 

What also may happen is San Francisco’s nastiest election ever. One longtime city strategist offered a bit of advice to the contenders: “If I was Mama Lurie or Farrell’s benefactor, I’d say run your [Independent Expenditure] campaign as ‘Anybody But London,’ and this is over for her. Anybody but MLB.” With $1 million, Breed’s competitors could render her as toxic as she’s worked to make the Board of Supervisors. 

Strategists also noted that another center-right candidate entering the race “all but sends an engraved invitation” for a centrist or center-left candidate to join the fray — and that right soon. Mark Farrell is the newest aspiring mayor. But he may not be the last. 

“San Francisco,” Farrell says, “deserves so much better in City Hall.” 

The polling shows that most San Francisco voters agree with that sentiment. Mark Farrell’s entry is, no doubt, a big effin’ deal among this city’s political insiders and big-time players. But it’s not clear he’s the intuitive choice for this city’s workaday disgruntled voters, or if today’s announcement really registers with them at all. 

But that’s why they have the campaigns. That’s why they have the elections. 

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Managing Editor/Columnist. Joe was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left.

“Your humble narrator” was a writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015, and a senior editor at San Francisco Magazine from 2015 to 2017. You may also have read his work in the Guardian (U.S. and U.K.); San Francisco Public Press; San Francisco Chronicle; San Francisco Examiner; Dallas Morning News; and elsewhere.

He resides in the Excelsior with his wife and three (!) kids, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

The Northern California branch of the Society of Professional Journalists named Eskenazi the 2019 Journalist of the Year.

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  1. Even if he doesn’t win, hopefully Farrell’s candidacy will focus the candidates on issues that matter: reducing crime and cleaning up our streets.

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  2. To minimize SF’s crime problem is ridiculous. Yes, the murder rate is comparatively low, and it was much higher decades ago. Most of us know that. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a crime problem. The city has the highest, or among the highest property crime rates in the country. The shoplifting, both by organized gangs and by individuals, the smash and grabs, the businesses who suffer repeated burglaries. The home burglaries, the car break ins, the street robberies, etcetera, etcetera. It’s beyond belief. The assaults on the elderly, especially Asians. The crime rates, both violent crime and property crime, are probably a lot worse than we know because many crimes are not reported. “What’s the point?”, people say. If the SFPD doesn’t follow up as much as we’d like, maybe it’s because for years, until very recently, they’ve gotten no support from City Hall, the media, or the political left, which doesn’t even want to take crime seriously, or even shows sympathy for crime and criminals. And ML’s support for that Marxist former DA earns nothing but my contempt. Occasionally I approach cops on the street and tell them I am grateful for their presence and trying to do their jobs. They ALWAYS react with surprise and sincere gratitude. They are more used to being cursed at or spit on. They are more used to seeing things like the sign that was in a storefront window up the street from me for a long time: “ACAB.” But thanks for the this story nonetheless. I think I may have just figured out who will get my vote.

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    1. The shoplifting and property crime is DIRECTLY related to the previous DA. Not because he let them out, but because as soon as he said he was going to prosecute that cop who shot the guy in the back from his car, SFPD stopped arresting property crime. I literally watched 2 guys walking on vallejo from central station as someone got chased out of walgreens. They did nothing, just kept walking. Right after the recall, arrests for property crime trippled,

      Now, you can say, “Oh, well the guy would have released them anyway!”. Is that OK? If the police think someone isn’t going to get prosecuted, should they just watch crime happen? Is it the police’s job to decide what happens AFTER someone is elected.

      I was never pro DA or whatever. I was ALWAYS pro SFPD. For 20 damn years. But this time…. sorry, that was way out of line, do don’t blame that DA and run around calling people a Marxist. It literally doesn’t matter. If arrests drop by 300% is it the DA’s fault?

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  3. Good read for an op-ed.

    I don’t think the Horseshoe dig really works. I think a lot of residents would like cops outside of the Horseshoe and at UN Plaza/UC Law SF at 2 am. Except someone was shot at UC last night, not on Chestnut. Failing the ability to be in both places, would be awesome if we covered one of them. Right now, we are effectively covering neither. It would be good were we in a position to cover one. Awesome to cover both.

    Although I will concede that the Lee murder was hopped on by people wanting to drive a narrative before the facts were known – few argue the City is unsafe because of its murder rate. They do argue it’s unsafe because drugs are cheaper and more available here than in Merced, LA, or pretty much anywhere else in California or most major cities in the US. And the climate which both creates that and results from that is not a safe one.

    If you’re really saying, it’s safe enough for a candidate saying “rarely been more safe than today – vibes to the contrary are wrong” to win 35% of the vote and hit the right ranked choice outcomes in November, I’ll take your point- that’s possible. But that the past DA was thrashed in up/down referendum on the subject with no 2nd, 3rd, or 4th options seems to have sent a message to others.

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    1. If drugs are cheaper here than anywhere else, then logically it follows that less crime would be required for addicts to sustain their fix.

      At some point, the rage farming and scaremongering will wear thin, people will be left with post-traumatic stress and will turn their ire on those who baited them so transparently.

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      1. Disagree – low prices on their own really don’t mean much either way other than the crime level now is what is needed to sustain the market. Again, if you assume that crime is being driven in part by feeding addiction. Your argument might be true if prices drop even more. But, then again, the corollary is that if prices are *raised,* other options (e.g. treatment) might become more attractive.

        Again, I urge someone, anyone, to get into the race and make the “this is scaremongering” argument. It needs to be heard and articulated by someone who knows what they are talking about.

        The idea that the PTSD is being driven by the discourse – would like to hear more on that score. I’m not Farrell, I’ve only lived here for like 30 years but the idea that SF is as safe to walk around at night as it was in the 90s/00s/10s does not resonate with me or a lot of other folks of my or longer tenure here. It also doesn’t seem to be resonating with the tourism and convention folks.

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        1. This is not the correct corollary. The correct one would be that crime would rise with rising prices, not treatment, because treatment was not mentioned or implied in this hypothetical scenario. The problem with this scenario is that it isolates other factors and fails to follow the factors relating to drug market changes and user use/demand in response.

          But you also err on the fact that SF was safer in the 90s/00s/10s.

          This is unfactual in trends generated by the FBI UCR data, https://www.disastercenter.com/crime/cacrime.htm

          Overall crime, even when broken down by category, is overall far down than what it was in the 90s.

          It was far more unsafe in the past decades following the 90s.

          This indicates you lived a more privileged area where crime was not as present.

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          1. The fact is that treatment is *never* mentioned, only Narcan handouts, so-called “safe injection sites” (actually city-sanctioned “shooting galleries” forced down the throats of working-class neighborhoods of color by rich white liberals who live high up on the hills), and voting for soft-on-crime laws (by those self-same wealthy white liberals and members of the ACLU). And take it from someone who has lived in SF since 1991 – and in the Mission and TL, not what our friend “B.” calls “privileged” areas where “crime was not as present” – SF is far dirtier, and less safe, than it has ever been in all of the decades that I have lived here, and in the decade before I moved here but was a frequent visitor. And by the way, I am a lifelong progressive/liberal at heart, but I think our city has truly lost its way and is killing the small businesses, and punishing artists, and working-class people, at the expense of people who moved here from other places because it was easy to do drugs here on the taxpayer’s dime than it is in, say, Kansas City or Cleveland.

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      2. Crime with drug use is not that simple of a correlation.

        For example, if I were to pose the additional logic that someone becomes more mentally ill with heavier drug use and/or more easily susceptible to commit crime, then more drug use means more crime.

        It’s a confluence of factors that sustain crime and drugs. It’s not that simple.

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  4. Campers,

    You can bring in Rambo as a new Police Chief and the troops would ignore him.

    And, listen to the SFPOA.

    This ain’t the only town where this is true.

    SF’s cop union took drug proceeds from the Executive Director of the San Mateo POA’s World wide dealing.

    SFPOA then divided the drug money amongst favored candidates.

    This ain’t Mayberry.

    And, the various unions have what is essentially an Underground Railroad for Rogue Cops whom Irish Command Staff has then made into Training Officers.

    They hire more of these ‘Lateral Transfers’ than they graduate Cadets.

    The vacancies are intentional to guarantee overtime to pay mortgages.

    Quickest way to change things is to make Police Chief and elected position then choose the one whose Platform best matches your own biases and pull the lever next to her name and if they don’t perform, vote them out.

    “After a couple of tries you’ll get someone like me who’ll last 32 years.”

    That’s quote from our awesome former Sheriff Michael Hennessey.

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  5. “…’flooding’ the police academy with new recruits” – does he understand that the police academy can’t find enough people who want to become police officers? Where does he plan to find them? Hopefully SF won’t start hiring police who have left previous jurisdictions after terrible behavior, as we keep hearing about elsewhere.

    “Creating tax incentives for businesses that bring workers back downtown.” – does he understand that companies are not successfully requiring employees to return to the office? Create an incentive for employees to return, and maybe he’ll have more luck. (And before you say, their incentive should be keeping their jobs: no, not these days.)

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  6. Did Farrell lay out plans for homeless shelters in the Marina?

    Were a progressive/liberal to run and win, the fundraising for a recall would start before the last votes are counted.

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  7. I’ve read a lot of words about Farrell but none address his general position on housing (just his view on homeless). Does he support the state’s housing element? Is he for or against also adding a lot of MR housing? Can someone tell me? Thanks!

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  8. Having a “vision” for the city is not just appeasing the existing nor platforming on the current hot topic issues. It’s understanding what is needed for the future of the city. housing transit public spaces and infrastructure… most of the SFBOS are in the weeds and few can get their heads out of the muck and morass to solve the bigger problems. When an earthquake hits and the shit hits the fan who do u want in charge and controlling the city mechanisms for the future? So far none of the above is my vote….none have shown the ability to really solve for the whole city mostly nibbles and bites of the cookie 🍪 but not the whole city as a system… that takes a bigger approach to developmental changes.

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  9. At the “official” opening of the Rosa Parks Elementary School shared schoolyard some number of years ago, Breed and Farrell were practically making googly eyes at each other as they told us they were the best of friends.

    I guess they’re no longer “besties.”

    Oh, well.

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    1. I remember a long time ago when a city supervisor came to a first day at Rosa Parks ES and mistakenly called us “John Muir ES.”

      I suppose that Breed and Farrell were mistaken too when they called themselves best friends? Maybe they were under the spell of the culture of that school for a moment?

      If only every school, and even our whole city, could run as well as that school. When I need hope for the future of this city, my mind always takes me to Rosa Parks ES. It was not perfect, but it never had to be.

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  10. The first qualification for getting my vote: Not being funded by BigMoneySF.

    And while I know that this does not fall under the city’s jurisdiction, I want to see advocacy to fix or rebuild the Aquatic Park Pier. I realize that it doesn’t benefit the wealthy so our leaders don’t care, but it would be nice to see this kind of investment for us now and for future generations.

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    1. The BCDC is coming after the State for letting parks like Candlestick State Park fall into disrepair. I am sure this decrepit structure, ready to fall into the Bay in pieces, is also on the Commission’s radar. I’d contact them to find out if anything’s being done about it.

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