The suc­ces­sor: Lon­don Breed grew up in city’s rough projects

San Francisco Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - By Lizzie John­son and Au­drey Cooper

She was the na­tive San Fran­cis­can raised in the hous­ing projects who had some­how es­caped the vi­o­lent fates that be­fell fam­ily and friends and was climb­ing the ranks at City Hall.

Now Lon­don Breed is the city’s act­ing mayor.

As pres­i­dent of the Board of Su­per­vi­sors, Breed was the le­gal suc­ces­sor to Mayor Ed Lee, who suf­fered a heart at­tack while gro­cery shop­ping late Mon­day night and died early Tues­day morn­ing. Breed, 43, could serve as act­ing mayor un­til a June 2018 elec­tion. The su­per­vi­sors could also name her in­terim mayor or choose an­other can­di­date.

It seems more likely that Breed, who has led the Board of Su­per­vi­sors since 2015, will be con­firmed as in­terim mayor by her col­leagues in spite of the

po­lit­i­cal dis­cord be­tween mod­er­ate lib­er­als like Breed and the more pro­gres­sive su­per­vi­sors. If the su­per­vi­sors take no ac­tion, Breed would re­main act­ing mayor.

Prior to the mayor’s un­ex­pected death, it was widely spec­u­lated that Breed would be among a hand­ful of may­oral hope­fuls run­ning to re­place the termed-out Lee in 2020. Al­though the list of po­ten­tial can­di­dates is long, only Mark Leno, a for­mer state leg­is­la­tor and city su­per­vi­sor, has an­nounced his can­di­dacy.

Now, in­stead of pre­par­ing for a 2019 elec­tion, hope­fuls have only weeks to de­cide whether to fight for the job in this sum­mer’s pri­mary elec­tion.

“It’s an ex­traor­di­nar­ily fluid sit­u­a­tion,” po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Jim Ross said. “Breed al­ready has the job. Now she has to get con­firmed. And then she has to de­cide if she wants to run for mayor in June. Mov­ing for­ward, some­one will re­ally have the power to shape the di­rec­tion the city is headed.”

Prob­a­bly the first con­stituent to greet Breed as act­ing mayor was her house­guest, Er­rol Hall. The 79-year-old is stay­ing in Breed’s three-bed­room apart­ment in the lower Haight.

“Con­grat­u­la­tions. I’m the first to ad­dress you as Madame Mayor,” he said to her Tues­day morn­ing. He added, “She’ll be an ex­cel­lent mayor. She knows the city. She knows the govern­ment. She’s smart as a whip.”

Breed acts out of a deep sense of ser­vice and jus­tice, and com­mit­ment to the peo­ple she grew up with in some of the city’s worst pub­lic hous­ing, ac­cord­ing to in­ter­views with more than a dozen of her friends, col­leagues and ad­ver­saries.

She grew up about half a mile from City Hall in a hous­ing project that was later razed by the city. She of­ten speaks in pub­lic about grow­ing up poor and sur­rounded by vi­o­lence. Her brother is in prison and her younger sis­ter died of a drug over­dose. At a re­cent toy drive, she spoke about how her only child­hood Christ­mas gifts were school clothes un­til the Fire Depart­ment started its toy-col­lec­tion ef­forts.

She was larger than life in the projects, said La­teefah Si­mon, who serves on the BART Board of Di­rec­tors and grew up with Breed. There, she was known as Big Paul’s sis­ter, Queen B and “a home­girl from the Fill­more.”

When Breed, af­ter grad­u­at­ing from San Fran­cisco’s Galileo High School, got into UC Davis — where she earned a bach­e­lor’s de­gree be­fore re­ceiv­ing her master’s de­gree in pub­lic ad­min­is­tra­tion at the Univer­sity of San Fran­cisco — Si­mon said no one was sur­prised.

“I was in the juvenile jus­tice sys­tem and didn’t have any friends go­ing to col­lege,” Si­mon said. “I was like, ‘Lon­don is go­ing to Davis?’ I cried, I was so happy for her. She has been a shin­ing light for so many girls in our neigh­bor­hood of what is pos­si­ble.

“Lon­don has to walk down the street every day in front of gen­er­a­tions of peo­ple who knew her and her grand­mother. Her ac­count­abil­ity is the fact that she was a kid play­ing dou­ble dutch on the side­walk here. She feels that deeply.”

Friends and crit­ics de­scribe Breed as brash and bold — the kind of woman who was raised by a strict grand­mother. But Breed’s style nearly cost her her early po­lit­i­cal ca­reer. Dur­ing her 2012 su­per­vi­so­rial race, Breed posted an ex­ple­tive­laden di­a­tribe that cost her the en­dorse­ment of U.S. Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein, D-Calif.

“She lost con­trol of her tem­per,” said Breed’s long­time cam­paign man­ager, Mag­gie Muir. “As a cam­paign, we had to fig­ure out how to deal with it. There was a di­vide be­tween those who felt like it was aw­ful and those who ap­pre­ci­ated it. That’s Lon­don. She says what she thinks.”

Her frank style has his­tor­i­cally been po­lar­iz­ing, ruf­fling both col­leagues and op­po­nents, though she has tem­pered her pub­lic rants and chan­neled the brash­ness into en­forc­ing par­lia­men­tary pro­ce­dure at board meet­ings.

“I ex­pect that she will work in her own di­rec­tion, pe­riod,” said for­mer Su­per­vi­sor John Ava­los, who fre­quently clashed with Breed. “It’s im­por­tant to be open about what the dif­fer­ent pos­si­bil­i­ties are here, even in re­gards to Lon­don. Any­one who is in that po­si­tion has a tremen­dous op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate a vi­sion for the city.”

It would have been dif­fi­cult to pre­dict such a change in po­lit­i­cal for­tune months ago when Breed was chal­lenged from the left for re-elec­tion. Her district, which in­cludes the Haight-Ash­bury, Hayes Val­ley, Fill­more and Western Ad­di­tion neigh­bor­hoods, has tra­di­tion­ally been one of the most lib­eral in San Fran­cisco. Frus­tra­tions among vot­ers fo­cused on is­sues like the scarcity of af­ford­able hous­ing and a per­cep­tion that City Hall’s mod­er­ate wing, Breed in­cluded, caters to tech com­pa­nies and gen­tri­fiers.

She won with 52 per­cent of the vote, but the same is­sues that made the race com­pet­i­tive will fol­low who­ever fills Lee’s of­fice.

If Breed is ul­ti­mately elected mayor, her path will be akin to how Fe­in­stein be­came act­ing mayor in De­cem­ber 1978 af­ter the as­sas­si­na­tions of Mayor Ge­orge Moscone and Su­per­vi­sor Har­vey Milk. Fe­in­stein was elected by vot­ers the fol­low­ing year.

Lee him­self was named act­ing mayor by the Board of Su­per­vi­sors be­fore he was elected by vot­ers in Novem­ber 2011. He was named to the po­si­tion upon the rec­om­men­da­tion of then-Mayor Gavin New­som, who left of­fice in Jan­uary 2011 af­ter be­ing elected Cal­i­for­nia’s lieu­tenant gov­er­nor.

Breed will mark a change from the mild-man­nered Lee.

“Ed was al­ways very un­der­stated,” said state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Fran­cisco, who served on the board with Breed. “He had a real per­son­al­ity, but it of­ten didn’t come out in pub­lic. Lon­don has a much big­ger per­son­al­ity. She’s very ef­fu­sive and warm. They’re very dif­fer­ent peo­ple.”

“Lon­don has to walk down the street every day in front of gen­er­a­tions of peo­ple who knew her and her grand­mother . ... She feels that deeply.”

La­teefah Si­mon, BART di­rec­tor, who grew up with Breed

Breed has his­tor­i­cally pri­or­i­tized pub­lic hous­ing and other is­sues con­cen­trated in her district, draw­ing crit­i­cisms from some that her pol­icy in­ter­ests are too my­opic.

She got her start in pol­i­tics work­ing as an in­tern for the Of­fice of Hous­ing and Neigh­bor­hood Ser­vices un­der for­mer Mayor Wil­lie Brown, now a Chron­i­cle colum­nist. She worked for Brown’s cam­paign and was later hired at the Trea­sure Is­land De­vel­op­ment Author­ity.

For a decade, she ran the African Amer­i­can Art & Cul­ture Com­plex, a city-funded but pri­vately man­aged cul­tural cen­ter, over­see­ing mil­lions of dol­lars in ren­o­va­tions. She was widely cred­ited with help­ing turn the com­plex around.

Dur­ing Breed’s stint at the de­vel­op­ment author­ity, she met Deb­bie Mes­loh, a long­time po­lit­i­cal op­er­a­tive and for­mer ad­viser to now-U.S. Sen. Ka­mala Har­ris, D-Calif.

“Lon­don doesn’t have time to waste,” Mes­loh said. “She as­sumes oth­ers don’t ei­ther. She wants to get stuff done in the time she has. She’s a strong, strong per­son. I think we need that as a city. And she’s San Fran­cis­can to the core.”

Michael Ma­cor / The Chron­i­cle

Melonie (left) and Melorra Green, co-ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tors of the African Amer­i­can Art & Cul­ture Com­plex, say Lon­don Breed was key in get­ting fund­ing for projects at the com­plex.

Paul Chinn / The Chron­i­cle

Michael Ma­cor / The Chron­i­cle

Above: Act­ing Mayor Lon­don Breed is sur­rounded by of­fi­cials dur­ing a City Hall news con­fer­ence af­ter the an­nounce­ment that Mayor Ed Lee had died. Left: Er­rol Hall, Lon­don Breed’s house­guest, says, “She’ll be an ex­cel­lent mayor . ... She’s smart as a...

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