New San Fran­cisco mayor went from the projects to City Hall


San Fran­cisco — San Fran­cisco’s in­com­ing mayor knows the yawn­ing gap be­tween rich and poor first­hand, hav­ing been raised by her grand­mother in the city’s drug- and vi­o­lence-rid­dled projects.

It is now the job of Lon­don Breed — the first black woman elected mayor of the city — to unite a wealthy but con­flicted San Fran­cisco, where the high­tech econ­omy has sent the me­dian price of a home soar­ing to $1.3 mil­lion and where home­less tents and hu­man waste fes­ter on side­walks.

Peo­ple who know her say the 43-year-old Breed has the grit, drive and deep love for her home­town to tackle its prob­lems.

“I know where she comes from. I know where she is cur­rently,” said high school class­mate Adonne Log­gins. “It’s not an easy way to come up. A lot of peo­ple fall by the way­side, and she didn’t. That’s a trib­ute to her char­ac­ter and her will­ing­ness to fight.”

Breed, cur­rently pres­i­dent of the 11-mem­ber Board of Su­per­vi­sors, was de­clared the win­ner Wednesday of last week’s eight-way may­oral elec­tion. The Demo­crat takes of­fice next month.

She is only the sec­ond woman to be­come mayor of San Fran­cisco. The first was Dianne Fe­in­stein, now a U.S. sen­a­tor.

San Fran­cisco, with a pop­u­la­tion of 870,000, is about 6 per­cent black, one of the small­est per­cent­ages among ma­jor U.S. cities.

In her first of­fi­cial speech as mayor-elect on Thursday, Breed fondly re­called peo­ple telling her to go to col­lege when she didn’t know what that was.

“If it wasn’t for a com­mu­nity that be­lieved in me and sup­ported me and raised me and did what was nec­es­sary to make sure that I was a suc­cess, I would not be here,” she said to sev­eral hun­dred peo­ple at Rosa Parks Ele­men­tary School. “But the prob­lem is, I am the ex­cep­tion and not the norm, and as mayor I want to change what is nor­mal in this city.”

Breed wants the tech­nol­ogy sec­tor to work with young­sters so that they have a real shot at shar­ing in the city’s im­mense wealth. She wants to build more hous­ing more quickly and sup­ports the use of le­gal con­ser­va­tor­ships to get men­tally ill peo­ple and drug users off the street and into treat­ment.

She has also promised to end long-term home­less tent camps within a year of tak­ing of­fice.

Breed has a broad smile, a blunt way of speak­ing and a down-to-earth de­meanor. She is a big foodie who lives in a rent-con­trolled apart­ment in the city’s fash­ion­ably di­lap­i­dated Lower Haight neigh­bor­hood, blocks from the tra­di­tion­ally black Western Ad­di­tion and Fill­more neigh­bor­hoods where she grew up.

She un­winds at night by wash­ing dishes by hand — no dish­washer in her unit — and re-hash­ing her day with friends by phone. Like many other res­i­dents of the city, she has been un­able to af­ford a house. That may change; as mayor, she will be paid $335,996 a year.

Breed was raised by her grand­mother Comelia Brown, a house cleaner who told a young Lon­don to make her bed, clean the kitchen and not even think about skip­ping school if she wanted to con­tinue liv­ing in her house.

She drank pow­dered milk, and Christ­mas toys came from the fire­fight­ers’ an­nual give­away. Her grand­mother died in 2016 af­ter a long strug­gle with de­men­tia.

“I gave my grandma a re­ally hard time. And can I tell you? She never gave up on me,” she said Thursday.

A brother ended up in prison, and a younger sis­ter died of a drug over­dose in 2006, but Breed earned a bach­e­lor’s de­gree from the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Davis and then a mas­ter’s in pub­lic ad­min­is­tra­tion from the Uni­ver­sity of San Fran­cisco.

Log­gins, a class­mate at Galileo High, re­calls an out­spo­ken, stub­born girl ac­tive in school pol­i­tics and the black stu­dent union who was itch­ing to im­prove the sys­tem. She was voted the girl in her se­nior class most likely to suc­ceed.

Breed got her start in pol­i­tics in the mid-1990s as an in­tern for then-Mayor Wil­lie Brown, writ­ing procla­ma­tions and an­swer­ing mail.

“I was liv­ing in pub­lic hous­ing,” she re­called in a re­cent in­ter­view at one of her fa­vorite Mex­i­can restau­rants. “The abil­ity to get stuff done by say­ing you’re call­ing from the mayor’s of­fice was amaz­ing.”

For more than a decade, she headed the African Amer­i­can Art & Cul­ture Com­plex, beef­ing up pro­grams for at-risk youth and the el­derly. She en­cour­aged a po­lice pres­ence there, not just be­cause of the po­ten­tial for vi­o­lence but also be­cause she wanted the young­sters to de­velop good re­la­tion­ships with po­lice, she said.

In 2012, she de­cided to chal­lenge the su­per­vi­sor for her dis­trict, ap­palled that then-Mayor Ed Lee had ap­pointed some­one Breed felt was out of touch with the com­mu­nity. Most of the city’s power bro­kers, in­clud­ing Lee and Brown, told her to stay out, she re­called.

“A lot of peo­ple told her it would be an up­hill bat­tle, it would be a dif­fi­cult race to win,” said Deb­bie Mes­loh, pres­i­dent of the San Fran­cisco Com­mis­sion on the Sta­tus of Women. “She said she was go­ing to go to ev­ery house and walk ev­ery neigh­bor­hood, and she did.”

She won, but not be­fore tak­ing heat for an ex­ple­tive-laden rant about how she wasn’t con­trolled by any­one, in­clud­ing her men­tor, Brown. The rant cost her Fe­in­stein’s en­dorse­ment.

Friends and col­leagues say Breed has since smoothed the rough edges, but the idea that she is be­holden to oth­ers, in­clud­ing the busi­ness sec­tor that sup­ported her may­oral run, ran­kles.

“I’m not the old guard,” she said. “I make my own de­ci­sions and I do what I feel is the right thing to do, and I stand by the de­ci­sions that I make.”

Amelia Ash­ley-Ward, pub­lisher of the San Fran­cisco Sun-Re­porter, called Breed an ex­am­ple to “ev­ery young girl ev­ery­where who wants to be some­thing.”

“They just need to stand up and fight for what they want to be, and, yes, be stub­born and hard-headed some­times,” Ash­ley-Ward said.


In­com­ing mayor Lon­don Breed smiles while speak­ing at Rosa Parks Ele­men­tary School in San Fran­cisco on Thursday.

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