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  • San Francisco Chronicle - Chronicle Editorial

Editorial: A surprise power play gives San Francisco a new temporary mayor

San Francisco has its third mayor in two months, the result of a stunning vote hatched by progressives to oust a moderate rival as the race to fill the top job gets under way.

For shock value, rough politics and cynicism, it’s a scenario that’s hard to top. London Breed, who filled in after Ed Lee’s sudden death in December, is out, due to a six-vote bloc that’s installing Mark Farrell, who passes for conservative in a liberal town.

It’s not an inspiring civics lesson, but with the City Hall’s prime perch in play, the knives are out. San Francisco supervisors, for all their talk about transparency and community voices, prefer the smoke-filled room of insider politics with this choice. The lefties chose Farrell, a termed-out lawmaker continually at odds with them, over Breed, who’s bidding to use her temporary job as a path to the full-time post. The progressive bloc dumped an African American woman in favor of a white male, a choice that drew howls from Breed supporters on hand.

Though the voting is a tangle of self-interest, the city can take heart. The ruptured politics may not upend present policy in the short run. Farrell isn’t likely to stray from Lee’s or Breed’s track record on many fronts. All wanted more housing, answers on homelessness and attention to city services — from a moderate point of view that doesn’t call for sweeping controls or hefty tax increases. San Francisco’s booming business culture and flowing revenues drew respect, not suspicion.

In the months leading to a June mayoral vote, the city might not notice much sway in policy and budget making. Farrell, an experienced legislator finishing his second term on the board, is a lawmaker with a balanced record. Breed grew into her job, which led to board presidency, a position that made her interim mayor on Lee’s death.

It’s still a head-snapping switch. Farrell is a lawyer and venture capitalist representing the city’s wealthiest district, taking in Pacific Heights and the Marina. Breed’s story includes a rise from public housing to represent the gentrifying Western Addition and Haight-Ashbury.

These biographies aren’t the point for progressives. They were playing the long game. Their angle is erasing the advantage mayoral candidate Breed might have had as an incumbent. That demotion should help either of two progressive candidates: Supervisor Jane Kim and former state Sen. Mark Leno. In the upside-down world of San Francisco politics, sometimes the way left requires an abrupt turn to the right.

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