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Politics & Policy

Mark Farrell vows to fire police chief, clear homeless camps as mayor

A man in a suit speaks in front of a microphone pointing with his finger.
Mark Farrell, who is running for mayor of San Francisco and previously served for six months in that position, is pitching an aggressive campaign platform on public safety that starts with firing the police chief. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

Mark Farrell held a press conference at a baseball batting cage facility Tuesday morning to formally announce his campaign to once again become mayor of San Francisco.

The setting seemed apt for a father of three who helps coach his kids’ sports teams, but it could also be indicative of a candidate who intends to take some whacks at his opponents and all that he sees wrong with the city.

Farrell, the 44th mayor of San Francisco and a former Marina District supervisor, laid out his positions and potential plans in an interview with The Standard prior to the news conference, leaving little doubt that he intends to shake up the mayor’s race with an aggressive campaign.

He promised to fire Police Chief Bill Scott on “day one,” clear homeless tent encampments within months, open Market Street back up to cars and audit nonprofits to make sure taxpayer money isn’t going to waste.

What is Mark Farrell’s strategy to win?

Farrell intends to defeat Mayor London Breed—and others—by embracing aggressive positions on policing and homelessness. Call it a little fire and brimstone with a hint of nostalgia. Farrell will specifically blast Breed’s public safety record and inability to boost the ranks of the police department.

“I have watched San Francisco crumble over the last five years since I left City Hall,” Farrell said. “People don’t feel safe. The condition of our streets has never been worse. And our local economy has collapsed. And we’ve become the butt of jokes across the country.”

A man speaks in front of microphones as supporters holding campaign signs reading "Mark Farrell for mayor" stand in the background.
Flanked by supporters, Farrell pledged to crack down on crime and shore up Downtown if elected mayor. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

Polling shows that many voters consider public safety to be a top issue. While incidents of violent crime in San Francisco are lower than most major cities, the rates for property crime last year were the second-highest among major cities in California, finishing just behind Oakland. Farrell said his own house was burglarized in the middle of the night last year while he and his family were asleep in the home.

“For me, it became very personal,” he said.

Farrell’s tough talk also extends to clearing homeless encampments, which was a major focus during his six months as mayor. He was appointed in January 2018 after the sudden death of Mayor Ed Lee a month earlier due to a heart attack.

“As mayor, I cleared out all of our large tent encampments in six months,” Farrell said, referencing sweeps he authorized in the spring of 2018. “And I will do it again. Plain and simple.”

Farrell suggested the court injunction that has deterred San Francisco from clearing homeless encampments was too broadly interpreted by the city, and it became “an excuse not to aggressively remove our tent encampments.” 

A collection of personal belongings and tents line a city street.
Farrell has pledged to remove homeless encampments despite a court injunction restricting sweeps. | Source: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

“I firmly believe that the sidewalks of San Francisco belong to everybody,” Farrell said, “not just people who choose to live on our streets.”

Maggie Muir, a political consultant for Breed’s campaign, brushed off a challenge by Farrell and said the city is seeing progress on public safety and economic recovery.

“It’s easy to run, but it’s hard to lead,” Muir said. “Mayor Breed is the one who’s had to make the tough decisions, leading the city through the pandemic and its aftermath, while the others were nowhere to be found.”

Will he have the money to fund a challenge?

Farrell is late to the party, having announced his candidacy in mid-February, giving him less than nine months until November's election. However, with a deep network of connections thanks to being a San Francisco native, and with his company, Thayer Ventures, being an investment firm focused on travel and transportation technology, he does not seem concerned about any fundraising deficits.

“I’m extremely confident that we will be competitive and outraise every other mayoral candidate in this race,” Farrell said.

Currently, Levi Strauss heir Daniel Lurie has a massive fundraising advantage when taking into account an independent committee supporting his bid. The group “Believe in SF, Lurie for Mayor 2024” raised almost $3.3 million last year—with almost a third of that amount coming from Lurie’s mother—and the group just dropped nearly $216,000 on mailers at the beginning of this month.

A vibrant shop with people, Chinese decorations, and altar. Two individuals engage in a handshake.
A well-funded committee backing Daniel Lurie has spent six figures on mailers supporting the wealthy heir's mayoral bid. | Source: Philip Pacheco for The Standard

Political insiders have wondered if Farrell will struggle to raise money because of an overlapping base of supporters with Lurie in affluent neighborhoods like Pacific Heights and the Marina, but Farrell said he believes his body of work will make the choice easy for supporters. Lurie’s career has mostly been spent coordinating and fundraising for his anti-poverty nonprofit, Tipping Point, and he has never held elected office.

“Daniel's a nice guy, but we couldn't be more different,” Farrell said. “I've spent over 20 years in the private sector—business, finance, practicing law—and spent seven and a half years inside City Hall with a track record of effective leadership. I was the longest-serving budget chair in our city’s history [and] became mayor in 2018.” 

He added, “We need a new mayor that will come in and hit the ground running on day one.”

Tyler Law, a political consultant for Lurie’s campaign, suggested that Farrell’s experience at City Hall could be a double-edged sword that hurts both him and Breed.

“Daniel Lurie remains the only candidate offering new ideas and accountable leadership from outside of a broken system that has allowed crime, homelessness and corruption to fester,” Law said. “Every political insider that enters this race widens our path to victory. Tough news for the mayor.”

What would he do as mayor?

Farrell isn’t the first candidate to say Police Chief Bill Scott should be fired. That title goes to Supervisor Ahsha Safaí, who announced his candidacy last spring and more recently has been saying Scott should get the ax.

“I think he’s a good guy,” Safaí said of Farrell. “He’s been away from the game for a long time, so I think more than anything this speaks to the failure of London Breed and this administration.”

It seems Farrell will quickly become the most bullish in arguing that San Francisco needs a new top cop. He cited the department’s “anemic budget growth” over the last five years while seeing more than 500 officers retire, resign or transfer to other agencies.

Police Chief Bill Scott grimaces.
San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott would be out of a job if Mark Farrell wins the mayor’s race, the candidate said. | Source: Philip Pachecho for The Standard

“Chief Scott is a very good man,” Farrell said. “We simply need a new face of our department and someone who is going to lead the charge and fight with me to massively increase our police budgets, adopt a zero-tolerance policy for crime across our city, inspire the rank and file of our police department and make San Francisco a safer place to live for our residents.”

Police spokesperson Evan Sernoffksy defended Scott’s record as chief starting in 2017, noting that while combatting property crime has been a “challenge,” the department just recorded the lowest murder rate in 60 years and investigators cleared 85% of those cases. By the end of this year, the department also expects to finish all tasks related a 2016 order by the U.S. Department of Justice to complete 272 recommended reforms in the wake of multiple controversial police killings.

“Chief Scott has proved that public safety can never be diminished as a price for reform," Sernoffsky said in a statement. “But rather, the reforms that he has instituted have made the city safer.”

Farrell said he didn’t have an immediate successor within the department in mind. Regardless, if Farrell followed through on his promise to fire Scott, identifying a chief beyond an interim replacement would be a complicated process. The Police Commission, which has sparred with the Breed administration, would be in charge of selecting a final candidate who would then need to be approved by the mayor.

How would he handle corruption and cronyism?

Farrell said his first actions as mayor—beyond firing the police chief—would include taking aim at the city’s nonprofit partners, which receive more than a billion dollars a year to provide a host of services aimed at solving the city’s homelessness and drug crises.

Mark Farrell fills out paperwork.
Mark Farrell filled out paperwork to run for mayor of San Francisco, a position he held for six months in 2018.

“We need a complete overhaul of how we handle nonprofits inside of City Hall,” Farrell said, adding that contracts also need to be written with concrete outcomes and goals instead of metrics for simply doing outreach.

The ongoing corruption scandals that have come to light will also require immediate attention, he said. Farrell dealt with his own highly publicized ethics complaint dating back to his first run for supervisor—the issue was eventually settled for $25,000—but he suggested the more recent issues plaguing the Department of Building Inspection and other agencies could be better addressed by a mayor who doesn’t carry the baggage of being in office during a slew of bribery scandals.

“It's setting the tone as a leader from the start,” Farrell said, “and it’s making sure that, as a city government, we do not accept the status quo.”

Josh Koehn can be reached at josh@sfstandard.com