Thousands of people showed up at Civic Center Plaza Wednesday morning for the inauguration of London Breed as San Francisco’s 45th mayor. They came to witness the ascension of the first African American woman to lead the city.
“London Breed means so much to the black community. We had to be here,” said Renita Mason, who arrived hours early to get a seat alongside her sister, Paula. “This is like history for us,” Paula said.
The day started out with the sun straining to push through a thick cover of clouds, but when it came time for Breed to greet the crowd, she emerged from City Hall to a bright, blue sky accompanied by a thundering lion dance performed by the Yau Kung Moon martial arts studio.
Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom swore Breed in at 11:43 a.m. After reciting the oath of office, she delivered a speech that leaned heavily on the social problems afflicting San Francisco and the need for the city to come together to solve them.
“I am excited about the future, about what we will accomplish, because on this day, we are committed to rolling up our sleeves and working together,” Breed said.
She takes the helm of San Francisco at a crucial juncture, when the city is grappling with a protracted homelessness crisis, trash-strewn streets, a severe housing shortage and a widening income gap that is threatening to price out all but the wealthiest residents.
In response, Breed has pledged to place quality-of-life issues at the top of her priority list, vowing to address the problem of homeless people suffering from mental health disorders and drug addiction, clear tent camps and unwind the red tape that keeps the city from developing more housing faster. To that end, she has taken up the late Mayor Ed Lee’s ambitious goal of building at least 5,000 units of housing a year.
As she called for the production of more housing, she said those who were opposed to change needed to themselves change.
“The politics of ‘no’ has plagued our city for far too long — ‘not on my block, not in my backyard.’ We have made mistakes in the past by not moving housing production forward all over this city. I plan to change the politics of ‘no’ to the politics of ‘yes,’” the new mayor said. “Yes, we will build more housing.”
She also called for a bigger police force, but one coupled with investments in social programs that reduce crime by improving communities through education and workforce development. And turning to the subject of immigration, said, “We don’t put children in cages, we put them in the classroom,” a line that provoked the loudest applause of the morning.
She returned frequently to her campaign theme of being everyone’s mayor — citing residents of public housing projects, immigrant families, small business owners and the city’s struggling middle class — and repeating “I will fight for you and I will be your mayor, too.”
To spectator Audrey Groomes, who sang along to a performance of the famous gospel song “Oh Happy Day” that followed the mayor’s speech, the moving part of the speech was Breed’s appeal to unity in tackling the city’s problems.
“Nobody can do everything by themselves. If you don’t have the support of everybody around you, it won’t happen,” Groomes said. “We need to clean this city and find housing for people, period.”
“She’s a rainbow mayor, a mayor for everybody,” Seann Jackson said.
“She reminded me of Martin Luther King Jr. — she has a dream for San Francisco,” said Katie Hamilton. “We, as one, can accomplish a lot, if we work together. This is a historic day that will be long remembered.”
Before the swearing-in, the Rev. Amos C. Brown of Third Baptist Church, standing arm-in-arm with Rabbi Beth Singer of Congregation Emanu-El, delivered a powerful invocation, contrasting Breed with President Trump — the 45th president to Breed’s 45th mayor — and saying Trump would be watching from the NATO summit he’s attending overseas.
“I trust from the bottom of my heart that No. 45 will be viewing this ceremony from Brussels, and he’ll be able to see how we should act and love each other and not take our children away from their parents,” Brown said, referencing the recent practice of immigrant family separation.
“We are showing and telling that we have elected the right No. 45,” Brown said, his booming, gravelly voice echoing throughout the plaza.
During the whirlwind six-month campaign to fill out the term of Lee, who died of a heart attack on Dec. 12, Breed held up her own accomplishments as a beacon for others — particularly young people — to follow. Her life’s trajectory, which began in a housing project in the Western Addition, gave her a unique perspective, she said, into how to lift up the most downtrodden.
“Together, we can build a San Francisco where the next generation of young people can go from public housing to the mayor’s office,” she said in her speech.
Breed got her start in politics during the 1999 re-election campaign of Mayor Willie Brown, who persuaded her to take the job of executive director of the African American Art & Culture Complex in 2002. Ten years later she won the District Five seat on the Board of Supervisors, winning the board presidency in 2015.
This will be Breed’s second trip to Room 200, the mayor’s office. After Lee died, Breed — as president of the Board of Supervisors — became interim mayor. Her progressive colleagues on the Board of Supervisors, however, replaced her with District Two Supervisor Mark Farrell, saying one person shouldn’t hold the dual offices of board president and mayor.
Farrell didn’t seek to win the mayor’s office in the June special election and says that he won’t run for a full term in November 2019 and that he supports Breed’s re-election next year.
As for Breed, “I am definitely going to seek re-election,” she has said.
Inauguration day, former Mayor Art Agnos said before the ceremony, “is probably the most fun and honorific day. It’s day you realize you’re the mayor of one of the greatest, if not the greatest, city in the world. You feel humble and grateful for the opportunity to serve.”