The new D2 supervisor wants to bring post-partisan "common sense" to City Hall — but he's vague on the specifics
Mark Farrell is a 36-year-old venture capitalist and political newcomer who will represent the wealthy neighborhoods of District 2 (Pacific Heights, Sea Cliff, and the Marina) after narrowly beating Janet Reilly, whose extensive political endorsements ranged from the Guardian and local Democratic Party Chair Aaron Peskin to U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinsein and Mayor Gavin Newsom.
Challenging the city's political power structure is why Farrell said he ran for office, playing up his outsider status and investment banking experience. He told visitors to his campaign website, "I am running for the Board of Supervisors to bring common sense back to City Hall" and railed against "career politicians who run for office again and again."
In an interview with the Guardian, Farrell said he was motivated to make his first foray into politics by the dysfunction he has heard about at City Hall. "I've been frustrated with City Hall over the last few years, from the personal antics to the policies that have come out," Farrell told us. "I humbly believe I have something different to bring to the table."
Farrell calls himself a fiscal conservative who believes "our city government has gotten too large and we need to look at that," a task he thinks he's well-suited for given his background in finance. Yet when asked what government functions he would eliminate or cut deeply to help close a projected $700 million budget deficit over the next two years, Farrell said he can't offer any specifics yet, saying only, "We need to make tough decisions."
Would Farrell be open to new taxes or other revenue-side budget solutions? He told us that he won't completely reject the idea of new taxes, but that he generally opposes them. "I don't believe in raising taxes. We can't raise enough revenue to get out of this problem," Farrell said. "We need to learn to live within our means."
Although he opposed Prop. B in this election, Farrell said public employee pension reform needs to be a part of the city's budget solution, as well as scaling back how much the city gives to nonprofit groups, which provide many of the social services the city supports.
Farrell was born and raised in San Francisco — except for his college years, he's spent his whole life in D2, where his parents still live — and has been friends with Sup. Sean Elsbernd since high school. Politically, Farrell also identifies with Elsbernd and fellow fiscally conservative Sups. Carmen Chu and Michela Alioto-Pier (who endorsed Farrell to replace her in D2), but he says that he doesn't want to be politically pigeon-holed.
"I'm very much my own person and I look forward to working with everyone," Farrell said. Indeed, part of Farrell's frustration with City Hall politics has been the divisive relationship between the progressives and moderates, which he sees as a hindrance to finding "common sense solutions."
"The progressive and moderate labels have been relatively destructive to San Francisco," Farrell said. "We need to get beyond that to focus on issues."
Yet people's political values and worldview determine what issues they care about and the solutions they favor. For example, progressives decry the dearth of affordable being built for San Franciscans and cite city studies showing that deficit will get worse as developers build ever-more market rate housing (see "Dollars or sense?" Sept. 28), particularly in a city that is two-thirds renters.
Farrell said he supports rent control (saying he was unfairly attacked during the campaign as anti renter) and sees the dwindling rental stock and lack of new affordable units being constructed as problems, but he doesn't have a solution to those problems. In fact, Farrell supports allowing more condo conversions, which would make the problem worse, telling us, "I believe home ownership is something we should promote."
He was also vague about how he will approach land use issues and how tough he'll be with developers in having them meet city design guidelines and provide affordable housing and other community benefits, saying only, "We need to have sustainable development in the city."
Yet the issues that do animate Farrell are those typically focused on by conservative D2 voters. Farrell lists his top priorities as seeing to his district's needs, promoting private sector job creation ("I think a lot of lip service has been paid to it, but not a lot of action by City Hall," he said), public safety, and quality-of-life issues (he supported Prop. L, the sit-lie ordinance, calling it "very reasonable"). Generally Farrell sees San Francisco as a city in he midst of a serious fiscal crisis, "and I want to create a San Francisco that is secure for the future over the long haul."