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    San Francisco Is a Strong-Mayor City

    U.S. cities tend to be governed in one of two basic ways: by a “strong-mayor system” or a “weak-mayor” one. In the latter, nearly all power resides with the city council. San Francisco, like Los Angeles, is considered to be a strong-mayor city without public school control. Here, the mayor is the top executive. This individual can either approve or veto bills passed by the legislative branch, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. The mayor here can also appoint members to the Board. Additionally, because San Francisco is a consolidated city-county, the mayor serves as the county’s head of government, too. Because of these and other factors, San Francisco mayors tend to leave a lasting, defining legacy that lives on in our city and affects all of us.  

    Our LGBT community was forever changed by the assassination of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk in 1978. The losses sparked renewed activism, but also left an overwhelming sadness that is still palpable today. Before his death, Moscone appointed the first black woman and the first lesbian to the San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women. He prevented the Giants from moving to Toronto, and often stood up to officials in Washington for civil rights causes that he supported. His successor, Dianne Feinstein, took office as an ardent gun control advocate, and later authored the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban. If you enjoy the city’s cable car system, you can thank Feinstein, who led its renovation.

    When Art Agnos became mayor in 1988, LGBT civil rights were continuing to evolve and the HIV/AIDS epidemic was deeply affecting our community. In terms of the former, he signed a law establishing domestic partner recognition for lesbian and gay couples, but voters narrowly repealed it in 1989. Agnos still moved forward with a Family Policy Task Force that fought for, and won, domestic partner health insurance rights for the city’s 20,000 employees. In 1991, San Francisco voters did finally approve a new domestic partners recognition law. Regarding HIV/AIDS, Agnos served as Chair of the U.S. Conference of Mayors AIDS Task Force. He organized the lobbying effort that resulted in passage of the Ryan White Care bill, and pushed forward a 98 percent increase in the city’s AIDS budget. Footage shot in 1988 ( shows one of Agnos’ many visits with patients at San Francisco General Hospital.

    If you take BART to the San Francisco Airport, think of Frank Jordan, who helped to make that possible. Like Moscone, he also successfully fought to keep the Giants here. Our next and 41st mayor, Willie Brown, still has tremendous presence in the city. Brown gained a strong work ethic from his grandmother. His first job was as a shoeshine boy in a whites-only barber shop, followed by work as a janitor, fry cook and field hand. Ambitious and studious, he worked his way through Hastings College of the Law and never looked back. In terms of our community, he approved the Equal Benefits Ordinance that required city contractors to provide domestic partner benefits to their employees.

    Same-sex marriage will forever be synonymous with Gavin Newsom, who as mayor in 2004 gained national attention when he directed the San Francisco city–county clerk to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, even though this was in violation of the then-current state law. Members of our team will never forget the wedding ceremony—presided by Newsom—of longtime lesbian activists Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin. We also remember words about same-sex marriage, aired during a Proposition 8 commercial meant to discredit him and the cause. Newsom daringly said, “This door’s wide open now. It’s going to happen, whether you like it or not.”

    Now we are mourning the passing of Edwin Lee, a seasoned and hard-working city administrator who at first was reluctant to seek election. A number of local political activists—including Rose Pak, Christina Olague and Enrique Pearce—started a “Run Ed Run” campaign in June 2011 to encourage him to put his name on the ballot. He did, of course, and over the following years led a revitalization of the Mid-Market area, helped to bring tech companies into the city, worked to resolve housing challenges and led efforts to increase the city’s minimum wage. We remember seeing him beaming at the San Francisco Pride Parades, which he genuinely seemed to enjoy. He was always kind and professional in our dealings with him and his staff. In personal exchanges, we found him to be unassuming and very considerate. He touched the lives of so many, including our own photographer Rink, who saw and conversed with Lee nearly every week at events throughout his terms, and even beforehand when Lee served as director of the Human Rights Commission.

    Our cover and issue therefore pay tribute to Mayor Lee and other past mayors, but also look to the future of San Francisco and its leadership. For a city with a strong-mayor system, we have surprisingly had numerous leaders over the decades who did not directly seek the key role that they found themselves in, yet still became popular, influential mayors. Acting Mayor London Breed seems poised for that destiny, especially given that she was unanimously re-elected as President of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors on January 9, 2017. She already has achieved an important first, by becoming the first woman of color to serve as our city’s mayor. She is only the second African-American mayor in the city’s entire history, after Willie Brown. We wish Breed great success at this time of both local and national uncertainty. As she recently said, “Our city’s values have never been more important.”