Feb 17, 2024 - Business

VC Mark Farrell joins the San Francisco mayor race

Illustration of two crossed checkered flags atop shapes and money textures

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

This week, venture capitalist Mark Farrell jumped into the race to become San Francisco's next mayor.

Why it matters: He's running at a time of unprecedented civic engagement by major players and investors in the local tech sector.

The big picture: Farrell is no stranger to San Francisco's City Hall — or even the job of mayor. While serving as a district supervisor he briefly became interim mayor following Ed Lee's death in 2017, amid a controversial decision by his colleagues.

  • His most recent private sector job is managing director of Thayer Ventures, an early-stage venture capital firm focused on the travel industry. The firm's most prominent investment is Sonder, a cross between a hotel and a short-term rental operator.
  • If elected, he pledges to put his investment holdings in a blind trust.

What he's saying: "I'm running for mayor not to have City Hall conduct business as usual — I believe we need to challenge the status quo at every level," he tells Axios.

Zooming in: Farrell's initial campaign message is heavily focused on public safety, and touting other projects like building more housing, that appeal to the tech set.

  • Policing: He's calling for a new police department chief, increasing the city's police staff and tells Axios he favors high-tech methods like facial recognition technology.
  • Homelessness: Farrell pledges to clear encampments from the streets, and wants to improve the city's resources to help unhoused people. "We will offer them shelter or housing but if they say no, will make it inconvenient for them to live on the street," he says. "I believe that the streets belong to everybody."
  • Self-driving cars: "I believe that autonomous vehicles are the future … despite a few incidents on our roads, they are still safer than human drivers," he says. Companies still need to operate transparently with regulators and the public given the high stakes of road safety, he adds.
  • Downtown: Along with improving "the conditions of our streets," Farrell tells Axios that the city should give tax breaks to employers — but only if they require some in-office days, and eschew having in-house gyms and cafeterias that enable workers to avoid patronizing local businesses.

Between the lines: Farrell will have to compete for the tech industry's moderate-left votes against Mayor London Breed, Supervisor Ahsha Safaí, and Daniel Lurie, a local philanthropist and heir to the Levi Strauss fortune.

  • Steven Buss, director of left-leaning political group GrowSF which counts tech execs among its leadership, tells Axios that the organization has met with Farrell and the other candidates, but hasn't decided who to endorse yet.
  • TogetherSF, which also has strong backing from tech investors like Mike Moritz, counts former Farrell staffers among its ranks.

Yes, but: Farrell's City Hall experience also means he has a record in office for voters to scrutinize, and potentially hold against him, at the voting booth in November.

The bottom line: "I believe [San Francisco] can be fixed and it's worth saving," he tells Axios when asked about a venture-backed project brewing Northeast of San Francisco to build a new city.

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