Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s adopted hometown of San Francisco took the first step Thursday to formally condemn the appointment of a major hospital after him and his wife, the latest flashpoint in the debate over the appropriate role of billionaire philanthropy.
A recommended city supervisory board panel sentence, a move that reflects the increasingly controversial new policy of the tech industry and its founders. Activists on the left and right have been heavily critical of big tech companies like Facebook. And at the same time, there is a backlash from the buildings against the charitable donations of the mega rich.
The 3-0 vote is a manifestation of each of these cross currents, both of which are particularly strong in liberal San Francisco. The measure has no legal force. But a symbolic and full vote of the board of directors is expected on December 15.
Five years ago, Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, donated $ 75 million to San Francisco General Hospital, the only public hospital in the city, where Chan was a pediatrician at the time. As part of the donation, the hospital was officially renamed Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center.
Since then, Zuckerberg has become a political piñata as Facebook has grown and been chased by cascading scandals. And Zuckerberg’s troubles in his corporate life have increasingly spilled over to his charitable giving, especially through his wife and wife’s eponymous philanthropy, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.
And so, after years of crises and departures, a group of hospital nurses, anti-Facebook activists, and progressive lawmakers from the San Francisco Supervisory Board began to rally this summer to push back the name of the hospital. Rather than move to officially rename it – which may require the return of the $ 75 million giveaway – the group decided to push for a common ground: to condemn the name while leaving it in place.
That anger spread Thursday before the Committee on Government Auditing and Oversight, a panel on the San Francisco supervisory board.
“San Francisco’s only public hospital should not be named after someone responsible for endangering public health in our country and around the world – and yet it is,” said Gordon Mar, the main sponsor of the measure. “These are political choices, and they have a number of bodies.”
“We are of course grateful for the gift and we are grateful for any gift to our most important institutions during this time,” said Matt Haney, another supervisor who supported him. “But that doesn’t mean we should forever have essentially ceded publicity rights to this vital public institution.
The session quickly became a pop-off session on the founder of Facebook, with activists looting him for any corporate transgression and downplaying the importance of his giveaway, which was the biggest private giveaway ever given to a public hospital. The comments became quite caustic – for example, a Saint Franciscan called him “a rich amoral selfish who runs a mining company”.
Meanwhile, charity leaders have expressed concern over the precedent the resolution could set. Advocates of high-value philanthropy often argue that whatever tax or public relations benefits the donation offers to the donor, their money also does good for the disadvantaged. And the hospital Okay in 2015, when he agreed to the $ 75 million he would keep the Zuckerberg name for at least 50 years.
Kim Meredith, head of the hospital’s foundation, pointed out that Zuckerberg and Chan’s “heartfelt gift” had made the city “a model of care” during the coronavirus pandemic.
“This resolution of condemnation on the denomination of [the hospital] has the potential to have unintended consequences and a deterrent effect on past, present and future gifts to the city, ”she said. “We will need philanthropies to continue to address the challenges of Covid-19, health equity and recovery in the years to come.”
Meredith added in a subsequent statement that she was “proud that the hospital now bears their names”.
It is not uncommon for an institution to name something after a donor who makes a particularly large donation. Another San Francisco hospital is named after another tech billionaire, Salesforce founder Marc Benioff. San Francisco officials signed Zuckerberg’s naming contract in 2015.
But for an institution, formally condemning a donor is unusual, if not unprecedented.