San Francisco Mayor Gives Panda Diplomacy a Try

Facing a tough re-election fight in San Francisco, Mayor London Breed has already proposed building a soccer stadium in place of an underused mall, adding a college to the hollowed-out downtown and filling the city’s quiet streets with lively night markets.

But now, Ms. Breed has a new idea to reverse the city’s post-pandemic woes: giant pandas.

She returned Sunday from China wheeling a luggage cart through San Francisco International Airport with stuffed toy pandas brimming from the tops of her bags. Her biggest coup overseas was securing an agreement with the China Wildlife Conservation Association to have pandas take up residence at the San Francisco Zoo for the first time.

“Everyone is truly excited about pandas,” Ms. Breed said at the airport. “It represents so much joy.”

The arrival of the black-and-white superstars could be an economic boon for a city hit hard by the pandemic.

They could also give Ms. Breed a personal boost as she tries to shore up support among the frustrated electorate in San Francisco. Voters, particularly those of Asian descent who make up about 37 percent of the population, have told pollsters that they do not approve of the job the mayor is doing, and Ms. Breed and her challengers are fighting hard to win them over.

Securing the pandas would also be a marked contrast from last year, when two adult pandas and their 3-year-old cub were moved out of the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and flown back to China aboard a FedEx Boeing 777 called the Panda Express.

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