News Update

Voters recall three board members in San Francisco by big margins

San Franciscans exasperated over how public schools have been managed during the pandemic tossed three school board members out of office Tuesday in a recall election that drew national attention. In a landslide, voters recalled board President Gabriela López and members Alison Collins and Faauuga Moliga. Partial returns from 128,000 mostly mail-in votes, more than seven out 10 backed the recall, with nearly 79% voting to oust Collins, 75% to remove Lopez and 72% to recall Moliga.

It marked the first recall election in San Francisco in 40 years.

The turnout is expected to be light; fewer than half of registered voters retuned mail-in ballots, compared with last year’s recall vote of Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Organizers who started the recall effort more than a year ago included parents who grew impatient as schools remained closed last year, even though Covid infection rates were among the lowest in the state. They criticized the board’s misplaced priorities — renaming 44 schools with what they considered white supremacist associations, including George Washington High, Abraham Lincoln High and Diane Feinstein Elementary, board infighting, and an unsolved $125 million deficit.

“It’s not about renaming, itself,” recall co-lead Autumn Looijen told Politico. “It’s about renaming while the house is on fire.”

Collins sued the other board members for $87 million claiming they infringed her free speech — a lawsuit thrown out of court. The board eventually board shelved the renaming plan, and a judge put in abeyance another controversial decision, to move from a merit-based admissions policy at selective Lowell High School to a lottery. The board cited systemic racism and a lack of student diversity as reasons for the change. That riled the Asian community, which considered the decision aimed at them, since 50% of Lowell’s 2,800 students are Asians.

The recall campaign raised $2 million, more than 10 times the funding of recall opponents. Among those backing the recall were state Sen. Scott Weiner, several members of the board of supervisors and Mayor London Breed, who will name the replacement members who will serve until a November election.

Recall opponents, which included United Educators of San Francisco, characterized the election as an effort to privatize schools and undermine progressive values. Big donors included the business and real estate community and venture capitalist Arthur Rock, a Democrat.

National observers watched with fascination to divine the significance of infighting among progressives in a city where Republicans make up 7% of registered voters. Others saw the vote as a nonpartisan reminder that parents in San Francisco, as elsewhere, want schools open and budgets balanced.

Organizers might have attempted to recall all seven board members, but only three had served long enough to qualify for a recall.