By Thomas K. Pendergast
A moment of jubilance for an election victory quickly soured after a video clip of Richmond District Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer cursing the San Francisco Police Officers Association (POA) during the celebration of Chesa Boudin’s upset win in the City’s district attorney race went viral.
Paperwork has been filed to gather signatures for recalling Fewer with a special election; and that recall effort then prompted a rally to support the supervisor. More than 100 of her defenders held a noontime rally in the Civic Center on Nov. 25.
“This recall effort, this recall sham, whatever folks want to call it; I live in the district, I grew up in San Francisco,” Jose Bernal, a Richmond District resident, said at the rally.
“You (those who started the recall effort) do not speak for me and my family. You do not speak for us that live in the Richmond District. Sandra Lee Fewer is a champion for civil rights, a champion in our community, and whether it’s big banks or whether it’s the POA, she’s not afraid to take on these big special interest powers. She’s there, on the ground, in the trenches with our community and I am proud to stand with her, along with my family.”
But at least 31 of her constituents are apparently not so proud of the moment, on the night of Nov. 5, when Fewer got on a microphone at a party celebrating District Attorney-elect Chesa Boudin’s upset victory and led the room in chanting a profanity against the police officer’s union.
“F— the POA! F— the POA! F— the POA!” Fewer yelled. The verbal assault was a response to the union after it spent hundreds of thousands of dollars opposing Boudin’s candidacy with a brutal negative ad campaign.
In the Notice of Intention to Circulate Recall Petition they filed with the San Francisco Department of Elections, the petitioners wrote:
“As they chanted, Supervisor Fewer and the enthusiastic crowd raised their middle fingers, thrusting them into the air to emphasize their point. A video of this event was widely distributed….
“She has insulted the hard working men and women of San Francisco’s police force,” the petitioners continued, “who do their best to protect our community. She has revealed her vitriolic and divisive tendencies by riling up a crowd with hate and profanity. She has failed the children of San Francisco who may look to her as a role model. She has betrayed her District 1 constituents and failed to represent their interests and opinions. She has embarrassed our city before the rest of the country.
“And yet Supervisor Fewer has refused to admit that her unhinged behavior was wrong. She needs to be removed from office immediately.”
Fewer said she did not mean to insult police officers, just their union. She points out that her husband is a retired 35-year veteran of the San Francisco Police Department.
“I just think (the POA) are anti every reform we have tried to do, including (eliminating) the choke hold, including (not) shooting at moving vehicles,” Fewer said in an interview two days before the rally. “They have been against the de-escalation tactics that we are teaching our officers now.
“It’s tone deaf to what San Franciscans really want,” she said. “It is protecting a status quo that no longer serves us well and it’s definitely not aligned with San Francisco values.”
Fewer claims the implementation of these reforms has led to a decrease in police shootings.
“Let’s look at this now and let’s move policing to the 21st century,” she said.
The POA did not respond to Fewer’s specific comments about them by press time.
But some of those behind the recall effort don’t think that distinction matters much. The spokesperson for the group, Brian J. Larkin, and his wife, Debbie Chan Larkin, wrote an open letter about Fewer’s comments that night.
“When our neighborhood’s elected leader so blatantly attacks our law enforcement, we have a responsibility to stand up for our police officers, firefighters and sheriffs,” the Larkins wrote. “What is gained by our supervisor attacking the city employees who serve our community? Is this not creating a hostile work environment? … The Richmond deserves a leader who we can trust to work together with City leaders to benefit all of us. Our neighborhood has serious challenges…. Small businesses are closing, families are moving away and the homelessness crisis continues to worsen….
“Yes, we all make mistakes. But we’re all not public officials whose job it is to represent a community – we have more than enough toxicity in Washington with the current president. Only ill can come of descending to his level of provocation and it plays in the national muckraking of San Francisco and the ‘fruits and nuts’ narrative,” the Larkins wrote.
Others, however, question going through the trouble and expense of getting more than 8,500 signatures (20 percent of the 42,713 voters registered in the Richmond District) to qualify for a special election when Fewer already faces re-election in November of 2020, when her current term expires.
Jon Golinger is a veteran of putting initiatives on the ballot. He said it is going to be very difficult for the petitioners to pull this off. In his opinion, this recall amounts to a “PR stunt.”
“There are about a dozen steps required to put a recall to the voters,” Golinger said. “It’s supposed to be a really high hurdle. It’s reserved for true corruption and such.
“In my experience, you either have to have overwhelming public support so that everyone you stop on the street will sign it, or a huge amount of money to pay people … some exorbitant amount so that paid workers will flood that district,” he said.
Should they get those signatures, the Department of Elections will take a few weeks to verify the legitimacy of the signatures, Golinger explained. The date that they could realistically put it before the voters would be in a special election early next July, which they would have to do, because no elected official can be recalled within the final six months of their term of office.
But Larkin, who unsuccessfully ran against Fewer for supervisor in 2016, thinks the recall effort will affect her re-election if she runs again in 2020.
“A recall will highlight something in her record that would otherwise have been forgotten,” Larkin said. “She’s got to run on that. I think that the recall will highlight that to the point where, come next election season, it will still be something people will be talking about, instead of just having been forgotten as just another ho-hum moment in San Francisco politics.”
Larkin said at this time he has no plans to run against Fewer in 2020.
But Fewer does not think that she should be judged by this one incident.
“I think that I have fought really hard for this district,” Fewer said. “People who come to community meetings know that I am present and I am there.
“I realize that the language was offensive and I apologize. I will hold myself to a higher standard. I am listening. I know that I represent a district that finds that language offensive,” she said.
“It is one thing for them to say ‘OK, we understand. She’s apologized. We’ll move on.’ It’s another thing to say ‘it doesn’t matter if you apologize. No matter what you do for us and the district, no matter what you say, it isn’t enough because saying that one thing is something that a recall should still happen,’” Fewer said.
She said recall elections are for corrupt politicians, not those who use offensive language.
At the rally, Dennis Kelly of the Richmond District Democratic Club gave his support to Fewer.
“We believe that we have had no finer City Hall representative than Sandra Lee Fewer, a woman who leads with intelligence and passion, and whose honesty and integrity has earned our support and confidence,” Kelly said.