Recall Elections and Public Safety
Last month, voters decisively chose a different direction for the school board, recalling all three Board of Education Commissioners on the ballot by large margins.
In the Sunset, nearly 85% of those who voted made it clear that they saw these commissioners as unfit to continue leading SFUSD. And they had good reason to – for too long, our district has been embroiled in controversy after controversy, as bad decision-making processes led inevitably to bad decisions. While I didn’t and don’t support many of those decisions, I also didn’t support the recall, and many have asked me why. I wanted to take this opportunity to explain.
Thirty-six percent of eligible San Francisco voters voted in the February special election. That’s a tragically low number. Many of those who did vote voted for the first time, as many parents were motivated to oust school board leaders they felt were failing their children. As a parent myself, I understand this, and seeing first-time voters engaged and empowered is always a good thing for our democracy. But no matter how lopsided the outcome, 64% of voters didn’t vote at all, which is a bad outcome for democracy and democratic participation.
When tweets from Commissioner Alison Collins disparaging Asian students and parents were brought to light, I called on her to resign. I did this publicly in a letter, and privately in difficult and disappointing conversations I had with Commissioner Collins. I left those conversations convinced she was unfit to continue serving our students.
I also opposed the School Board’s decision to remove merit-based admissions at Lowell High without a sufficient public process. I sent the Board of Education a letter before they voted on this, and again after their decision was partially voided in court. I wish Commissioner Collins had the grace to resign, and I’m glad she will no longer be in public office. And I wish the Board of Education had taken a better path for deciding admissions at Lowell. And still, I could not sign on to recalls that were, by design, decided by a minority of voters.
I think all San Franciscans deserve a say in decisions that impact their lives, and we know that special elections leave too many voters unheard. I don’t think a higher turnout would have changed the outcome. The recall results are legitimate, and so are the reasons for them. I also don’t think we should celebrate or support bad processes, even when they lead to good outcomes. This is true for the School Board and their missteps. It’s also true for their recall.
I’m looking forward to the new Board of Education members charting a new path under the leadership of now-President Jenny Lam. I hope they listen to the parents who organized to be heard and changed the course of our schools and our City. I also hope they reach out to and engage with the majority of San Franciscans who didn’t feel motivated to participate in the recall election at all. Our students desperately need and deserve support. We all need to come together and make ourselves heard to fight for it.
Over the past few years, I’ve fought for and secured supplemental funding for STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) programs in all District 4 public schools, for before- and after-school care and Early College programs citywide, and for raises for teachers and educators. I led the negotiations with Mayor London Breed to secure a decade’s worth of Free City College funding, created the Workforce Education and Recovery Fund and followed through on my promise to bring City College classes to the Sunset. I’ll continue to work hand-in-hand with parents and school communities to deliver for our children, and to put outcomes over egos and results over rhetoric. I hope our new School Board does, too.
In June, we’ll decide another recall – our fifth in less than a year – of District Attorney Chesa Boudin. I also oppose this recall on principle. Reasonable people can disagree about Boudin’s record and policies. But still, recalls are not normal elections. Voters are not given a choice between candidates, policies or platforms. With recalls, we don’t get to choose between visions for the future or decide who is best suited for an elected role. And when recalls succeed, voters don’t get to choose the officials who hold those important elected seats at all; the mayor does. And while I support many of Mayor Breed’s appointments, I believe strongly that our elected leaders – from our public schools to the Hall of Justice, no matter how much I or anyone might disagree with some of their decisions – should be chosen by the voters and not by politicians.
I’m sure there will be many spirited debates over the next few months about public safety, incarceration, prosecution, charging decisions and criminal justice reform. I look forward to these important discussions. Meanwhile, I will continue to focus on my role as a legislator and my responsibility as a policymaker to improve public safety outcomes in the Sunset and across San Francisco.
At the start of the Lunar New Year, I joined with community leaders, SFPD Taraval Station and city agencies to announce the Five-Point Sunset District Community Safety Plan. These five new programs are aimed at ensuring the safety of the community with a focus on seniors, small businesses and Asian American residents.
Self-Help for the Elderly is providing senior escorts and video doorbells in seniors’ homes. A team of District 4 community ambassadors will be deployed in Sunset and Parkside commercial corridors by the Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs. The Sunset Safety Squad is a volunteer-based safety outreach program, and the Sunset Safety Network will coordinate and expand public safety programs and community engagement in the neighborhood. For more information about these new programs, contact my office.
Gordon Mar represents District 4 on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. He can be reached at 415-554-7460 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Categories: City Hall