A nearly year-long pipe dream of San Francisco activists, agitators and discontents becomes a reality today. A petition to recall Mayor Ed Lee was approved by the Department of Elections this weekend, and signature-gathering begins today from noon to 5 p.m. outside the San Francisco Public Library Main Branch.
The effort to recall Mayor Lee began immediately following the legally required six-month waiting period from his rowdy and contentious inauguration to a second term. Recall organizers, officially dubbed the Commission To Recall Mayor Ed Lee, kicked off their effort in July, had their initial rally disrupted by well-organized counterprotesters and a curious malcontent hurling racial slurs, and faced a series of bureaucratic hurdles getting the Department of Elections to approve their petition. But the petition is now approved with copies printed, and the recall movement has 160 days (or until March 18, 2017) to gather the 47,000 signatures required to merit a special election in mid-2017. Because many petition signatures are routinely rejected, recall advocates are shooting for 60,000 signatures.
Make that 59,999 signatures. The honorary first signature was signed by Ike Pinkston, one of the Frisco Five activists who participated in this spring’s hunger strike outside the Mission Police Station.
Just getting approval for the wording of the petition has been a bureaucratic tussle between recall advocates and the Department of Elections that has lasted since mid-summer. “It took four separate cycles of ten days each for the Department of Elections to tell us what to do next,” said David Carlos Salaverry, co-author of the petition and Treasurer of the Committee to Recall Ed Lee. “We feel there was really no need to insist on the maximum statutory delay. Especially for the kinds of things we were correcting, which were dotting of I’s and crossing of T’s.”
“There was one substantial issue, which was some of the wording,” Salaverry told SFist. “We wanted to follow the state code, which says that the people doing the recall have to demand an election, and the Department of Elections told us because the city charter basically says that if there’s a recall of a mayor, the Board of Supervisors president will automatically become the next mayor.”
That would be Supervisor London Breed, for those keeping score at home.
“They told us we had to have that particular phrase, so we ran in circles on that,” Salverry told me. “We’re still not sure that this isn’t going to be an issue for us later on down the road. We’re afraid that they’re basically trying to put us in a situation where a judge would say we did it wrong.”
If you’re just dying to sign the petition to recalled Ed Lee as soon as possible, recallers will have a table out at the SF Public Library Main Branch today through Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. daily. You can also donate or sign up to volunteer at RecallMayorLee.com, or check the recallers’ Twitter and Facebook pages to keep track of where petitioners will be located.
“We will certainly be expanding our coverage of San Francisco's 7x7-mile expanse within the next week, as we continue to welcome more community support,” recall co-organizer Jon Foreman told SFist. “Volunteer district managers will be recruiting friends and family to blanket their district in opportunities to sign the recall petition over the next 160 days.”
Mayor Lee’s office did not return comment for this article, and has been consistently giving the "no comment" to all matters related to the recall. But as per law, the the mayor does get an opportunity to make a statement on the recall ballot itself.
“When I first took office, our City suffered from ten percent unemployment, spiraling pension costs and enormous deficits,” the mayor’s statement says. “Today, just five years later, our City has emerged stronger than ever, with record-low unemployment and record-high tax revenues. We have revived our economy, balanced our budgets, and we are re-investing in every neighborhood.”
“I know our economy has brought strong challenges, and together, we are tackling them,” the mayor’s statement says.
We should note that recalls like this almost never work. Old-timers may recall how the attempted recall of Dianne Feinstein in 1983 backfired, with former mayor Art Agnos calling it “a political boon for her.” The Grey Davis recall of 2003 was a successful effort to oust the California governor, but it was bankrolled by the wealthiest man in Congress Darrell Issa (R, CA-49). This recall has no such sugar daddy.
And even if organizers get their 60,000 signatures, the recall election would be a notoriously low-turnout special election in which the mayor’s vaunted turnout machine would enjoy a humongous advantage. Furthermore, San Francisco Magazine reported in August that Mayor Lee has been using the recall for a significant fundraising push, soliciting donors for a “five-digit ask” that is not bound by any contribution or disclosure limits.
But the mayor remains well below 50% in approval ratings and is now incapable of appearing at public events without being booed and heckled. If these signs are any indicators, then Mayor Lee might not be twirling his mustache at 200 City Hall past the middle of next summer.