Recall-mania is back! San Mateo Mayor Amourence Lee was just elected in December, but already faces a recall effort, one which seems entirely about rehashing the circumstances of her election.
You might remember the bizarre December episode where the City of San Mateo went for a week without a mayor, mainly because the mayor of San Mateo is not directly elected by the voters, but instead by its five-member city council. And when one city councilmember has just left for the state Assembly, and the four remaining councilmembers are the candidates for the job, that leaves all manner of room for political shenanigans. That is exactly what happened, though the end result was the council voting to elect its most senior member Amourence Lee, which is consistent with how city council had handled that matter for the last 128 years.
But barely two months later, there is already an effort to recall the San Mateo mayor, according to the Bay Area News Group. Moreover, according the to the Recall Amourence Lee website, the recall process was initiated “On December 5th, 2022,” which is before she was even elected mayor. (The mayor of San Mateo simultaneously serves on city council.)
The recall’s website’s homepage is pretty threadbare, and lists vague reasons for the recall: “DERELICTION OF DUTY, CONDUCT UNBECOMING of a councilmember, and FAILING to prioritize her constituents.” (Capitalizations theirs.) There is a rehash of vote-trading allegations on the page, saying “Lee made an unsubstantiated claim of ‘back door deals’ impacting a critical choice for a City Council seat.” But in this case, it was Lee alleging the the vote-trading.
A letter from five former San Mateo mayors supporting the recall is similarly vague. (They are not the five most recent mayors, just five former mayors.) But the Bay Area News Group reports that one of these former mayors' rationale is that former mayor Claire Mack “said Lee has made offensive remarks about people living in neighborhoods west of El Camino Real — a majority affluent, white area.” Those remarks are neither referenced nor quoted, and may be political hay from the city’s housing and zoning battles.
For her part, Mayor Lee is trying to stay above the fray. “This divisive and wasteful recall is based on falsehoods that will cost our city $1 million,” Lee told the San Mateo Daily Journal. (Its actual cost is estimated at $730,000). “Tax dollars should go towards city services. I’m focused on the real work of helping our community access opportunities for affordable housing, getting emergency relief to flood victims, and post-pandemic economic recovery.”
The vote-trading allegations, wherein both sides are accusing the other of wrongdoing, have started a county investigation. But it’s unclear if anyone is in the wrong, or if anything illegal happened. San Mateo County district attorney Steve Wagstaffe told the News Group, “Other than to say that Mayor Lee has been interviewed by my investigator, I would say the case remains under investigation and thus there’s not anything more to release about it,” and “It is ongoing and we are hopeful we can complete it within a few weeks.”
There is little evidence of a voter uproar against Lee, just people at City Hall with an axe to grind against her. At the same time, there is little evidence of support for Lee — her district elected her, and not the entire city. She was appointed by her colleagues, and there’s no way of knowing her support level in the city. So perhaps what ought to be recalled here is the unconventional way that San Mateo elects its mayor.
Image: Amourence Lee, San Mateo Mayor via Facebook