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What will it take to Recall Mayor Lee?

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Guest Post by Amy Farah Weiss

Recall Fever on Social Media

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez’s latest Examiner column provided the first media mention of burgeoning efforts to place a recall vote of Mayor Lee on the upcoming November 2016 ballot. When “Rise of the Recall” was posted on the Vote 1-2-3 Facebook Group it quickly garnered over 280 likes and was shared over 50 times. “The sooner the better!!!” one recall enthusiast exclaimed. “Sign me up!” said another. The comment: “It’s happening. Fasten your seat belts”, inspired a few people to express their heartfelt delight.


But before we all jump on the revolutionary recall bandwagon, let’s explore whether a recall is something that: (1) Can actually find its way on to the November 2016 ballot; (2) Has the necessary support to succeed; and (3) Can be collaboratively developed to promote specific policy actions rather than ad hominem attacks. I’ll address all of these points in more detail below, but if you want to cut to the chase, please take a moment to fill out this ONLINE FORM to share your reasons for (or against) a recall and pledge to be one of the 600 registered voters that would be needed to gather 100 signatures each in late July.

We already have over 100 pledged volunteers after only two days of minimal outreach … perhaps YOU are one of the remaining 500 who will pledge to move this idea forward into action. Or maybe you think it’s all a terrible idea. Either way, read on to learn more and then fill out the online form.


2015 Mayor’s Race: A missed opportunity for city-wide policy debates

The Vote 1-2-3 candidates managed to receive a number of key endorsements, build a movement of over 10,000 active members on Facebook, and earn 35% of the vote despite the consistent meme that Ed Lee was running virtually unopposed. The untelevised League of Women Voters’ Mayoral Forum was one of the only opportunities that we had as grassroots candidates to present our policy ideas and platforms with the public in order to provide a contrast to the incumbent. It came as no surprise then when numerous #RecallEdLee posts began popping up immediately after the election. On November 4th, the day after the election, I began researching the details of a recall with the help of the Department of Elections. It turned out that recalls can’t be initiated until six months into an elected official’s term, meaning that a recall for Lee would have to wait till July 8th. But here we are in Spring 2016 with only two months to go before July 8th.


What is the process for getting a Mayoral recall on the November 8th 2016 ballot?

1. No one can file a petition to recall Mayor Lee until JULY 8TH. Period. No actual signature gathering can be started before that date, although those two months could be used to prepare the petition and organize 600+ registered voters in preparation of gathering signatures in mid-to-late July.

2. July 8th is the first day that a notice of intent and a copy of the petition could be turned in to the Department of Elections. The DoE then has 10 days to get the petition back to you with the go-ahead to gather signatures. Assuming that the DoE takes a full 10 days, it’s possible that signature gathering would have to wait until JULY 18TH to begin.

3. In order to ENSURE that the recall would be on the November 8th ballot, 44,000 valid signatures (10% of registered voters) would need to be turned in, which means at least 60-70K signatures would have to be collected. (because generally at least 30% are duds) by JULY 26TH. That is only NINE DAYS (although we could potentially have more time if the DoE returns the petition before 10 business days).

4. The Recall Guide states that if it is reasonable for the Director of the DoE to get a recall on a general election ballot, that the Department should do it. That means that if at least 44K valid signatures were turned in fewer than the 105 day pre-election mark of July 26th (let’s say they were turned in two weeks later on August 9th), the Director would still be able to reasonably add the recall to the November 2016 ballot which would be entirely reasonable. To be on the safe side though, the 44,000 valid signatures would ideally be collected and turned in by July 26th.

What actions from Mayor Lee could prevent a recall?

It is four months into Lee’s second term and our Mayor has yet to join forces with San Francisco’s social justice communities to satisfactorily address our most pressing issues: SFPD reform, Black and Brown Lives Matter, Short-term rentals, Homelessness, Housing affordability, Pro-worker economy, CCSF, and Arts and Culture Preservation. A recall is one of the tools available to us in our democratic system, and there is no shame or foul in critically exploring whether it is a feasible and strategic tool to use in order to hold Lee accountable to the needs of the people. Once again, critique of a recall effort is welcome and I invite you to share your insights and comments via this online survey.

As discussed above, a recall petition cannot be filed until early July 2016. If we were to draft a petition and present a list of actions by June 8, it could provide Mayor Lee with over a month to take specific actions that could prevent a recall (or legitimize the need for one). Check all the reasons that resonate with you on the online survey and/or add your own short-term and measurable actions):

1. Ed Lee must replace SFPD Chief Suhr with a qualified replacement (or interim replacement) selected through a community-input process with city-wide social justice advocates by July 8th 2016

2. Ed Lee must ensure that Crisis Intervention Team protocol has been properly codified and implemented within the SFPD to the satisfaction of city-wide social justice advocates by July 8th 2016

3. Ed Lee must endorse a humane and strategic transition protocol for homeless encampments to the satisfaction of city-wide social justice advocates by July 8th 2016

4. Ed Lee must endorse a new system that adequately fines non-compliant short-term rentals to the satisfaction of city-wide social justice and housing rights advocates by July 8th 2016

5. Ed Lee must begin developing an enforceable and adjustable cap on transportation network company drivers in the city (e.g. Uber and Lyft) with the collaboration of city-wide transit advocates, TNC and Taxi drivers, and environmental advocates by July 8th 2016(Note: This reason was suggested by a survey participant)

6. Ed Lee must hold multiple public forums where he is present to candidly answers questions from city-wide residents by July 8th 2016 (Note: This reason was suggested by a survey participant)


How would this recall be different then the failed Feinstein effort?

Feinstein’s recall was initiated by a fringe group called the White Panthers that opposed a gun-control ordinance passed by the Mayor. If a new recall effort is strategically tied to specific policy and accountability shortcomings it can serve as an additional forum to discuss key issues facing the city — and provide political leverage to urge Mayor Lee into action. Since the 2015 election, Ed Lee’s approval ratings have continued to fall while momentum has been building for activism in service to social justice and equity. Any recall effort should also support efforts to keep (and hopefully grow) a progressive majority on the Board of Supervisors via the November ballot.

Who would become our interim Mayor?

From the SF DoE Recall Guide: “A petition to recall the Mayor must include a request that the Board of Supervisors appoint a person to fill the vacancy until a replacement may be elected at a later date.” In other words, the Board of Supervisors would vote to appoint the interim Mayor (just like the Board of Supervisors appointed Ed Lee when Gavin Newsom was elected Lieutenant Governor). All the more reason to work to keep a progressive majority on the Board through the November elections.

Do recalls use tax-payer money?

Recalls only utilize tax-payers money if a special election is called. In this case, the goal would be to put the recall effort on the existing November ballot. With the right type of organizing and volunteer effort, this campaign could be conducted as an entirely volunteer-run effort or with minimal financial backing. Remember that the Vote 1-2-3 candidates earned 35% of the vote with less than $50,000 between them.


After initiating the Vote 1-2-3 campaign and placing third in the 2015 Mayor’s race, Amy Farah Weiss founded the Saint Francis Homelessness Challenge to challenge SF residents and leaders to take necessary action in support of unhoused residents.

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Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap

Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap

Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, poet, TV host, activist, and general shit-stirrer. His website is one of the most influential arts & culture sites in the San Francisco Bay Area and his freelance writing has been featured in Lonely Planet, Conde Nast Traveler, The Bold Italic, and too many other outlets to remember. His weekly column, Broke-Ass City, appears every other Thursday in the San Francisco Examiner. Stuart’s writing has been translated into four languages. In 2011 Stuart created and hosted the travel show Young, Broke, and Beautiful on IFC and in 2015 he ran for Mayor of San Francisco and got nearly 20k votes.

He's been called "an Underground legend": SF Chronicle, "an SF cult hero":SF Bay Guardian, and "the chief of cheap": Time Out New York.

1 Comment

  1. Miles_Long
    May 7, 2016 at 11:22 am

    So the reason for the recall is that Lee isn’t up to the standard of the radical “progressives?”

    I’m sorry but that’s not a solid enough argument to justify a recall. But please don’t let this nay-sayer stop your efforts. I like to see children struggle when climbing a slide.