Electionpalooza: SF school board recall will kick off a flurry of local races

‘It’s going to be a lot of elections and a lot of decisions for voters to make’

San Francisco voters are about to be hit with a rush of special elections that will force candidates to woo constituents with little runway time.

Three San Francisco Unified School District board members — Gabriela López, Faauuga Moliga and Alison Collins — will face a recall election on Feb. 15, the San Francisco Department of Elections announced on Monday. The well-funded campaign to recall the officials said it collected more than 79,000 signatures, surpassing the threshold of about 51,000 valid signatures needed.

An effort to recall District Attorney Chesa Boudin is also underway, with signatures due Oct. 25, and campaigns to replace outgoing Assemblymember David Chiu are heating up. An additional election is required to replace outgoing City Attorney Dennis Herrera, for which Chiu was appointed to fill out the term.

After all is said and done, San Franciscans may have the opportunity to vote in four different elections in 2022. Department of Elections Director John Arntz said an Assembly primary in February and Assembly general in April was “likely.”

“I can’t remember, of my time working in politics, of this situation happening,” said political consultant Maggie Muir, who is working on Bilal Mahmood’s campaign to succeed Chiu. “I think for voters, from their perspective, it’s going to be a lot of elections and a lot of decisions they have to make. I bet you a lot of people are not even going to know they’re getting a ballot.”

Whether the Assembly 17th District primary is consolidated into the same election as the school board recall still depends on when Gov. Gavin Newsom calls the general special election. He must set a date within two weeks of Chiu’s vacancy in the legislature, and the soonest Chiu can succeed Herrera as City Attorney is Nov. 1.

Assembly candidates, including former Supervisor David Campos and current Supervisor Matt Haney, are already gearing up for a February election. If that race is combined with the recall of school board members, dynamics could shift.

“The ‘yes’ on recall folks will be the most motivated; they will be raising awareness among their base to vote,” said political consultant Jim Stearns. “In order to survive, [school board members] would have to appeal to progressives. And because the Assembly race is on the more progressive side of town, and Campos and Haney will be encouraging progressives to come and vote, it might benefit them. If I were running the ‘no’ side on the recalls, I would just be saying this is crazy, it’s a waste of time, it’s a waste of money.”

The Feb. 15 election will also have to include Assessor-Recorder, vacated by Carmen Chu. Chu and Herrera were respectively tapped to replace City Administrator Naomi Kelly and Public Utilities Commission head Harlan Kelly, who resigned in the wake of a corruption scandal.

The City Attorney election would likely appear on the regular June 2 primary — as would the Boudin recall if it qualifies — or the special Assembly general election, according to Arntz.

Arntz added that The City’s special elections are estimated to cost $8 million. Under state law, the beleaguered SFUSD, which already faces a $116 million deficit, must pay for the associated costs of a school board recall election. The price tag would be reduced if combined with the Assembly and Assessor-Recorder races, but the Department of Elections does not yet have an estimate.

Experts also noted that the holidays, filled with travel and family visits in an ongoing pandemic, are sure to throw a wrench in campaigning for the February election. However, ballots are now automatically mailed to all voters, which will likely boost turnout despite the off-season.

“It probably compresses the campaign into a real sprint starting Jan. 2,” said political consultant Jim Ross. “The timing of this election is going to be challenging for just everyone to deal with. These are going to be expensive races. It gives a real advantage to candidates and campaigns that have endorsements, fundraising, the things they need to run for office placed earlier.”

The special elections aren’t the last voters will see of the school board and Assembly races. Chiu’s successor must run again in the regularly scheduled June 7 primary and Nov. 8 general election for the new Assembly term starting in 2023. López, Moliga and Collins are also up for reelection in November.

Confused? We don’t blame you. The bottom line is, be prepared to vote on multiple new local leaders in 2022—and keep your eyes peeled for a flurry of campaign materials.

imojadad@sfexaminer.com

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