Those who support recalling District Attorney Chesa Boudin might lose their first battle, but still have a shot at winning the war.
It’s looking like the first of two committees seeking to recall Boudin, led by former Republican mayoral candidate Richie Greenberg, could fall short of submitting enough signatures by its Wednesday deadline to bring the question before voters.
As of Friday, the committee was nearing the 51,000 signed petitions needed to qualify, Greenberg said, but struggling to gather the extra signatures needed in case some turned out to be invalid.
“We are really concerned that that cushion is not going to be built,” Greenberg said.
At the same time, the second committee pursuing a Boudin recall, run by more moderate Democrat political consultants Andrea Shorter and Mary Jung, is raking in gobs of cash from deep-pocketed donors, making it increasingly likely Boudin will face a recall vote early next year.
They’ve collected close to 44,000 signatures as of Thursday and have until late October to hit the same threshold.
Both committees are built around the notion that Boudin, a progressive prosecutor who campaigned on a platform of reducing mass incarceration and reforming the criminal justice system, is making San Francisco less safe. While Greenberg was first out the gate, the second committee was started to distance the recall from his Republican affiliations.
Political consultants say the success or failure of either campaign is largely about the money. While the second committee has shelled out cash to pay for professional signature gatherers, the Greenberg campaign is using only volunteers.
“If you have enough money and enough time, you can basically get enough signatures to move any ballot measure or recall forward,” said political consultant Jim Ross, who predicted the first effort would fail to qualify for the ballot, but the second would succeed.
The latest campaign finance filings, released Thursday, show the Greenberg-led effort gathered $277,000 between February and the end of July, including $75,000 from tech investor David Sacks and $50,000 from Chicago-based investor Daniel O’Keefe.
That’s compared to the moderate, Democrat-led effort, which has amassed $715,000 since April alone. Most of those dollars — $450,000 — came from a political action committee called Neighbors for a Better San Francisco, according to city filings. While the PAC passed the dollars through other committees branded as Stop All Asian Hate and San Francisco Common Sense Voter Guide, the funds all come from the same place.
State filings show Neighbors for a Better San Francisco collected $670,000 in the month of June from just eight individuals, including San Francisco socialite and Republican donor Dede Wilsey. Those individuals also include Holden Spaht, a managing partner of private equity firm Thoma Bravo; Mimi Haas, a board member of Levi Strauss and Co.; and both Jason Moment and Bill Duhamel of Route One Investment Co.
Julie Edwards, a political consultant running a committee defending Boudin that has brought in $255,000, largely from a group called Real Justice PAC, characterized the funds as being from conservative donors who are opposed to criminal justice reform and progressive DAs.
“What’s happening in San Francisco is happening all across the nation,” Edwards said. “The reality is that despite their branding, the second committee is very much a part of this.”
But Shorter said it’s far-fetched to paint her supporters as “racists or as Trump Republicans.” She said the political affiliations of donors is also beside the point.
“This is not about the money,” Shorter said. “This is about San Franciscans who do not feel safe, who have lost confidence in the district attorney, and are very clear and resolved that he be recalled.”
Political consultants not involved in the campaigns say the moderate-led effort has essentially capitalized on the energy Greenberg first tapped into.
Ross said the Greenberg campaign essentially acted as the “stalking horse” for the second recall effort.
“It showed the more moderate folks in town that there was a path to qualifying the recall,” Ross said. “But they decided in order to do that you needed real experienced, credible political operatives in San Francisco.”
Political consultant Eric Jaye said the Boudin recall began as a grassroots push started by Greenberg that is now being seized on by moderate Democrats.
“That campaign is being co-opted,” Jaye said. “You now have the moderate faction sensing an opening and advantage based on Boudin’s inability to read the crowd and failure to communicate well. They are rushing into that breach to take advantage of Boudin’s failure.”
Like the effort to recall the school board started by parents, Jaye said the Greenberg campaign amounts to a populist revolt against the political elite.
“They have awakened a sleeping giant,” Jaye said. “When you tell people who are concerned about their safety that their concerns are deplorable, or when you tell parents that their children don’t matter or don’t matter as much as a political agenda, they revolt. And there is a revolution going on in San Francisco right now and that revolution threatens both factions of the governing cartel.”
Jaye said he doubted the Greenberg campaign would qualify but said the moderate-led one would because of funding.
Greenberg still has some time to gather signatures. If his committee fails to qualify, he said it will be because of two issues. For one, Boudin supporters have been sending him falsified petitions in droves with fake signatures signed with names like “Ben Dover.” The other issue is the second committee confused voters.
“The second recall effort is unfortunately blocking us,” Greenberg said.
If his committee does not succeed, Greenberg said he would begrudgingly sign the other petition.
“It would be expected, in the end, that we would have to support them,” Greenberg said. “That’s the hardest pill to swallow.”
As for Boudin, he’s used the recall efforts to fundraise from his supporters to the tune of $282,000 thus far. He said he’s going to stay focused on making San Francisco safer while the process plays out.
“The political consultant class will tell you that in Calfornia, if you spend enough money you can get enough signatures for anything,” Boudin said. “Time will tell if that’s true in San Francisco in 2021.”