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Chesa Boudin recall campaigns sprint to signature-gathering deadlines

San Francisco police will no longer work with the office of District Attorney Chesa Boudin, pictured, on police shootings, according to letter sent Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022. (File Photo By Yalonda M. James/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

One of two campaigns to recall San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin hits a key deadline this week, marking a turning point in how the efforts to bounce San Francisco’s controversial lead prosecutor may shake out. 

The first campaign, called Committee Supporting The Recall Of District Attorney Chesa Boudin and launched by former Republican mayoral candidate Richie Greenberg, wrapped up its signature-gathering effort this week and has until Aug. 11 to deliver those signatures to the Department of Elections. 

The campaign is cautiously optimistic about meeting the signature threshold, said Greenberg. The recall campaigns must reach a threshold of 51,325 valid signatures ⁠—equivalent to 10% of registered voters in San Francisco⁠—in order to qualify for a special election, and signatures are reviewed by San Francisco’s Department of Elections for validity.

“We are confident yet cautious because the amount of pushback [and] disinformation is brutal,” Greenberg said in an email. 

Should Greenberg’s effort qualify, the second recall campaign⁠—called San Franciscans for Public Safety Supporting the Recall of Chesa Boudin⁠—would be canceled, and a special election to recall Boudin could be scheduled for as soon as November 2021. It’s not clear if it will ultimately meet the signature threshold, however: ​​Greenberg cited a high number of apparently fake signatures, which will be tossed out if found to be invalid. 

The second campaign, launched by former San Francisco Democratic Party chair Mary Jung, has outraised the first campaign by a wide margin. 

As of Aug. 5, the most recent financial reporting date for political campaigns, San Franciscans for Public Safety had raised more than $708,000. Its largest single donor is a political action committee (PAC) called Neighbors for a Better San Francisco, which counts financiers Jason Moment, William Duhamel and Holden Spaht among its major contributors and has given $450,000 to the recall campaign, according to filings. Large individual, direct donors to the campaign include Garry Tan, co-founder of Initialized Capital, who contributed $50,000.

“They've raised a bunch of money, and I think they have enough time and enough funding to qualify for the ballot,” said political consultant Jim Ross. “Signature gathering is basically a combination of time and money...there’s enough people in San Francisco who would sign that [recall petition].”

Underpinning both recall efforts is a sense among many San Franciscans that the city has become less safe. 

Citywide polling data suggest that concerns about crime are widespread and growing: A May 2021 poll by EMC Research found that crime was the top concern for 27% of San Franciscans surveyed. That was the second most-common response, trailing only homelessness at 30%. Since the onset of the pandemic, crime issues have surged past cost of living, transportation and housing as one of the top three concerns cited by residents.  

Police data suggest that the pandemic turned crime trends in San Francisco upside down. Auto burglaries⁠—which comprise the single largest category of crime reports⁠ in a typical year—shrunk dramatically as tourists avoided the city last year. Homicides and shootings ticked up, and burglaries targeting both homes and businesses surged. Larceny reports fell as businesses shuttered en masse, yet high-profile instances of aggressive or repeated shoplifting at certain businesses drew scrutiny and raised concerns about a lack of deterrence for repeat offenders.  

Tan, a longtime Democrat who said he hadn’t participated heavily in local issues prior to the DA recall, told Here/Say he was spurred to support the recall effort by the high-profile attacks of Asian-American seniors in San Francisco.

“It hit my radar just because we increasingly saw, basically, people who look like my grandmother being stabbed and robbed in the streets,” Tan said. “There are candidates out there who will be able to find that line between getting the reform that we need⁠—and helping the people in society that need help⁠—while also keeping the city safe.” 

On the side against the recall, two committees supporting Boudin have collectively raised just shy of $500,000.

One committee, called Friends of Chesa Boudin Against the Recall, raised $277,000 as of Aug. 5. Its largest single donor is Chris Larsen, a tech entrepreneur who has also bankrolled a network of private security cameras in San Francisco. 

The second committee, San Franciscans Against the Recall of Chesa Boudin, is sponsored by the Real Justice PAC, which has given $100,000 of that committee’s $214,500 total haul. 

Incorporated in San Francisco, Real Justice PAC received $750,000 in donations from Open Philanthropy, a fund created by Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and his wife Cari Tuna. Tuna also separately contributed $50,000, among other contributors. 

Real Justice PAC, which was co-founded by the controversial activist Shaun King, has given funds to support Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascon and Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, among others. Patty Quillin, the wife of Netflix founder Reed Hastings, is a contributor to Real Justice PAC and Smart Justice California Action Fund, which each donated to the anti-recall efforts.   

The Friends of Chesa Boudin Against the Recall committee describes the recall campaigns as a costly and distracting initiative “fueled by fear-mongering” and points to Boudin’s elimination of cash bail, efforts to prosecute police officers and other initiatives as examples of his success in office. Supporting organizations listed on its website include Our Revolution, a political action group spun out of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaigns, the climate activist group Sunrise Bay Area and the American Federation of Teachers Local 2121, among others. 

The second, Democratic-led recall campaign has until Oct. 25 to deliver 51,532 valid signatures, and expects to exceed the signature threshold: The campaign said on Aug. 11 that it had collected more than 50,000 signatures. It is aiming for at least 70,000 signatures to account for any invalid petitions. 

Should its signature-gathering effort succeed, the recall campaign will thrust both the pro- and anti-recall coalitions on a fast track to a special election in the coming months. 

The Democratic recall campaign expects an election to occur either in February or June 2022, according to Andrea Shorter, the campaign spokesperson. Unlike the recall effort targeting California Governor Gavin Newsom, a recall election of Boudin would not come with a concurrent election of alternative candidates; instead, Mayor London Breed would appoint a replacement according to the city’s charter.

Recall elections in San Francisco are rare, and include a failed recall attempt of Dianne Feinstein, then-Mayor of San Francisco, in 1983. 

This year, in addition to the recall petitions targeting Boudin, three members of the San Francisco Board of Education are facing a recall campaign spurred largely by outrage over the slow pace of public school reopenings. Voters across California will also decide whether to recall Newsom in a special election scheduled for Sept. 14.