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The SF school board’s long history as a political springboard

Tom Ammiano at a fundraiser on Sept. 25, 2008. Ammiano launched his political career on the San Francisco Board of Education. | Photo via Getty Images

Among the complicated political dynamics of the San Francisco school board recall vote is the fact that the board has long been a proving ground for ambitious politicians and a stepping stone to the Board of Supervisors in particular. Rightly or wrongly, a board seat is often about more than helping public schools. 

Tom Ammiano is Exhibit A. After winning election to the board in 1990 as a teacher, comic and openly-gay candidate, Ammiano leveraged his success into 15 years on the Board of Supervisors, a mayoral bid, five years in the state Assembly and a place in San Francisco and LGBTQ+ political history.  

The Standard took a look at the 32 individuals who have held board seats over the past thirty years and found at least 10 ran for city supervisor. Seven won, including Jane Kim, Shamann Walton, Eric Mar, Sandra Lee Fewer, and Matt Haney, who is now attempting to one-up his supervisory experience with a California State Assembly seat in District 17.

Matt Haney, then-Board of Education vice-president and Sandra Lee Fewer, then-Board of Education commissioner, listen to speakers during a Board of Education meeting on April 13, 2015. Both went on to become San Francisco supervisors. | Photo via Getty Images

Several other former school board members went on to prominent positions in public life, including Frank Chong, president of Santa Rosa Junior College, and Steve Phillips, a voter mobilization activist and expert on race in politics. 

Jill Wynns, the longest-serving school board member, failed to be re-elected in 2017 after 24 years on the board. She largely remained out of the political spotlight until logging her support for last week’s recall.  

Leland Yee and Keith Jackson are atop the list of former school board members who wish they’d faded into the background:  Both were convicted of federal crimes and sentenced to prison more than a decade after their terms ended.

Will Matt Haney become the next Tom Ammiano? Or will he follow in the political footsteps of one of the other famous—or infamous—SF school board members listed below? Tune in to the April run-off election to find out. 

Political Moves of Former School Board Members

(Listed from Most to Least Recent Departures) 

Mark Sanchez 

SFUSD Board: 2001-2009, 2017 to date

Ran for District 9 Supervisor in 2008 but lost to David Campos. Left teaching to become a principal. Reelected to school board in 2016.

Rachel Norton 

SFUSD Board: 2009-2021

Named Executive Director of the California State Parks Association.

Matt Haney

SFUSD Board: 2013-2019

Elected District 6 Supervisor in 2018. Won a spot in the April runoff election for California State Assembly District 17.

Shamann Walton 

SFUSD Board: 2015-2019

Elected to the Board of Supervisors in 2019 representing District 10.

Emily M. Murase

SFUSD Board: 2011-2019

Ran for District 7 supervisor but lost to Myrna Melgar.

Sandra Lee Fewer

SFUSD Board: 2009-2017

Elected Supervisor of District 1,  serving from 2017 to 2021.

Norman Yee

SFUSD Board: 2005-2013

Elected to the Board of Supervisors representing District 7 and served from 2013-2021.

Jane Kim

SFUSD Board: 2007-2011

Represented District 6 on Board of Supervisors from 2011-2019. Appointed state director of the California Working Families Party in January.

Eric Mar

SFUSD Board: 2001-2009

Elected to represent District 1 on the Board of Supervisors, serving from 2009-2017. Twin brother of current District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar.

Emilio Cruz 

SFUSD Board: 2001-2005

After serving in a variety of appointed offices including Muni chief and SF’s director of economic development, Cruz was moved to the school board by Mayor Willie Brown when Mary Hernandez resigned. Until 2015, Cruz served as assistant general manager to the SF Public Utilities Commission–working with general manager Harlan Kelly, who was charged with fraud and bribery in 2021. 

Frank Chong

SFUSD Board: 1997-2003

Became president of Laney College in Oakland and Mission College in San Jose before serving in the Obama Administration as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Community Colleges at the United States Department of Education. Has been president of Santa Rosa Junior College since 2012.

Steve Phillips

SFUSD Board: 1993-2001

Co-founder of PowerPAC+, an independent voter mobilization group, host of “Democracy in Color” podcast, and a noted author and commentator on race in politics.

Juanita Owens

SFUSD Board: 1997-2001

Ran for supervisor in 2000 but lost a runoff election to Matt Gonzales.

Keith Jackson

SFUSD Board: 1995-1999

Dogged by reports of financial misdeeds during his term on the board, Jackson ended his career with a racketeering conviction in the “Shrimp Boy” scandal that also ensared former school board member Leland Yee (see below.) He is currently serving a 108-month sentence at the federal prison in Lompoc and due for release in November 2023. 

Leland Yee 

SFUSD Board: 1989-1997

Elected to SF Board of Supervisors in 1998 and re-elected in 2000. Represented District 12 in the California State Assembly from 2002-2006 and was then elected to the California State Senate District from 2006-2014. Announced campaign to run for California Secretary of State in 2014 but ended the run when he was arrested by the FBI, charged with multiple federal crimes as part of the “Shrimp Boy” scandal,convicted, sentenced to five years in prison and released in 2020. 

Tom Ammiano 

SFUSD Board: 1991-1995

First elected at-large to the Board of Supervisors in 1994, unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 1999, and continued as District 9 Supervisor through 2009. Elected to State Assembly District 17 and served from 2009 through 2014. 

Roderick McLeod

SFUSD Board: 1980s-1991

Defeated in 2010 run for SF Superior Court judge. 

Corrections: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Jill Wynns opposed the recall and that Sandra Lee Fewer was elected to represent AD-17.