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School board recall leader and mayoral appointee Ann Hsu loses to progressive challenger

School board member Ann Hsu participates in an interview with The Standard at Mountain Lake Park in San Francisco on Aug. 2, 2022. | Juliana Yamada/The Standard

Update, Nov. 17: Ann Hsu conceded in a video posted Thursday morning.

“While the results are not entirely what we wanted,” she said, “I wish the newly elected board members the very best.”

In the video, Hsu mentioned the records of her work on the board during her eight-month appointed term and hinted she will continue to fight for public education.

“Not being on the board gives me freedom to focus solely on advocating for students and families.”

Original Story

At a joyful election night party last week, Ann Hsu, the mayoral appointee joined supporters in celebrating initial results that put her 8,240 votes ahead of progressive challenger Alida Fisher for the third and last seat on the San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education.

But that comfortable lead only shrank with each new round of returns. Now, Hsu is thousands of votes behind, and will likely lose her seat.

Hsu declined to comment Wednesday afternoon, but said she will release a video statement soon.

SF Board of Education Commissioner Ann Hsu speaks to supporters at the Chinatown subterranean bar and lounge Lion’s Den on Nov. 8, 2022. | Alex Mullaney/The Standard

Hsu rose through the ranks of Asian American activists and parents mobilizing during the pandemic for a school board recall to become the face of the campaign, appearing in Chinese-language TV ads and leading press conferences advocating for new leadership on the SFUSD board.

Voters heeded her call. 

In February, San Franciscans voted to remove three school board members in a landslide. With Hsu’s profile elevated in the national press, it came as little surprise when Mayor London Breed appointed her as one of three replacements, alongside Lainie Motamedi and Lisa Weissman-Ward.

The trio formed a voting bloc on the board that went on to restore a controversial academic-based Lowell High School admission policy.

(Left to right) Lisa Weissman-Ward, Ann Hsu and Lainie Motamedi, three new members of San Francisco school board, pose for a portrait in front of the San Francisco Unified School District building at 555 Franklin St. on March 18, 2022. | Ekevara Kitpowsong

They also banded together to campaign to keep their seats in the fall election—at least until July, when Hsu made remarks that fractured the alliance.

The fallout stemmed from a candidate questionnaire in which Hsu said she believed Black and Latino students struggle in school because of a “lack of family support.” The statement caused a political firestorm, with critics slamming Hsu as racist and tone-deaf.

Hsu apologized, but the controversy had momentum, prompting a slew of elected officials and powerful groups like the NAACP and the San Francisco Democratic Party to demand her resignation.

Gloria Berry, whose daughter is an SFUSD educator, holds a sign at a rally calling for school board member Ann Hsu to resign at SFUSD headquarters on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

Though she resisted calls to step down, Hsu acknowledged her mistake, joining her board colleagues in an August vote to formally admonish her.

In an exclusive interview with The Standard that month, Hsu said she was “trying to understand a problem” when she wrote down the divisive questionnaire statement and didn’t mean to offend anyone.

Through it all, Breed stood behind Hsu—the mayor called the blowback a “teaching moment.” The recall activists and many other Chinese American parents also rallied behind Hsu.

Motamedi and Weissman-Ward went on to campaign without Hsu, who doubled down on garnering support from the Asian American community as the only Asian candidate in the race. 

Ann Hsu speaks at a rally in favor of a merit-based admission system for Lowell High School outside the San Francisco Unified School District building on June 16, 2022. | Ben Fanjoy for The Standard

But Hsu was more persuasive in campaigning for the recall than for her own election.

The latest results leave Hsu languishing in fourth place, about 3,600 votes behind Fisher while Weissman-Ward and Motamedi, safely secured their places on the board.