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Politics & Policy

Leaders cheer San Francisco’s latest anti-racism U-turn

The Department of Elections office, located at San Francisco City Hall, is pictured on Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022. | Jana Asenbrennerova for The Standard | Source: Jana Asenbrennerova for The Standard

City leaders on Wednesday cheered San Francisco’s continued success in rescinding measures initially billed as ways to fight racism.

“It's an irony that sort of perfectly fits this entire situation,” Supervisor Hillary Ronen said Wednesday after a panel reversed plans to replace the city’s straight, white male elections director as a way to promote racial equality. 

The Standard had earlier revealed that under elections chief John Arntz, the agency set a gold standard for advancing the city’s equity goals, with an unusual 97% of staff endorsing those efforts.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin—who supported a measure compelling the Elections Commission to keep Arntz—also endorsed the about-face. He said he doubted the sincerity of anti-racism claims from the Elections Commission, which “wasn't concerned with equity when he renewed his contract five years ago.” 

This was the latest U-turn away from moves originally promoted as ways to improve the city’s racial climate. 

Last April, the San Francisco Unified school board backed off plans to rename schools including Paul Revere Elementary after being shown its mistake in believing Revere stole land from Native Americans.

John Arntz, the director of San Francisco's Department of Elections, saw his job status go into limbo after the Elections Commission voted last month to conduct a nationwide search. | Courtesy ABC-7

In June, the school board reversed a decision to chisel away an enormous mural by a famed social realist painter after historians noted that depictions of slaves and Native Americans being abused was meant as criticism, not glorification.

Last month, the Elections Commission voted to let Arntz’s contract expire as a way to “take action on the city’s racial equity plan.” But as The Standard reported earlier this week, public records showed that Arntz’s department has one of the best records in the city when it comes to equity.

Some of his staffers said they felt burned by the now-abandoned move. 

“It seems like an excuse,” said Mayank Patel, an elections staffer on the department’s racial equity team. “That's the sad part. We’ve done all this work, we have progress, we have data, we have changes over time that we can track. But that’s not really the focus apparently.” 

Norma Agustin, another staffer on the racial equity team, said commissioners missed the big picture.

“When we speak of diversity, we should not look at one person, but we should look at how that one person has influenced a whole department,” she said. “We are not just saying it, we are doing it.”

Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at