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Politics & Policy

School board recall activist to challenge Dean Preston for supervisor

A woman is seated outdoors, smiling while looking at her phone, by a wall plastered with various colorful posters.
Autumn Looijen hangs a "Yes on G" sign at Martini Cleaners on 345 Divisadero St. on Feb. 23. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

An activist who launched the successful movement to recall three San Francisco school board members during the pandemic will run for the Board of Supervisors this November.

Autumn Looijen is expected to file paperwork to run for District 5 supervisor, challenging incumbent Dean Preston, on Monday morning. The district includes the Tenderloin, Hayes Valley, Japantown, Western Addition and Haight Ashbury.

"We see a lot of things that are broken in the city," Looijen said. "I want to take a look at our problems, understand them from all different directions and come up with solutions."

A smiling woman with glasses, wearing a patterned top, is leaning against a red brick wall.
Autumn Looijen poses for a portrait on Haight Street in February. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

She said San Francisco’s current system of government is not working, and she's in the process of talking to community members to better understand the issues, such as the drug addiction crisis in the Tenderloin.

Looijen, 46, a former tech worker and now a full-time political activist with SF Guardians, moved to San Francisco in late 2020 from South Bay and soon pulled paperwork to start the historic school board recall campaign because of her frustrations about the slow pace of reopening schools. San Francisco voters overwhelmingly supported the recall of three school board members in 2022.

Looijen said she and her team had already trained many qualified candidates to run for school board, and she chose to run for supervisor because she needed a bigger platform.

Autumn Looijen and Siva Raj explain their effort behind the school board recall.

Bilal Mahmood, who lost a 2022 Assembly race but is poised to win a seat on the Democratic County Central Committee after last Tuesday’s election, is also running for District 5 supervisor

Both Mahmood and Looijen are considered more moderate than Preston. Looijen said she likes Mahmood a lot, but wants to provide voters a different option.

Preston, a Democratic Socialist and tenants' rights attorney, is the most progressive voice on the Board of Supervisors

In a statement, Preston's campaign accused both Looijen and Mahmood of receiving money from tech executive Garry Tan, who created controversy due to an angry tweet saying "die slow" to many city supervisors, including Preston.

A man in glasses and business attire speaks at a podium against a red curtain backdrop.
Supervisor Dean Preston speaks at a press conference at San Francisco City Hall in 2023. | Source: Camille Cohen/The Standard

"Looijen and Mahmood have each taken thousands of dollars from Garry Tan," the statement said. "And neither has repudiated his death threats against seven supervisors."

Tan donated $25,000 to the campaign for Proposition G to urge the San Francisco public school district to offer algebra for eighth graders, a campaign that was led by Looijen and received overwhelming voter support. Mahmood also received $5,000 from Tan for his DCCC race.

Another candidate is Allen Jones, a Tenderloin resident and prison reform activist.