The Board of Education being successfully recalled in San Francisco is a matter of dark money style politics

San Francisco’s Special Election on Feb. 15 — which culminated in the successful recall of Board of Education President Gabriela López and commissioners Alison Collins and Faauuga Moliga — garnered unprecedented national media coverage and heavy financial backing from billionaire venture capitalists, tech moguls and right-wing political forces. 

The recall effort, which painted itself as a “grassroots” effort, raised nearly $2 million by election day, according to the San Francisco Ethics Commission. That fundraising, undoubtedly, impacted the wave of national media coverage the special election received. Fox News reveled, in what many consider, an anti “woke” coverage of the three commissioners, as did the columnists and editorial boards of various daily newspapers across the country, parroting the trope that the election results served as a warning to the “woke” left. 

While the renaming of schools, a change to Lowell High School’s admission system from a merit-based one to a lottery, and the slow process of opening schools dominated headlines, the capital behind the recall is perhaps the real story. 

The recall effort fundraised through three main committees—Concerned Parents Supporting The Recall Of Collins, Lopez, And Moliga; Recall School Board Members Lopez, Collins, & Moliga; and the San Francisco Parent Action Pac To Support The Recall Of School Board Members Collins And Lopez—and between them raised a whopping total of $1,919,310, compared to the $41,251 raised by the “No On Recall” committee. A separate committee, “No On C! Stop The Recall Of Faauuga Moliga,” raised an additional $45,025. 

Gabriela López
Board of Education President 
Recalled by 72 percent

Charter school proponent Arthur Rock contributed $399,500 to the recall. Ron DeSantis fanboy and tech mogul David Sacks contributed another $74,500. Jessica Livingston of wealthy Palo Alto threw in another $45,000. And realtor PACs — California Association of Realtors and the California Real Estate Political Action Committee — contributed $55,900 and $29,000, respectively. 

And though funding almost certainly had an impact, especially when it came to ads targeting the commissioners, so did low voter turnout. 

Faauuga Moliga
Board of Education Commissioner
Recalled by 69 percent

When López, Collins and Moliga won their seats in November 2018, the total voter turnout (election day and vote-by-mail) was 372,848 (74.49 percent). In that election, Lopez garnered 112,299 votes out of 817,920 (13.73 percent), Collins won 122,865 (15.02 percent), and Moliga got 107,989 (13.20 percent), according to the Department of Elections. 

Alison Collins
Board of Education Commissioner
Recalled by 76 percent

Bluntly put, total voter turnout for the special election on Feb. 15 was dismal. A total 179,981 ballots (36 percent) were cast in the special election. Total recall votes cast for López were 127,022 (72 percent); 134,871 (76 percent) for Collins; and 121,197 (69 percent) for Moliga. 

The Mission District — which in 2018 had a total turnout of 74.83 percent — saw a 34.85 percent total turnout on Feb. 15. Some of the neighborhoods with the highest special election turnout were West of Twin Peaks (49.11 percent), Upper Market/Eureka Valley (49.40 percent), Richmond (38.37 percent) and Sunset (38.41 percent).  

Mayor London Breed, who endorsed the recall, celebrated the result and praised the parents involved in the recall effort, and now will choose the replacing commissioners. 

Moliga, who is Samoan and the first Pacific Islander elected official in San Francisco, conceded shortly after the preliminary results of the election. A day later, he resigned effective immediately. 

The recall of these three democratically elected commissioners, who prioritized the safety of students, educators and their families — many of whom are Black and Brown students who felt the sting of the pandemic more than most — made clear what many of us have known for much time. That liberal San Francisco isn’t the progressive bastion it pretends to be. 

This is a city where votes can be bought by elites who don’t have the interest of those most vulnerable. This is a city that cares more about preserving the status quo than it does about real equity. This is a city that prioritizes maintaining monuments to owners of enslaved people rather than equal opportunities to education. 

Can or will future elections change that? We’ll see.