A Tale of Two Recalls, and Maybe a Third

San Francisco voters overwhelming recalled several members of the school board on February 15th. Among those booted out of office was Alison Collins, who described merit-based school admission systems as “racist” and fought to take down a historical mural depicting the life of George Washington. The straw that broke the camel’s back was a series of tweets in which she used a racial slur to describe Asian people.

Alison Collins. Credit: Alisoncollinssf.com

The recall effort was about more than just one woman’s racist tweets. The school board that Collins served on got national attention for a string of controversies. The most important was the board’s decision to keep schools closed longer, and reopen slower, than other similar districts. During this time, the board focused on ending merit-based admissions and renaming schools whose namesakes were no longer considered politically correct. Each eligible school board member was recalled with more than 70% of the vote. Collins was recalled 78% to 22%.

Two Recalls

The successful school board recall is linked in the public mind with another San Francisco recall: that of District Attorney Chesa Boudin. Boudin is the son of two members of the Weather Underground, a radical militant organization active in the 1960s and 1970s. Both parents were sentenced to life in prison for the murder of two police officers and a security guard. In an almost-Shakespearian plot, Boudin grew up to become a criminal defense lawyer. In 2019, Boudin ran for District Attorney and succeeded in what many described as a hostile takeover.

When Boudin took office he changed the way crimes were prosecuted in San Francisco. His supporters described these changes as reforms and his opponents described them as “soft on crime.” In an unusual court hearing, a Superior Court judge described Boudin’s management of his office as disorganized, inadvertent, and marred by constant turnover and managerial reorganization. The rate of property crime began to increase, and has continued to increase during his tenure. Drug use and homelessness in San Francisco have become a cliche in the media.

Does Boudin Need to Worry About the Results of the School Board Recall?

Alison Collins and Chesa Boudin are both polarizing liberal figures in San Francisco politics. Almost immediately after the school board recall, people began to wonder if it would predict the district attorney recall. For example, the San Francisco Chronical ran an article titled, “Should Chesa Boudin Be Worried About the School Board Recall Results?” The Chronicle concluded that the groups that voted for the school board recall are “unlikely to seamlessly transfer” their “recall fervor” to Boudin. The Washington Post’s Henry Olsen wrote that Chesa Boudin, and other national figures, should take notice that they “are not what the voters want.” The Spectator wrote that “Chesa Boudin, facing his own recall election on June 7, might be the next to go.” They noted that San Francisco mayor London Breed and police chief Bill Scott have signaled support for Boudin’s recall.

And of course, Twitter has an opinion:

Whatever the case may be, opponents of the wave of changes to the criminal justice system are hopeful. Many speak of the “pendulum” finally swinging away from progressive changes. Whatever the case may be, on June 7, progressive district attorney George Gascon may be watching Boudin’s recall results the same way that Boudin watched those of Alison Collins.

Notes

Alison Collins’ quote about admissions was “When talking about merit, meritocracy and especially meritocracy based on standardized testing…those are racist systems.… You can’t talk about social justice, and then say you want to have a selective school that keeps certain kids out from the neighborhoods that you think are dangerous.” Meanwhile, Collins’ children attended the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts, which also has merit-based admissions requirements.

Collins is an interesting person. She is half black and married to a white real estate developer. They live in Russian Hill, where houses can sell for more than $10,000,000. Although their two daughters are half white and one quarter black, Collins describes them as black.

After the controversy over Collins’ tweets, she sued her own school board for $87 million dollars. If she had won, that $87 million dollars she asked for would leave the hands of teachers and students and head right to her house on Russian Hill. It’s hard to imagine that someone who cares about local public education would want to do something like that. Fortunately for the students, a judge dismissed her lawsuit, saying it had no merit and there was no need for argument in court. Unfortunately, defending the lawsuit still cost the school district $110,000.

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