Lessons Learned During a Recall Campaign
12:43 GMT 21.07.2021 (Updated: 19:51 GMT 31.10.2022)
© CC0Golden Gate Bridge
It's just under 4 weeks left until the signature submission deadline for the committee undertaking a recall of San Francisco’s controversial district attorney Chesa Boudin.
A crime wave is hitting this once glorious city, gaining national and even international attention amid disbelief and scorn. Observers conclude, should the required number of valid signatures (51,325) be presented to the city's Department of Elections by the deadline, Boudin would be removed from office in a landslide. Voters really are that up in arms.
The Recall Committee undertaking this effort is riding the wave of public sentiment and media attention it earned beginning early March of this year, so this recall should have been easy as cake, perhaps finishing the job early. But, this is San Francisco.
The Recall Committee has been gathering signatures at a steady pace to date, even during Covid restrictions, by virtue of the official petition being distributed online for San Francisco registered voters to download, print, sign and mail in, bypassing in-person social gathering prohibitions, at RecallChesaBoudin.org
The March Big Launch
The first day of signature collection was Friday, March 12 at noon, in a much-publicised online event. Voters in huge numbers downloaded the petition files and mailed them in; the first phase of the recall was underway. But just six days later, ominous clouds began to gather. Recall Committee chairman Richie Greenberg was contacted by a "group" of activists wanting to urgently discuss the recall, the results of which were astounding.
This unnamed group asserted, no - demanded - that the Recall Committee stop all activity in its tracks. They demanded Greenberg walk into City Hall, cancel the recall petition, then publicly announce his support for the yet-to-be-named new organisation and their own recall effort, and to return all financial donations received.
© AP Photo / Eric RisbergSan Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin poses outside his office in San Francisco on Jan. 30, 2020
San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin poses outside his office in San Francisco on Jan. 30, 2020
© AP Photo / Eric Risberg
As ludicrous as this sounds, this group was serious. Their demands were real, coming with a threat- that if Greenberg didn't shut everything down as instructed, this group would "crush his efforts".
But it was six days after launch, March 18th, and by then the Recall Committee had already collected nearly 3,500 signatures and $75,000 in donations. There was no way Greenberg would abandon the effort.
Word got out of the existence of this so-called "2nd Group" to several of the Recall Committee's volunteer managers - and after hearing pie-in-the-sky promises made of a bigger and more aggressive effort than the original Recall Committee's, several volunteers left, lured to the 2nd Group.
Bizarre messages were pushed by this still-unnamed group via back channels, attempting to infiltrate and demoralise the Recall Committee's staff. The tactics did work with some. But the bigger question remains: if the ultimate goal of any committee is to qualify a recall of the district attorney, why isn't DA Chesa Boudin even mentioned in their strategy?
Why aren’t the two committee's combining efforts and strengths to get the job done? San Francisco's voters would be the real losers; they would likely become confused by two partially overlapping recall efforts which could actually lead both groups to failure. Was this a sinister plan? Regardless, the Recall Committee quickly replace those volunteers who departed with fresh, energised people committed til the end.
Social Media Attacks
The signature gathering continued at a steady pace from March 12th throughout April and May. At the same time, the few departed volunteers which had joined the 2nd Group began aggressively attacking the Recall Committee on social media, employing what should only be characterised as psy-ops propaganda techniques.
They told Big Lies about the Recall Committee in attempts at ruining their integrity and trust, inviting anyone to learn about alleged "insider information from those in the know" and claims of having damning evidence.
© REUTERS / Brittany Hosea-Small The San Francisco City Hall is seen in the distance as crews work to move a 139-year-old Victorian house, known as the Englander House, down Fulton Street to its new location
The San Francisco City Hall is seen in the distance as crews work to move a 139-year-old Victorian house, known as the Englander House, down Fulton Street to its new location
© REUTERS / Brittany Hosea-Small
The group alleged the Recall Committee entire staff had left, the committee was defunct, and the government had voided their petition, so voters should not sign their petition. Truly heinous and malicious tactics, these statements are a violation of California election laws. The question still begs, why on earth are these 2nd Group people trying to cause the recall to fail?
The 2nd Group actually filed the required legal paperwork to form their own committee beginning a separate, competing recall effort, launching May 26th, in the middle of the first Recall Committee's signature collecting calendar. Mary Jung is a recently-ousted chairwoman of the San Francisco Democrat Party's leadership and is the leader of the new group, Safer SF Without Boudin.
The public and local media were confused, many postulated this 2nd Group's presence was malicious. Some label them "grifters", "con artists", "opportunists" and even operatives of the embattled district attorney Chesa Boudin himself. The group's kick-off event unveiled their posters and logo- with design apparently stolen right from the first Recall Committee.
Also participating at that event were several members of the San Francisco Republican party leadership, despite the 2nd Group's insistence that no republicans were involved with their effort. Republicans are shunned and a kiss of death in San Francisco.
Revelations, Eye-Opening Fundraising and Expenses
The Recall Committee has been continuously raising substantial funding from nearly only individual local San Francisco residents. The 2nd Group, at first, barely raised any funds at all, but quickly evolved to a pattern of larger chunks of donations from only a few corporate and PAC (Political Action Committee) donors, rightfully earning the group a label as a big business and politically-driven endeavour.
Soon after it was revealed the group was in direct coordination with the San Francisco Republican Party. On June 2nd, the SF GOP officially endorsed the 2nd Group.
Financial reporting in June indicated along with their quickly-increasing donations came huge expenditures which put the 2nd Group in debt by hundreds of thousands of dollars. Their lead proponent, Andrea Shorter, is being paid a salary of $16,000 every month, for what nobody can clearly understand.
The 2nd Group leadership decided to primarily employ paid signature gatherers to obtain the necessary number of signatures, rather than offering their petition online.
Yet paying for signatures is a huge expense, amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of several months. Where the Recall Committee raised and spent money prudently and honestly, and has an all-volunteer team, the 2ndGroup incurred huge debt each month and continues to spend recklessly.
Signature Gathering Battle
The Recall Committee has collected tens of thousands of signatures by now, via voter’s self-serve online petitions downloaded, printed, signed and mailed, or via volunteers around the city gathering signatures in public.
© Photo : Richie GreenbergRecall Committe Team
Recall Committe Team
© Photo : Richie Greenberg
Shortly after May 26th, the 2nd Group began paying their signature gatherers rather than using volunteers.
Worse, these paid signature gatherers operate in the most aggressive and off-putting manner, with hand-written signs instead of professional-produced signage.
© Photo : Richie Greenberg2nd Group signature gatherer
2nd Group signature gatherer
© Photo : Richie Greenberg
Voters have become confused by their presence, not knowing if they represent the Recall Committee or the 2nd Group. Social media has become a sea of concerned voters wondering which petition they actually signed. A signature on one petition cannot be credited towards the second effort and vice-versa, as they are two different efforts with different deadlines, administered by different committees. Yet, a voter may sign both without consequence.
Perception of Petition Blocking Confirmed
Several weeks after the 2nd Group's May launch, the Recall Committee team members, supporters and the voting public have come to the conclusion the 2nd Group is actively working to block the success of the first committee's attaining the required signatures by August 11th.
Complaints from the public have been received at the Recall Committee headquarters, mistakenly being blamed for rude, disrespectful and harassing signature gatherers outside supermarkets and department stores- locations where the Recall Committee does not actually have volunteers.
In reality, it's the paid personnel of the 2nd Group acting in an unprofessional manner towards the public. Store managers, market supervisors and others continue calling and emailing the office to this day demanding the removal of the disruptive individuals. The committee explains the individuals are not part of the effort but are with the 2nd Group.
On Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere, 2nd Group members have been harassing the Recall Committee leadership, their supporters and financial donors on a continuous basis. Again, the big question remains why? Why is the 2nd Group so strongly seeking to block the success of the Recall Committee?
Winners and Losers
This effort at a recall is supposed to be about holding a rogue elected official accountable. Chesa Boudin's career as district attorney is on the hook and rightfully so. San Francisco's voters are eager to throw him out of office, sooner the better.
Clearly, this two-recall-group drama is ridiculous; the outcome very well may be Chesa Boudin himself the winner, should neither recall effort obtain the required 51,325 signatures triggering a special election. This would indeed be outrageous. The August 11th deadline for the Recall Committee's submitting of petition signatures looms and the 2ndGroup is observed increasing their own activities substantially.
The losers? Should both recall efforts fail, San Francisco's residents, business owners and tourists - who have all been witness to the surge in crime – will remain targets of criminals with impunity.
Is an Expectation of Support Ridiculous?
When the Recall Committee launched last March, every newspaper, radio and local television network had the recall effort as a top story. Team leader Greenberg was interviewed daily and the public's awareness of the recall grew, recognising the Recall Committee is leading the fight.
Yet unsuspecting voters just now learn there are two recall efforts concurrently, the most common reaction is "voters just want Chesa Boudin out". Yes, San Franciscans are disgusted by Boudin's presence, yet they don't realise a very real scenario where the 2nd Group is actively blocking a successful outcome for the Recall Committee. Worse, voters don't know which recall petition they had signed. One thing is certain: San Francisco's voters are expecting a recall election, and they don't care which committee's effort actually make it happen.
What the Recall Committee has learned is an expectation that if it fails to gather the threshold number of signatures, they must then turn to support the 2nd Group. That group has earned no mass media nor public attention; they've employed heinous character attack strategies; they've spent donation money carelessly enriching their own team members and interests.
This is the most difficult pill to swallow. Chesa Boudin must go, for the good of San Francisco. Yet achieving this may be a very expensive losing proposition.