District Attorney Chesa Boudin speaks at a press conference outside the Hall of Justice on Friday, May 7, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Supporters of the push to recall District Attorney Chesa Boudin seem to have all reached the same conclusion: The progressive top prosecutor is bad for public safety. But they can’t come to terms on who should lead their movement.
The recall effort has been marked by infighting since a second campaign to unseat Boudin emerged last month from Democrats who were uncomfortable with the initial committee being started by a Republican.
Whether the division will hurt the overall effort, or have any impact on the movement at all, has yet to be seen. But both campaigns already may be facing an uphill battle given the track records of past recall efforts that have not succeeded in San Francisco.
Shortly before a group of Democrats leaning toward the moderate side of the political spectrum launched the second campaign last month, a tech investor who has now become their top donor, took to Twitter to slam the earlier effort that was kicked off by former Republican candidate for mayor Richie Greenberg.
“Do not donate to the Recall Chesa Boudin recall that is out there right now,” wrote Garry Tan, a co-founder of an early stage venture capital fund called Initialized Capital. “It’s run by someone who has no shot (lone wolf Republican in SF, no political org.) — mainly trying to get it done in time for the recall of Gavin Newsom. It’s the wrong move. There’s a better one coming.”
Campaign finance records show Tan, who initially contributed $500 to the Greenberg-led campaign, has since given $10,000 to the second committee run by Mary Jung, the former chair of the local Democratic party and Andrea Shorter, a longtime member of the Commission on the Status of Women.
The split has incensed Greenberg, who calls the second campaign a “waste of attention.” While his campaign has raised nearly $187,000 since it started back in March, he said the fact that the new committee has raised about $20,000 — with half of that coming from Tan — proves the second effort is a “joke.”
“There’s a lot of very strange things coming out of that effort there that are trying to make our effort look bad which does not make sense,” Greenberg said. “Why would they want us to shut down? What would make sense would be if they help us, and if we don’t succeed by (the deadline for signature gathering), then they pick up and do their own effort. Instead they are doing a parallel effort. It’s just so shady.”
But his criticism doesn’t seem to have fazed Shorter, who helped start the second effort to appeal to a broader cross-section of San Franciscans.
“To be honest, I’m not really concerned what Richie Greenberg thinks about our campaign,” Shorter said. “We’re confident about our fundraising. What we are focused on right now is getting our dozens of volunteers on the streets to start our signature gathering effort.”
Internal disputes aside, political consultant Jim Ross said the effort to recall Boudin is already “quixotic at best.”
Previous efforts like the one to recall former Mayor Ed Lee in 2017 have not gathered the signatures needed to make it on the ballot, while the effort to recall then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein in 1983 appeared before voters but failed miserably. That failure also set Feinstein up to sail to victory in her next election.
“Even with a well-organized, well-disciplined campaign it would be really challenging,” Ross said. “But a fractured, dysfunctional effort is just going to make it that much more unlikely that he gets recalled.”
Ross said the division could result in unclear messaging to voters and conflicts over donors. But he would not discount the success of a recall entirely, saying that political movers like Jung and Shorter have previous winning efforts under their belts. “That’s real,” he said. Shorter has run committees in the past with contributions from deep-pocketed donors like Ron Conway — whose money has not turned up here.
The two recall committees are working on different timelines. The Greenberg-led effort has until Aug. 11 to gather about 51,000 signatures, while the committee from Jung and Shorter has a deadline of Oct. 22.
Greenberg said he believes his effort will be successful.
“People out there, they are not asking who started this,” Greenberg said. “They are not asking who is the committee behind this, what is the political party of anyone, they are just coming here and signing, saying we want this guy out.”
Meanwhile, the recall has given Boudin a chance to begin raising money from his supporters.
The latest campaign finance numbers show his candidate-controlled committee has raised about $268,000, with a recent $100,000 donation from political donor Chris Larsen, the co-founder of the technology firm Ripple.
Larsen previously contributed to a committee benefitting Boudin’s opponent in the 2019 election, Suzy Loftus, and is also a major donor behind controversial surveillance camera networks being set up around San Francisco.
Boudin has backing from a second committee which has raised about $233,000 and has major funding from a criminal justice group called the Real Justice PAC. Julie Edwards, a spokesperson for that committee, said she does not believe the recall campaigns have been effective.
“These recalls started with Republican-initiated efforts to overturn the election,” Edwards said. “They still are.”
As for Boudin, he said he’s staying focused on doing his work at the District Attorney’s Office.
“They are trying to distract us and I’m going to make sure my office stays focused on making San Francisco safe,” Boudin said.