By Edward Epstein
Feb. 16, 2022
Three San Francisco school board members who had voted to remove Abraham Lincoln's name from a high school in the city were overwhelmingly ousted from office Tuesday in a special recall election.
The margins for immediately removing Alison Collins, Gabriela Lopez and Faauuga Moliga were lopsided -- 79%, 75% and 73%, respectively. Under California's recall law, San Francisco Mayor London Breed, who had supported the recall move, will get to appoint three replacements to fill out the remainder of the members' four-year terms. It seems certain her appointees will oppose removing Lincoln's name from the high school.
It was back in January 2021, months after the city's public schools had closed because of the covid pandemic, that the seven-member school board voted to drop Lincoln's name from a high school He was hardly alone as the board moved to remove historic figures' names from 44 schools because of their alleged racism. Lincoln was hardly alone. Former Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt were on the list, as was Paul Revere, California environmentalist John Muir and even former San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein, now California's senior U.S. senator.
The board's decision was quickly met with a tirade of criticism for rewriting history, failing to consult with historians and parents and probably most importantly for distracting the board's attention from dealing with the pandemic closure that left tens of thousands of schoolchildren trying to learn from home. By April 2021, the board said it was putting the renaming plan on hold, although it left itself the option of reconsidering the move later on.
The board was sued by City Attorney Dennis Herrera in February 2021. His suit said that school officials failed in their duties of preparing for a return to school.
Angry parents began a drive to collect the signatures of registered voters on petitions calling for the three members' removal from office. The initiative was certified and the result was Tuesday's low-turnout election, in which only about 30% of the city's voters turned out.
"The voters of this city have delivered a clear message that the school board must focus on the essentials of delivering a well-run school system above all else," Breed said after the election. "San Francisco is a city that believes in the value of big ideas, but those ideas must be built on the foundation of a government that does the essentials well."
The pro-recall effort had drawn big contributions from outside San Francisco from Silicon Valley tech executives and charter school advocates. But the big margin for the recall indicates that such big spending probably wasn't needed.
Outspent anti-recall forces said big-money interests were trying to force progressives out of local power and said the recall was unnecessary because school board members will be elected in the regular election in November of this year.
San Francisco, home to Democratic politicians Gov. Gavin Newsom, Feinstein and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, is overwhelmingly Democratic. Joe Biden got 85% of the city's vote in November 2020.