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Exclusive: The Mayor’s Allies Are Gearing Up for a Recall Battle

But their fundraising efforts may not be all that they seem.

Mayor Ed Lee's backers have been asking loyal donors to make it rain. But why?


This year has been a miserable one for Mayor Ed Lee, who can barely stick a whisker outside of Room 200 without being booed by protesters. Now he is the target of a recall petition carried by the group of activists who previously brought us the ill-fated Mission Moratorium. In the age of Trump, God knows that anything can happen. But it’s fair to say that few veteran political professionals in San Francisco believe that the recall will ever make it before voters. “I consider it dead on arrival,” says mayoral frenemy Rose Pak. 

But that hasn’t stopped Lee’s closest backers from using it to their advantage. As San Francisco has learned, supporters of the mayor have been quietly soliciting big bucks to battle a potential recall—an effort which many would-be donors suspect is less about combating the recall than about amassing a war chest for future mayoral priorities. 

According to several sources, powerhouse Democratic fundraiser Stefanie Roumeliotes has been deployed by Team Lee to hit up deep-pocketed individuals. “This is in its nascent stages,” says one donor who received a call from Roumeliotes, and who describes the amount of money being solicited as a “five-digit ask.” Says another, who was rankled by the fund-raising call, “Most of the people who are being asked to give big checks know the recall is total bullshit. Everyone knows it’s not going anywhere.” (Roumeliotes—who on Friday also sent out emails for an Aug. 24 $100,000-a-couple Hillary Clinton gala in Piedmont—has not yet returned calls.)

The recall, agrees another longtime Lee supporter “has no legs.” And yet there’s a great deal that could be done with the heaps of money that the mayor’s allies hope to amass in the next few months. Unlike an official re-election campaign, donations to fight a recall are not bound by any contribution limits. This means those funds could be transferred to a committee that has “like restrictions” on money. In other words, dollars ostensibly amassed to fight a recall against Ed Lee can instead be used to fight...well, anything.

And, as it turns out, there are quite a few upcoming ballot measures that are not to Lee’s liking, and could use a five-digit infusion of capital. Progressive supervisors have saturated the November ballot with initiatives that would limit mayoral power—forcing supervisorial appointments onto the Municipal Transportation Agency board; creating an Office of the Public Advocate; and forming a commission to oversee the Mayor’s Office of Economic Workforce and Development, the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development, and the Department of Real Estate. 

These measures, in fact, were all deemed objectionable in a July 27 email penned by Jay Cheng of the San Francisco Association of Realtors, a Lee supporter who invited a bevy of pro-business and development advocates and moderate mayoral and board staffers to an August 3 morning meeting to be hosted by the Chamber of Commerce. The agenda: “putting together a campaign to oppose the bad government amendments” and “forming a coalition to oppose them on the November ballot.” The email titled Wednesday’s forthcoming get-together the “Exploratory No Bad Government Campaign Meeting.” 

There is—to be clear—no proof of any direct connection between Roumeliotes’ fund-raising calls and the No Bad Government Campaign. But, should the recall fizzle, as many in the mayor’s orbit expect it to, that money likely could be redeployed to aid Cheng’s group or another with similar motivations. When asked if the anti-recall money will eventually be repurposed into a fight against other measures, Pak is resolute: “Oh, I’m sure. Let’s be honest about it.” 

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