A group of San Mateo residents are pushing for a special recall election in November of current Mayor Amourence Lee over their concerns about her leadership and tactics on the council.
The residents are calling for a change for what they say are civic failures and bad behavior by Lee, and are working to gather 9,000 signatures to trigger a recall election. Though the city now has district elections, Lee was elected citywide in 2020 and the recall would entail a citywide vote.
Lee said on her website that the efforts were against the real issues facing San Mateo, like community safety, lack of child care options, high housing costs and hateful attacks on the Asian American and Jewish communities. She also decried the costs of holding such an election. According to the San Mateo County Elections Office, the price of a special election recall in November for a standalone race would range from $609,000 to $730,800. However, it can’t determine the exact figure given the scarcity of standalone recall elections.
“This divisive and wasteful recall is based on falsehoods that will cost our city $1 million,” Lee said in an email statement. “Tax dollars should go towards city services. I’m focused on the real work of helping our community access opportunities for affordable housing, getting emergency relief to flood victims, and post-pandemic economic recovery.”
Michael Weinhauer, a San Mateo resident and president of the Central Neighborhood Association, is an organizer of the recall efforts. Weinhauer said one of the most significant issues occurred at a Dec. 12 meeting when Lee alleged individuals attempted to convince her to support Cliff Robbins, a member of the San Mateo Sustainability and Infrastructure Commission, to be the fifth member of the council to replace Diane Papan, who left the council after winning a seat in the state Assembly. Lee said she was approached on Dec. 7 and Dec. 11 by individuals claiming she could be voted mayor if she agreed to vote for a particular candidate to fill the vacant council seat. The situation occurred over an impasse in appointing Lee as mayor by a four-person council. Two councilmembers wanted to fill the council seat first so five could appoint the mayor instead of four, while two others wanted to vote for the mayor first. If the vote was locked 2-2, the city charter allows for the mayor to pick the person for the open seat. The deadlock left the city without a mayor for a week. At the Dec. 12 meeting, Lee announced Robbins as the person the individuals proposed by pulling out a manila envelope and opening it to reveal a piece of paper with his name. Weinhauer said the decision defamed Robbins.
“I get it, politics can be a little dirty, a little shady, but that was just the last straw for me,” Weinhauer said. “We deserve better than that.”
The city asked the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office to investigate the allegations individuals tried to convince Lee to trade her vote after Lee informed the city. Lee has publicly declined to say who approached her. District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said there is an ongoing investigation into the allegations of vote trading, with the hope to have more updates in a few weeks. Wagstaffe said the DA’s Office is not investigating Lee and is instead investigating an allegation she brought forth at a City Council meeting about vote trading. Wagstaffe said that Lee has talked with the DA’s Office and has cooperated. He declined to say if Lee had given the identity of the people who allegedly approached her about vote trading.
Weinhauer also cited allegations a San Mateo planning commissioner moved a campaign sign during the November elections, with the DA’s Office investigating the issue but deciding against further action. He also questioned her remarks and statements in the recent District 5 election between Adam Loraine and Rod Linhares, with Loraine winning the seat.
Five former San Mateo mayors support a recall of Lee, with former state Sen. Jerry Hill, former San Mateo County Supervisor Carole Groom, and former mayors Eric Rodriguez, Maureen Freschet and Claire Mack all calling for a change. Mack spoke Thursday at a press conference in support of the recall because she felt it was best for the city.
“I would rather be 1,000 miles away from here, and I do not appreciate having to do this,” Mack said Friday.
Lee did not make herself available for an interview this week, but said on her website that, since her time on the council, she helped establish a $5.5 million child care fund for San Mateo County, raised money for those affected by recent floods, approved affordable housing and climate policy, repaired streets and supported ballot initiatives to increase city revenue. According to her website, U.S. Rep. Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco; California Treasurer Fiona Ma; San Mateo County Supervisor Noelia Corzo; and former San Mateo Mayor Rick Bonilla supported her and were against the recall, with other elected officials also on the list.
“I hate to see divisiveness in Washington, D.C., politics, and it’s even more troubling to see it back at home in the district,” Mullin said in a statement. “The attempted recall of Mayor Lee lacks merit. We have regularly scheduled elections to decide the tenure of our local elected officials, and the City of San Mateo would be unwise to lose the service of its most experienced policymaker. I stand with Mayor Lee, and let’s stop this unproductive effort. I call on all interested parties to work in concert and comity for a stronger San Mateo.”
Bonilla did not see any legitimate reasons for a recall and said it was because people were upset about the outcome of the November elections when Loraine won the election over Linhares in District 5. He believes the issue is because people don’t want housing or strong climate action and are worried about the future. He decried the cost of the special recall election, noting the city had already lost enough money when it lost a lawsuit that found the city violated the Housing Accountability Act in denying a condominium development on West Santa Inez Avenue and El Camino Real in 2018.
“They don’t like the fact she is a progressive mayor who wants to work towards a better future,” Bonilla said.
Weinhauer said the early grassroots campaign process is focused on gathering the signatures to meet the threshold needed to trigger a recall election. No target has been set yet for the timeline, but the group is aiming to get something on the ballot for the November election. If recall proponents get enough signatures and the county verifies it, a Nov. 7 election would occur. San Mateo City Clerk Patrice Olds said if a recall is successful, Lee would likely need to step down at the Dec. 4 council meeting after the county certifies the Nov. 7 election within 30 calendar days. Olds said the council would then appoint a new councilmember as written in the city charter, similar to the most recent vacancy on the council where Councilmember Rich Hedges was appointed.
Foster City recalled a lying, grifter, self serving bully Vice Mayor in 2020 by a 77% margin. We heard all the same anti-recall platitudes that Representative Mullin is spouting. He needs to not impede the state constitutional right of recall by the voters. The playing of the race card by the Mayor and her sycophants is pure deflection. Let the residents decide for themselves—something the powers that be are made nervous by. Understandably so.
Bonilla: “They don’t like the fact she is a progressive mayor who wants to work towards a better future,” Bonilla said.
WoW - at the expense of everything he could have said, the former mayor 'leads' with that statement.
The recall is sound because she fraudulently made up accusations and won't divulge who it was because she's lying. Had the former Mayor made the statements she made - he would have been recalled.
This whole thing reaks of another outcome like Adam Alberti - who singlehandedly fed San Mateo residents the Kool Aide that Bay Meadows, as it was then, had to go. And then the placating was added on by naming the streets after prominent San Mateo Politicians.
San Mateans who believe in Lee - will soon see the light and if the recall is unsuccessful - it will be tantamount to 'eating our own'.
The Go Fund Me Page was an embarrassment.
District Attorney investigations, fear and mistrust, name calling, lies, bullying, an unapologetic failure to follow a simple code of conduct - Lee is the person who is supposed to represent us. THIS is the person who is also the face of San Mateo when dealing with other cities and our county in her various roles. We can not afford another 2 years of this.
Let’s cut to the truth about the recall and why Lee’s constituents would undertake the arduous process to recall her. It’s because we can't look the other way when San Mateo residents deserve so much better. This recall is an action Lee has prompted strictly by her actions and inactions. When she is called on the carpet for her behaviors, or when she meets any opposition to her own political agenda, she plays the victim to the media – Let’s be clear, she is no victim.
No amount of spin can change the facts: She is a bully and a liar who places her own self-interest first, often deflecting or avoiding questions that do not serve her agenda. As our representative, Lee offers a pattern of unbecoming conduct, dereliction of her duties, and a failure to put San Mateans first. This goes against the basic Council Code of Conduct she swore to uphold. Lee must be held accountable.
Tell us, Mayor Lee, why you made claims of back door deals to remove a City Council candidate from being appointed, yet provided no proof to City staff or your constituents when asked? Tell us why you needed to hire a personal attorney now that your claims are being investigated by the District Attorney? Tell us why you have yet to substantiate a shred of your claim?
Tell us, Mayor Lee, why you ignored resident outcry regarding campaign tampering during the recent Council race, choosing to refuse a simple fact-finding in regard to the self-admitted activities of the appointed Planning Commissioner, who is also your friend & political supporter? And tell us why you responded to resident emails on this subject with information you knew to be false?
These are just two recent examples – with both cases now in the hands of the District Attorney. An unprecedented and shameful position to place our City in - having both a mayor and commissioner under DA investigation. While we eagerly await the outcomes of those investigations, Lee’s failure as a civic leader is the reason voters are saying enough is enough. We expect our civic leaders to uphold the highest standards and to do right by us. When they consistently fail, it is up to voters to have them removed.
Her recent irresponsible and questionable actions created a situation where our tax dollars may be required to defend our City. Further, Mayor Lee kept staff and residents at a meeting until 3 a.m. when she did not get her way. Community leaders report that when Lee wants something, she asks nicely the first time, then follows up with hounding and bullying rather than accepting NO for an answer. Lee has further been vocal supporting things when they benefit her, but turns her back when they do not. She’s asked constituents questions she has no right to ask, with demands to answer by her deadline. Lee also furthered her own political agenda by persuading her friend and neighbor to move from north San Mateo to fill the council seat for neighborhoods in south San Mateo – then deeply involved herself to ensure his win, no matter what it took.
There is more to this Recall than Lee’s self-serving political maneuverings. She has created an environment of mistrust with her actions and words. Residents who have worked with her on various projects are afraid to speak out about their experiences with her because Lee has created an environment of fear with her bullying. Just one day after her own constituents held a press conference expressing their concerns, Lee chose to respond by calling those against her anti-abortionist conservatives – that would include former mayors Jerry Hill, Claire Mack, Maureen Freschet, Eric Rodriguez and Carole Groom. We fully expect her or Lee and those closest to her to continue the name calling rather than address the facts.
Amourence Lee, you have failed us in so many ways. You seek glory over civic duty. You choose not to prioritize us, your constituents. Your damaging behavior shows us that you do not deserve to sit on the City Council. San Mateo and its residents deserve better. The cost to each resident voter? About $8.
I think recalls are a waste of money and time. That said, Lee can be voted out of office and i hope she is. Can't believe she has the nerve to say we should focus on "the real issues facing San Mateo." Her attacks on Rod Linares were right out of Joe McCarthy's playbook. She dragged abortion into the election rather than face "real issues." I can't help but believe she is more anti-Catholic than "pro choice."
Thank you, Curtis, for a balanced article on the recall effort. With Mayor Lee’s penchant for name calling, twisting the truth and playing the victim, many Bay Area media outlets have been played. San Mateo Daily Journal continues to maintain a higher bar, and it is appreciated.
So the recall is because: (1) Lee reported a vote-trading scheme to investigate, and (2) that she supported a specific candidate in last year’s council race.
And that angry group is the same one that used delay tactics to stall meetings and try to block her mayoral transition?
Good luck winning public support with that.
This recall is a baseless, anti-housing, racist attempt to silence a progressive woman of color. The organizers of this recall are the very same insurrectionists who advocated for the violation of our city’s charter back in December. This racist recall is a stain on our city and it is at times like this that I feel ashamed of the actions of some in San Mateo. If you agree, sign here to support Mayor Lee: https://www.amourencelee.com/standwithamo
In your opinion, the recall may be baseless but I guess we’ll see if at least 9,000 valid signatures have a different opinion… And really, already pulling out the “racist” card? That’ll guarantee a few thousand more signatures voting for a recall.
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