Board of Education: The Mysterious Professor Mayor

Who's on the Ballot: Stevon Cook, Lee Hsu, Trevor McNeil, Emily Murase, Mark Murphy, Shamann Walton, Jamie Rafaela Wolfe, Dennis Yang, and Hydra Mendoza-McDonnell.

Long before Sen. Leland Yee allegedly trafficked guns, Uncle Leland served on the oft-ignored San Francisco school board. Now nine candidates vie for three open seats on the Board of Education, tackling a school system with such low participation from local white families (who flee to private schools) the school district has been likened to educational apartheid.

But with one board incumbent, it's a buy one, get one free sale. A vote for candidate Hydra Mendoza-McDonnell actually nets two school board members: Mendoza, and the shadow of Mayor Ed Lee.

Mendoza, who enjoys more name recognition than the other candidates put together, has long been the education adviser to the mayor. First, she worked for former Mayor Gavin Newsom, and now reports directly to Lee. Mendoza moonlights as a Board of Education incumbent, and at every board meeting a trick of the light has folks swearing up and down they see Lee lurking just behind her.

The SFUSD has many dealings with the city, negotiating land swaps, donations, cash transfers, and more. This puts Mendoza in an interesting position, as she's privy to the mayor's POV on most matters, and doesn't hesitate sharing her thoughts (which may be his thoughts) with the board.

When the board considered a vote to endorse Supervisors Scott Wiener and Eric Mar's sugary beverage tax in January, Mendoza was the strongest voice to speak out against it. The mayor is often skittish to endorse multiple ballot measures in elections, and the Children's Fund (Proposition C) was no different. He, and subsequently Mendoza, thought the soda tax might tank their push to fund schools.

She's also refused to recuse herself on votes directly involving the Mayor's Office, such as a recent land deal between the SFUSD and the Mayor's Office of Housing. Political insiders tell SF Weekly the multimillion dollar deal heavily favored the Mayor's Office.

Mendoza has strong backing from former political adversaries on the BOE, including commissioner Matt Haney and board President Sandra Lee Fewer.

Mendoza often demonstrates passion for the children under her political care at the SFUSD. No one is saying she doesn't have heart.

But the conflict of interest, which has been rubber-stamped by the school district's lawyers, colors every vote and every decision she makes, including her campaign donations. Of the nearly $30,000 she raised as of Oct. 1, nine of her donations were from Mayor's Office staffers. But that doesn't explain numerous other donations from a multitude of mayoral pals, including former state Democratic Party chair Art Torres, who has allegedly long knocked on the mayor's door (and PG&E's) to aid his son, Joaquin Torres, in his political career.

City politicians consider themselves part of the “City Family.” For good or ill, a vote for Mendoza is a vote to bring the whole family to the school board, including the mayor himself.

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