In the midst of controversial school board candidate Josephine Zhao’s campaign springing back to life, Mayor London Breed appointed another candidate to fill one of three open seats with less than a month before the election.
Breed’s sudden appointment of social worker and school board candidate Faauuga Moliga on Monday unravels what was once an incumbent-free race with 18 hopefuls and three open seats that non-citizen parents or guardians could participate in for the first time. It comes two months after Board of Education President Hydra Mendoza announced she would step down from her role at the end of September, and just three weeks before the November election.
“Faauuga has spent his entire life in service to our community,” Breed said in a statement. “His direct, firsthand experience with our public schools, his deep community ties, and his expertise in developing holistic programs that support our youth, particularly those whose lives have been impacted by trauma, give him a unique perspective that I am confident will immediately benefit the Board of Education and our students.”
Voters may be scratching their heads at the development since ballots are already mailed out and early voting has begun. Plus, Moliga is still running for the same seat since his term lasts until January.
To confuse voters even further, Josephine Zhao still appears to be a contender with supporters campaigning for her over the weekend. As a refresher, Zhao announced just one month ago that she would back out of the race after it was revealed she was publicly apologizing for past transphobic statements but doubling down in private messages to her supporters.
But the deadline to formally withdraw from the race had passed, which meant her name was still on the ballot and her website continued to function. Supervisor Catherine Stefani and supervisor candidate Christine Johnson pulled their endorsements but notably, Breed and state Sen. Scott Wiener did not follow.
Evidently, neither has Zhao’s supporters. On Thursday, Bay City Beacon ran a guest opinion by Mandy Lee, a self-identified gay Chinese woman, that seemed to blame Zhao’s views on her Chinese immigrant background. (Zhao has been in the United States for 30 years, the Examiner reported.)
Two days later, Zhao supporters were spotted distributing glossy flyers at the SFUSD enrollment fair, where other candidates were out campaigning. Zhao could not be reached in time for publication to comment on the status of her campaign, which paid for the flyers as stated on the back.
Votes have already been cast and ballots will lack these developments. But the appointment remains a big boost for Moliga, who has that much more recognition than other candidates as voters make their final decisions.
“I think its ends a clear message to voters that the mayor is strongly backing Faauuga in a field of 18 candidates,” says Stevon Cook, who replaced Mendoza as school board president and supports Moliga. “In a down ballot race like a school board race, the power of endorsements is really crucial.”
UPDATE, 2:45 p.m.: The San Francisco League of Pissed Off Voters updated its recently-debuted 2018 midterm voter guide, surmising that Zhao’s campaign played a big role in Breed’s appointment.
“Mayor Breed had been encouraged to leave this vacancy open to avoid giving any candidate the benefit of incumbency, so why make an appointment for just two months?” The League wrote. “It may have to do with Zhao’s campaign springing to life over the weekend.”
For what it’s worth, the SFUSD annual enrollment fair took place on Saturday and by Sunday, the Chronicle cited “sources close to the mayor’s office” in their scoop on the appointment. The mayor’s office sent out a media advisory Monday morning, a little more than three hours before the full announcement.
“Breed could simply rescind her endorsement of Zhao but it looks like she chose to — LOOK, SQUIRREL! — make an appointment instead,” The League added.
UPDATE, Oct. 16: The Mayor’s Office has offered additional comment on Moliga’s appointment:
“[Breed] feels that Faauuga will contribute positively to the Board in the coming weeks to ensure that the Board continues its duties and not have an empty seat for multiple meetings. Mayor Breed has endorsed three candidates who are running in the School Board race: Faauuga Moliga, Michelle Parker, and Monica Chinchilla.”