Can Steinberg be recalled?

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg faces a potential recall. (File photo)

Essay: To replace Sacramento’s mayor, organizers must build clear community support and consolidate behind a candidate

By James Jackson

Efforts to recall Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg have picked up steam, as organizations such as the Sacramento Homeless Union have called Steinberg a failure.

But is a recall possible?

Two factors will determine its success: The efforts to gather signatures, and the efforts to consolidate around an alternative candidate.

The first of these two factors should be looked at as a “structure test”—a process used by union and community organizers to determine how effective a tactic, say a strike, will be. A structure test indicates if you have a super-majority of community leaders supporting your cause and how willing the community is to take on a high- risk action.

The first structure test will be the number of signatures gathered. To force a recall vote, organizers need at least 28,000 valid signatures of registered voters. However, even if the threshold is met, this does not necessarily mean a recall is winnable. If organizers gather just the bare minimum of signatures, that does not show they have the super-majority within our city’s political structure required to make a recall successful.

This leads to the second point, because any recall effort is likely to come up against this question more frequently than any other: “Who is going to run against him?”

When there is no consolidation around a single candidate, that inevitably splits the vote. This becomes even worse when your political opposition are unified around their own candidate. Remember, recall efforts leave windows open to political opportunists.

This is exactly what happened when Californians recalled Gov. Gray Davis in 2003. More than 100 candidates ran, allowing Arnold Schwarzenegger to win. The GOP consolidated around its candidate, and as a result California did not have a Democratic governor again until 2011. If people do not want to risk a political opportunist taking power, they need that super-majority.

The politics will also be complicated by how the local Democratic Party orients itself to the recall. Those pushing to replace Steinberg want someone who is farther to the ideological left. But he is a registered Democrat, and the party is not likely to take sides against one of their members if there is not a clear super-majority of party members who support his recall.

Yet there is some hope that the Democratic Party will side with a progressive candidate if the recall effort goes through—and if there’s clear support within the community. Sacramento already has precedent for this. Former City Council member Steve Hansen was expelled from the local party for endorsing a GOP candidate for district attorney, then lost his seat in March 2020 to Katie Valenzuela, a progressive who had the party endorsement.

Any recall effort is likely to come up against this question more frequently than any other: “Who is going to run against him?”

James Jackson was the co-chairman of Democratic Socialists of America, Sacramento, in 2020.

It cannot be stressed enough that if a recall is to be successful, a super-majority of support needs to be created and organizations and advocates need to consolidate around a candidate.

Is a recall possible? The answer seems to be an emphatic “maybe.” If Sacramentans genuinely want Steinberg gone, they should be ready for a challenging, uphill battle.

Our content is free, but not free to produce

If you value our local news, arts and entertainment coverage, become an SN&R supporter with a one-time or recurring donation. Help us keep our reporters at work, bringing you the stories that need to be told.


Stay Updated

For the latest local news, arts and entertainment, sign up for our newsletter.
We'll tell you the story behind the story.

Be the first to comment on "Can Steinberg be recalled?"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.