Few have contributed more to San Mateo than former Mayor Joe Goethals. He led the formation of San Mateo Consolidated Fire, dedicated public land to affordable housing, and carried us through the pandemic. It was an honor to serve with him, and I consider him one of my greatest mentors. Nicole Fernandez and David Burruto led the transformation of our Democratic Party, championing social justice and equitable representation. When my home was vandalized, these good people paid for my window repair from their own pockets.
In December, San Mateo was deprived of mayoral representation - breaking a 128-year tradition of peaceful transfer of power. First day on the job, my junior council colleagues Deputy Mayor Nash and Councilmember Newsom blocked my appointment to mayor and ignored the strong recommendations of our City Manager and City Attorney, the League of Women Voters, the NAACP, the Sierra Club, the Democratic Party E-Board, faith and Labor leaders, elected representatives and over 1,000 community members. They abandoned the directives of the voter-approved City Charter when they refused to do the first order of business first. During this breach of protocols an environment was created that put undue pressure on the selection process to fill the vacant council seat, which created the conditions for a potential conflict of interest.
This stain on our City’s history was entirely avoidable if the standard reorganization process was followed. The norms were not respected and the door was open to the back room. During this chaotic and fateful week our appointment process to fill a council seat was tainted. Sadly upstanding Democratic leaders and council candidates were caught in the cross-hairs, including Cliff Robbins who is a great contributor to our community.
I was approached and received unsolicited communications including this text message, which raised questions and concerns, not just from myself, but also our City Manager and City Attorney.
Should I have smiled and ignored it? My first duty is to my oath and defending the public trust and I believe the public deserved to know. I am not a judge or jury, it’s not my job to investigate or determine criminality, my moral obligation was to protect the due process our community deserves. Our community should feel reassured that I am unafraid to speak truth and demand transparency, even when knowing it will be used against me - even when it puts my friendships and my reputation on the line.
As a life-long advocate, community organizer, and elected leader, I have profound respect for our First Amendment right to petition our government. Remember that we were out of order and what should have been standard advocacy was convoluted. Conversations with my dear friends - dedicated community leaders, who I admire and respect - tested my values: the duty to my oath of office and my friendships. In real-time, I told the public about these communications to guard the integrity of the council appointment process, triggering a DA investigation, which fortunately concluded that no criminal actions occurred. There is a heavy price for standing on my principles, but one can only imagine the damage of staying silent.
There’s a sickening absurdity in the fact that I’m now being attacked for speaking up. These same attackers would have accused me of participating in or covering up a potential quid pro quo if I had said nothing. Now, fortunately the DA investigation puts to rest any question of impropriety. The public is assured that my first loyalty is to my oath of office and under close scrutiny we were all vindicated.
In San Mateo, a new generation of voters is changing the landscape of our representative government. The Old Guard is losing their grip on power. They undermine our new generation of leaders, waging baseless accusations of “puppeteering” corruption. Remember that the recall members called Former Mayor Goethals “Black Hat Joe.” They are the same small group and special interests that funded Deputy Mayor Nash’s campaigns, stood against my appointment to council in 2019, opposed my election in 2020, and attempted to block my mayoral appointment in 2022.
It’s shocking to see ugly MAGA-style extremism and misinformation campaigns here in our County, spewing hate speech calling me a “stupid n*gger lover” and inciting violence, “Let’s use Ammo to get rid of Amo.”
I remain undeterred and I will not cower or be silenced by relentless harassment and hate. We cannot allow a small group of people to hijack our progress. The true cost to our community is immeasurable and a special election recall this November could waste nearly $1M of taxpayer dollars. There’s a chilling effect on public discourse because women, people of color, and my North Central neighbors are deterred from stepping into leadership.
I’m grateful for the San Mateo County Democratic Party, San Mateo County Labor Council, San Mateo Police Officers’ Association, San Mateo Consolidated Firefighers' Association, San Mateo County API Caucus, numerous elected and civic leaders, and community members standing with me in the fire on the side of justice. Stand with Amo, sign up to endorse the Stop the Recall Campaign.
I have been tested and the public can see that I will never hesitate to train the light of scrutiny on myself or any public official - friend or foe. As your elected representative and Mayor, I will always demand truth and transparency to build a strong, more resilient democracy in service to every San Matean. For the sake of our beautiful City, I hope we can close this chapter and start a new. I call for unity - let’s choose to build a foundation for our future, so we can focus on doing the people’s work.
Mayor Amourence Lee
City of San Mateo