San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin gets the boot

Early returns point to landslide as voters recall city’s progressive prosecutor

Chesa Boudin (Getty, iStock)
Chesa Boudin (Getty, iStock)

San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin got the boot from voters in a recall election that focused on crime and whether his progressive reforms were too lenient and had made the city less safe.

Boudin trailed by 20 percentage points, with 60 percent of San Franciscans who cast ballots voting to recall him, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Boudin will be removed from office 10 days after the Board of Supervisors formally accepts the election results. Mayor London Breed will then choose his immediate replacement, with voters to elect a new district attorney in November.

Boudin will depart the office after serving two and a half years of his four-year term.

Numerous polls had predicted a decisive defeat for Boudin. Groups seeking to recall the city’s lead prosecutor raised $7.2 million to oust him, while the district attorney’s backers gathered $3.3 million.

The results capped off a furious debate over crime and criminal justice in San Francisco, with the two sides fighting over Boudin’s approach to incarceration and rehabilitation as well as his leadership of the D.A.’s office.

Supporters lauded his efforts to find alternatives to jails and prisons, which Boudin said had failed the public for decades. Detractors slammed him as too permissive.

Recall campaign chair Mary Jung, who described herself as a “lifelong Democrat,” said she started the campaign 14 months ago because she believed San Francisco was in trouble, needed change and would support a “Democratic-led campaign for a safer San Francisco.”

“San Franciscans from every neighborhood and background sent a clear message today,” she said. “Voters said loud and clear that they want a district attorney who prioritizes public safety for every community.”

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The election was closely-watched across the nation. While San Francisco has elected left-leaning district attorneys in recent decades, Boudin was part of a wave of progressive prosecutors who took power in American cities, channeling the energy of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Boudin eliminated cash bail, which favors wealthier defendants. He helped divert more defendants to treatment instead of trials. And he pursued criminal prosecutions against nine police officers. He also stopped charging juveniles as adults and declined to take advantage of the “three strikes” law, which was designed to drastically increase punishments for repeat offenders.

He contended that lowering incarceration actually made the city safer, because rehabilitating offenders was more effective.

Boudin blamed the recall on conservative forces, pointing to the fundraising against him, but only 7 percent of voters registered as Republican in San Francisco. Rather, he split Democrats in a city where many residents are frustrated with chronic problems, including high rates of burglary and drug overdoses.

Some of the recall team’s most vocal advocates were Democrats, who said they believed in Boudin’s overarching goals but said his leadership had created an office in disarray and a system that let offenders off without meaningful consequences.

One spark for the recall was a car crash on Dec. 31, 2020, when police said an armed and intoxicated man barreled a stolen car into two pedestrians, killing both. The alleged driver, Troy McAlister, 45, had been arrested several times in the months leading up to the wreck, but his state parole was never revoked and the District Attorney’s Office did not file any new charges.

Boudin, a former public defender, was elected by a razor-thin margin in 2019, following a ranked-choice contest that pit him against Suzy Loftus, who had been appointed interim district attorney by Mayor Breed, and a pair of more conservative candidates.

[San Francisco Chronicle] – Dana Bartholomew

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