SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) – San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin has been recalled, the Associated Press is projecting.
59.9% of San Francisco voters opted to oust the district attorney by voting Yes on Proposition H, compared to 40.0% who voted to keep him in office, according to the last preliminary election returns Tuesday at 10:40 p.m.
Boudin’s recall has national implications, a sign that voters are increasingly concerned about public safety, and illustrating a cleavage in priorities between progressive activists and rank-and-file Democratic voters even in deep-blue San Francisco.
Mary Jung, the former chair of the city’s Democratic Party who became chair of the recall campaign, stated that “San Francisco voters sent a clear message that they want a District Attorney who prioritizes public safety for every community. San Francisco voters are engaged and well-informed. They know that we can have important criminal justice reforms and public safety for all, but that neither was being achieved with Chesa in office.”
Jung stated that “San Franciscans want leadership that holds serious, violent, and repeat offenders accountable while never forgetting the rights of victims and their families.”
“This election does not mean that San Francisco has drifted to the far right on our approach to criminal justice,” Jung continued. “In fact, San Francisco has been a national beacon for progressive criminal justice reform for decades and will continue to do so with new leadership. By recalling Boudin from office, San Francisco can now move forward in charting a better and safer path for our city.”
In a speech at The Ramp on the waterfront, Boudin interpreted the results as the result of frustration with the city’s intractable problems, such as City Hall corruption, and societal changes, such as the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns.
“People are right to be frustrated. There’s so much room for improvement. People should hold all of us to a higher standard,” Boudin said.
Nonetheless, Boudin continued to blame the recall on the right-wing.
“Let me make it very clear about what happened tonight,” Boudin said. “The right-wing billionaires outspent us three-to-one and exploited an environment in which people are appropriately upset.”
Boudin was first elected as San Francisco’s district attorney in 2019, before many of the tumultuous events that have rocked American society in recent years — the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns, the nationwide increase in violence, the 2020 election and both impeachments of former President Donald Trump, and the mass protests after the police killing of George Floyd.
Boudin had been a deputy public defender and promised one of the most far-reaching experiments in criminal justice reform that a major American city had seen. He promised to go after rogue police and large corporations and reduce mass incarceration and racial disparities within the system.
For Boudin, the fight was personal — his parents, David Gilbert and Kathy Boudin, spent much of Chesa Boudin’s life in prison due to their role in a 1981 robbery while they were part of the violent leftist group the Weather Underground.
Boudin was also a leading face in a national movement of progressive prosecutors, a movement that included his predecessor as San Francisco’s top prosecutor, George Gascon.
Boudin’s 2019 run had been the first open race for district attorney in about a century, until Gascon abruptly resigned prior to his run for Los Angeles District Attorney, leading Mayor London Breed to appoint her favored candidate, Democratic regular Suzy Loftus, as the interim district attorney.
Loftus lost the position in the final round of ranked choice voting by a margin of 1.6%, and just months after Boudin took the reins of the office it seemed like the winds were in his favor as tens of millions of Americans expressed outrage over the very injustices Boudin promised to fight.
But the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown brought with it a nationwide increase in homicides and violent crime. While San Francisco’s homicide rate has been about the same for most of the last decade, burglaries have risen 45% since 2019, and in 2021 alone the city saw a rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders of 567%.
The alleged December 31, 2020 killing of two women in a south of Market intersection by Troy McAlister was a crucial turning point. McAlister had trouble with the law for most of his adult life, and between June and December 2020 was arrested by the San Francisco Police Department five times. In each of the cases, however, the DA’s office declined to file charges.
A petition asking Boudin to resign garnered almost 15,000 signatures and its author, former Republican mayoral candidate Richie Greenberg, spearheaded the first recall petition, which came up short.
In a statement to KRON4 on Tuesday, Greenberg stated that the recall was “a bittersweet effort.”
“We shouldn’t be popping champagne bottles,” he stated. “People have died under Chesa Boudin’s watch. Lives have been ruined, families broken, business shuttered.
“Let this recall send a clear message to the rest of City Hall officials, that we are unhappy with their governance,” he continued. “Polls recently show dismally low approval ratings for the Board of Supervisors, who need to take a hard look in the mirror and consider actual changes they each need to make in addressing our city’s myriad issues.”
Subsequently, however, an effort spearheaded by former San Francisco Democratic Party chair Mary Jung and bolstered by the support of former Assistant District Attorney Brooke Jenkins gained more and more momentum through 2021, qualifying for the ballot.
The signs were coming, though: Boudin’s chief of staff David Campos lost an Assembly bid in April in a nearly 2-1 loss.
The recall succeeded despite only two supervisors endorsing it, and with the opposition of a majority of the city’s supervisors, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the San Francisco Democratic Party, though Breed’s silence was conspicuous.
Breed, whose crackdown on poor street conditions in the Tenderloin neighborhood was questioned by Boudin, will now get to choose his successor.