San Francisco recalled its progressive District Attorney Chesa Boudin on Tuesday, placing pro-reform DAs on alert nationwide as the San Francisco Chronicle called the race just an hour after the polls closed.
Returns showed that about 3 in 5 San Franciscans voted to oust Boudin after a recall campaign by local Republicans, law enforcement leaders and a contingent of Democrats claimed he was too soft on crime.
In a defiant speech acknowledging his recall on Wednesday evening, Boudin blamed “the right-wing billionaires [who] outspent us 3-to-1” and “created an electoral dynamic where we literally shadowboxing” as “voters were given an opportunity to voice their frustration and outrage and they took that opportunity.”
Boudin had won the job of top prosecutor in 2019, eking out a narrow win in a tightly contested ranked-choice contest, after promising to increase police accountability and lower incarceration.
The prosecutor, once a public defender in the city and the son of two convicted Weather Underground members who was raised by two other members of the group, was met with immediate backlash, however.
In 2020, he brought a homicide charge against a police officer for the first time in the city’s history. And, while still in the job, he sent more people to diversion programs than his predecessors.
But these changes weren’t in the city’s best interest, claimed Brooke Jenkins, a former prosecutor under Boudin. Instead, she told Vox, Boudin was too weak on anti-Asian hate crimes, which rose to 60 victims (half of them targeted by one man) from nine.
“Chesa effectively functions as a public defender with the title of district attorney,” Jenkins said ahead of the recall vote. “I believe that because of that, he’s failing to serve as a deterrent to crime in San Francisco.”
The overall major crime numbers increased under Boudin, including the number of burglaries, carjackings, and homicides. Supporters of the recall pointed to Boudin’s weak sentencing and lesser charges as the culprit, while his backers argued that the increase was part of a national trend rather than a result of his approach.
Once the vocal, up-and-coming leader of criminal justice reform among district attorneys, Boudin’s recall could be the start of progressive DAs being recalled nationwide, says Anne Irwin, an executive of Smart Justice California and backer of Boudin.
“There’s no question that if the recall in San Francisco will be successful, it will be the playbook going forward nationally for those who want to roll back criminal justice reform,” she told Politico.
Conservatives’ next target may also be in California, where District Attorney George Gascón has faced recall efforts in Los Angeles. While these attempts have not made the ballot yet, he faces similar criticism to Boudin.
Among those calling for Gascón to be recalled is the city’s Deputy District Attorney Jon Hatami, who regularly appears on Fox News to claim his boss is to blame for a spike in crime.
“Chesa Boudin will be recalled and George Gascón, you’re next,” Hatami said Monday in a pre-recorded statement to Fox News. “The people of Los Angeles have had enough.”