It remains unclear as to when exactly Chesa Boudin, the public defender who knocked off challenger Suzy Loftus and two other candidates in a very tight race last week in San Francisco, will become San Francisco’s next DA.
Under normal conditions he would become DA the first week in January, but because George Gascón resigned on October 18 and Boudin’s opponent Suzy Loftus was appointed to the position, Mayor Breed could theoretically install Chesa Boudin at any time.
That conversation had not occurred by Sunday afternoon when the Vanguard spoke to Mr. Boudin by phone. He told the Vanguard that he and the mayor were playing phone tag.
One thing that there is no doubt about – Mr. Boudin’s victory is reverberating across the country as a major victory, if not THE major victory for the progressive movement.
His phone line was so inundated with calls and texts, it shut down and he had to use an alternative line. Right before the Vanguard’s interview, he was speaking with the LA Times and has spoken to publications across the nation in the time since the race was declared on Saturday evening.
During the campaign he pledged to work to eliminate money bail, hold police accountable, expand alternatives to incarceration programs and implement restorative practices. At the core, he would fight mass incarceration – the hallmark of the progressive prosecution movement.
When we spoke to Mr. Boudin, he indicated that he was not surprised by the outcome.
“I’m humbled by the support and recognition from so many voters that there can be no justice when we use jail as the solution to all the problems,” Chesa Boudin told the Vanguard. “We must think differently and we will think differently when I take office.
“We had a lot of confidence going into the election, (but) you never know what the outcome is going to be,” he said. “I know that we ran a really principled positive campaign.”
He reached out during the campaign to as many different voters as possible.
“We were hearing from all different corners of the city – people all across the city were telling us that they were going to be supporting us,” Mr. Boudin said. “That gave us confidence going into the (election).
“It’s pretty exhilarating to see the trust and the support from the people of San Francisco,” he said.
They went into the race believing that people in San Francisco would support a new vision for justice.
“We believed that they valued second chances for people who make mistakes,” he said. “That they wanted justice for all regardless of race and gender, sexual orientation or both.
“We were right. Voting in this campaign, the residents of San Francisco demanded radical change (and) rejected calls to go back to tough-on-crime policies that do not make us safer and destroyed the lives of thousands of people,” he said.
Chesa Boudin could not put his finger on any one factor, noting again that they connected with people in every corner of the city in order to win the election.
“We built a coalition and people supported us for different reasons,” he said. “But I think what people all understood is we need to move away from tough-on-crime policies.”
He once again cited the importance not only of being a deputy public defender and that perspective, but growing up as the child of incarcerated parents, Weather Underground activists Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert. His parents were convicted for their participation in a robbery in which three people were killed.
“It gave me a unique vantage point and compassion when it comes to making difficult decisions in the criminal justice system and crime.”
For starters, Chesa Boudin plans to do a lot of listening. “I approach this with a tremendous amount of humility. I know that there’s a lot of work so I want to listen to people all over the city.”
One of the big questions is what will happen with existing district attorneys in the San Francisco office.
In Philadelphia, the first thing that Larry Krasner did was ask for the resignations of 31 career prosecutors, including a number of upper-level supervisors. We spoke to Satana Deberry out of Durham, North Carolina, when she was in Davis, and she said a number of people left and she was able to remove some as well.
Chesa Boudin said that a number of members of the DA’s office reached out to him.
He said that “he hopes” that there will not be mass resignations in the district attorney’s office and has not heard anything to that effect at this point.
One group he has not heard from: the San Francisco Police Officers’ Association.
Mr. Boudin ran on a platform of holding the police – responsible for a number of high profile shootings as well as the racist text message scandal – more accountable.
In turn the POA dumped than $600,000 into attack ads days before the election, calling Mr. Boudin “the #1 choice of criminals and gang members.”
Matters perhaps got worse at his election party when Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer shouted into the mic, leading the change of “F- the POA.”
Despite the rhetoric of the campaign, he told the Vanguard, “We have to work together.” And he has a message to them. “We have to rebuild trust. I obviously didn’t appreciate the attacks, I think it was a poor use of their money – funded actually by law enforcement groups all across the country.
“This wasn’t really San Francisco money, it wasn’t San Francisco values in the ads that were sent out,” he added. “I’m not a vindictive person and I have a tremendous respect for the job that our men and women in uniform do every day.”
Across the country we have seen a movement toward more progressive prosecution from the election of people like Larry Krasner (Philadelphia), Westley Bell (St. Louis), Rachael Rollins (Suffolk/Boston), Kim Foxx (Cook/Chicago), and the near misses in Queens with Tiffany Caban and locally in Yolo County with Dean Johansson.
The victory by Chesa Boudin, in a community considered at times to be a leading progressive force in the nation, could top all of those.
“I think it’s a bellwether,” Chesa Boudin told the Vanguard. “I think it shows that there’s a massive thirst for change.”
He said that this will push other communities to change as well.
“I’m confident that we’ll see voters demand change in Los Angeles, which is the largest incarcerator in this country,” he said – which could ironically feature the candidacy of George Gascón, whose retirement from San Francisco opened the door to Mr. Boudin’s progressive challenge.
Mr. Gascón ironically was seen as one of the most progressive DAs in the country – but Mr. Boudin figures to push the office even further on a track of progressive reform.
Across the country now, Mr. Boudin said that “we have candidates, that want to return dignity to all citizens, that have emerged and are leading the way in terms of the kinds of policies and campaigns that we ran here in San Francisco.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting