By David M. Greenwald
San Francisco, CA – Voters in San Francisco overwhelmingly voted to remove progressive DA Chesa Boudin from office on Tuesday. He was not alone—progressive challengers lost nearly across the board, going down in Santa Clara, Sacramento, Orange County, Yolo County and beyond.
Diana Becton appears to have beaten back her challenger in Contra Costa County. Pamela Price appears headed for a runoff in Alameda against Terry Wiley. Perhaps the best news for reformers was Rob Bonta not only overwhelmingly prevailed in primary, Anne Marie Schubert does not appear to even have made it to November.
The Vanguard was unable to reach Boudin or his campaign on Tuesday. But there was plenty of reaction to the result.
Consultant Max Szabo called it “a mixed bag,” noting that “on the one hand, California elected a reformer Rob Bonta and firmly rejected Anne Marie Schubert, who didn’t even make the run off.”
For the bigger picture, “Four years ago there weren’t reformers challenging incumbents or running in this many counties across the state of California.”
He said, “Kicking over the status quo is not something that will happen overnight. In spite of the losses, the fact that there are more reformers running and more reformers winning than there were just four years ago gives me hope.”
In 2018, the last time most DAs were on the ballot, progressives were soundly beaten back in most races. One of the exceptions then and now was Contra Costa County, where Diana Becton was appointed to replace the resigned DA and then won her own term.
When the Vanguard spoke to her on Tuesday, they were not ready to declare victory just yet, “but we are very optimistic with the results that we see.”
She told the Vanguard, “I think people are understanding that there’s definitely a better way and that we can continue to bring fairness and equity and reform as well as safety to our criminal justice system.”
Becton said, “I think what happened is our opponent asked Contra Costa County to make a false choice. And that was a choice between being tough on crime or soft on crime, but the voters have agreed with us to understand that there’s definitely a different way and that we have to be smart on crime and be able to definitely deliver safety to our communities. But at the same time, bring about a different voice that stands up for equity and for fairness and accountability, and for transparency.”
But, while pleased with her own result, she was sad to see Boudin and other progressive go down.
“I’m sad about it,” Becton said. “But I think what Chesa has started has really ignited a conversation that has to happen in his own community about what community safety looks like for San Francisco.”
Miriam Krinsky of Fair and Just Prosecution told the Vanguard that she too does not believe this is the end of the progressive movement, but rather a momentary setback.
“No movement for change ever proceeds with a loss-free trajectory and changing a status quo that has existed for decades and fueled mass incarceration at a rate second to none was never going to be easy. But communities want change and the trajectory of a host of races and choices voters are making continue to reflect and reinforce that,” she said.
In a statement from Fair and Just Prosecution, they noted, “DA Boudin’s approach to public safety rattled those committed to the status quo, whose failed policies created the inequities he promised to address when San Francisco voters first elected him. DA Boudin took office under enormously challenging circumstances – the dawn of a global pandemic; individuals facing tremendous trauma, isolation and economic pressures; and declining trust in law enforcement and government systems. Yet his record shows much in the way of accomplishment: expanding victim services, launching statewide efforts to address ghost guns, successfully prosecuting homicides and prioritizing hate crime and rape prosecutions, developing smart diversion programs that help reduce incarceration and recidivism rates, and enhancing police accountability and conviction integrity.”
They noted, “DA Boudin was made a scapegoat for a city facing numerous societal challenges, many of which existed before he took office, some of which were the result of the unprecedented stresses of the pandemic and almost all of which are beyond the ambit of a prosecutor’s reach or role. Yet even so, crime in San Francisco has gone down overall since DA Boudin took office, and there is no evidence that criminal justice reform or reform-minded prosecutors are connected to an uptick in crime anywhere over the past two years.”
Indeed, reformers note that areas like Sacramento, Oakland, and Kern Counties have experienced much more rapid rises in crime while being led by traditional, tough-on-crime prosecutors.
“Indeed, if locking people up made communities safer, our country would be the safest in the world,” they added.
Activist Shaun King tweeted, “It is truly heartbreaking to see the recall of my dear friend and brother @ChesaBoudin as DA of San Francisco. Sadly, it wasn’t based on facts—about him, or the actual facts about crime in the city. Instead, it was based on feelings, rumors, lies, and propaganda.”
He noted, “When you tell people that violent crime SKYROCKETED under the conservative DA of Sacramento, and is far higher than the crime rates of LA & San Francisco, they don’t even care.”
Chesa Boudin was fighting an uphill battle from the start, the ACLU which opposed the recall noted.
“While we are disappointed District Attorney Chesa Boudin was recalled, the ACLU of Northern California remains committed to advocating for public safety policies that are consistent with the values of civil liberties and civil rights,” said Abdi Soltani, executive director. “We insist that the next San Francisco district attorney pursue reform, reduce incarceration, hold police accountable when they break the law, and root out racial bias in the criminal justice system.”
“San Franciscans deserve a district attorney committed to addressing the root causes of crime and working toward real pathways to public safety,” said Emily Lee, director of San Francisco Rising. “This alliance will work to ensure that the DA’s office does not just revert to harsh crime policies that do not make our communities safer, but rather is a champion for real justice and for community members.”
The ACLU argued, “It would be a mistake to read too much into the election outcome. The recall vote was not a repudiation of criminal justice reform, nor was it a referendum on the national progressive prosecutor movement, which continues to gain momentum.”
In the past two years progressive district attorneys—including Kim Foxx in Cook County, Ill.; Larry Krasner in Philadelphia, Pa.; and Satana Deberry in Durham, N.C.—handily defeated opponents who promised to turn back the clock on reform.
The ACLU added, “Unlike those incumbents and Gov. Gavin Newsom in the 2021 gubernatorial recall, Chesa Boudin did not face a challenger. Instead, he was running against voter frustration and disinformation.”
They concluded, “The past two and a half years have been challenging, and we acknowledge people are frustrated and angry, but we know filling the jails won’t make San Francisco any safer.”
The Vanguard will have more thoughts and interviews on these races in the coming days.