Progressive lawyer wins San Francisco district attorney race
After four days of ballot counting, a progressive lawyer who vowed to confront police misconduct and mass incarceration won a heated race to become San Francisco’s next district attorney, defeating the city’s top prosecutor in a major victory for criminal justice reformers nationwide.
Chesa Boudin, a former deputy public defender who entered the race as an underdog, declared victory Saturday night following a concession from interim district attorney Suzy Loftus, who had broad backing from California’s Democratic establishment.
All week long the election remained too close to call, and as of Friday Boudin led by less than 160 votes. But after tallying another batch of ballots Saturday afternoon, election officials said he had pulled further ahead, with 85,950 votes to Loftus’s 83,511. With just 1,200 votes left to count, Loftus conceded.
The outcome adds Boudin to a growing list of progressive candidates around the country who have won district attorney races by pushing sweeping criminal justice reforms rather than stressing law-and-order bona fides.
“When we started this campaign, we believed that the people of San Francisco wanted a different vision of justice,” Boudin told The Washington Post.
“We were right,” he said. “In voting for this campaign, the residents of San Francisco have demanded radical change and rejected calls to go back to the tough-on-crime era that did not make us safer and destroyed the lives of thousands of San Franciscans.”
Loftus congratulated Boudin in a tweet Saturday night. “We ran a great race, stayed positive and envisioned a city that is more safe and less divided,” she said. “I didn’t win the race — but we won the support of so many San Franciscans who are demanding that our city work more effectively together to build safety.”
Boudin’s victory reflects a nationwide shift in public attitudes away from jailing and imprisoning offenders and toward rehabilitating them. In the past three years, voters in Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and other large cities have elected reform-minded prosecutors who built their campaigns around issues such as ending racial disparities in sentencing, reducing prison populations and declining to pursue nonviolent drug cases. At the same time, reform proposals have gained bipartisan support in Congress, which passed a landmark prison reform bill, the First Step Act, in late 2018.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., who has made an overhaul of the justice system a cornerstone of his campaign for president, was among Boudin’s highest-profile supporters. “Now is the moment to fundamentally transform our racist and broken criminal justice system by ending mass incarceration, the failed war on drugs and the criminalization of poverty,” Sanders tweeted Saturday. “Congratulations @chesaboudin on your historic victory!”
The race for San Francisco’s district attorney kicked off in fall 2018 when then-district attorney George Gascón, himself a progressive, announced he wouldn’t seek reelection. His departure paved the way for the city’s first district attorney race in a century with no incumbent.
As recently as a few years ago, Loftus might have been a shoo-in for the job. Many of the state’s highest-ranking Democrats lined up behind her, with endorsements coming from San Francisco Mayor London Breed, California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
Loftus, who formerly headed the San Francisco Police Commission, also won support from law enforcement leaders, including the city’s former police chief. Boudin, on the other hand, faced a barrage of criticism from law enforcement, including the police union, which spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on television ads opposing him.