In the end, District Attorney Chesa Boudin’s progressive politics wasn’t a good fit for San Francisco at a time when residents are growing increasingly concerned about crime and pervasive homelessness.
That message rang out loud and clear after voters approved a recall measure to remove Mr. Boudin from his post less than three years after he was elected to office as part of a progressive push to transform criminal justice.
With 62% of the vote counted Wednesday afternoon, the “yes” vote to recall Mr. Boudin had a 60% majority.
David McCuan, political science professor at Sonoma State University, said Mr. Boudin became “the poster child for all that’s wrong with Democrats, big cities, the works” and said the big takeaway is voters feel as if the government is failing to fulfill a primary mission: maintaining order and safety.
“Even in deeply blue California, the necessity to feel safe and know that your political leaders have your back will trump any desire to move the progressive way, towards defund [the police] and towards losing the ability to govern a city,” Mr. McCuan said.
“Democrats need to think about more than why they poll so poorly on issues of crime and dealing with it in big cities,” Mr. McCuan said.
It was a somewhat similar story a little over 400 miles to the south where Rep. Karen Bass’ high hopes of becoming Los Angeles’ next mayor has turned into a battle against billionaire developer Rick Caruso, a Republican turned Democrat.
With 35% of the vote counted two hours after the polls closed, Mr. Caruso had 42% of the vote to Ms. Bass’ 37% and no other candidate in double digits.
Under the rules of California’s all-party “jungle primary,” the top two candidates face off in November unless somebody gets a 50% majority of the vote, which didn’t happen here.
The result adds to the sense that the political future of Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascon, another proud progressive, is in limbo as critics push to recall him.
Taken together, the results, playing out in the political backyard of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Kamala Harris, laid bare the growing voter dissatisfaction with liberal Democrats that have run the cities for decades.
The situation is sure to add more fuel to the intraparty Democratic battle over what’s next following a 2020 election when the far left’s calls to “defund the police” opened the door for Republicans to cast the entire party as soft on crime, despite President Biden’s repudiations of that idea.
Other Democratic commentators have said the blowback against left-leaning district attorneys is reminiscent of the 1980s when concerns over crime helped pave the way for the election of Rudolph W. Giuliani as mayor of New York.
None of it bodes well for Democrats, who have a limited amount of time to right the ship before the midterm elections where they will be defending their fragile grip on the House and Senate.
They are already treading water thanks to soaring gas and grocery prices that are making it more difficult for working-class families to make ends meet.
Liberal Democrats in California say Republicans are trying to pin the blame on a progressive vision that hasn’t had enough time to take hold and prove it could work.
Indeed, Mr. Boudin’s advocates celebrated his rejection of a tough-on-crime era approach to prosecutorial politics, and his vow to address the root causes of crime.
They praised him for ending cash bail and freeing most suspects pre-trial, and stopping the criminal prosecution of “quality of life” crimes such as prostitution, public urination and public camping.
They also praised him, and other progressive district attorneys across the country, for putting a bigger focus on reducing jail and prison populations and putting more of an emphasis on rehabilitation and diversion programs for young offenders.
But critics blamed his policies for feeding into a culture of lawlessness marked by assaults, robberies and break-ins that rattled residents, leaving them to feel unsafe.
NBA legend Charles Barkley recently described San Francisco as a “hellhole” saying he loved the city, but that it needed to be cleaned up. Polls also have shown that voters do not feel safe.
For his part, Mr. Boudin said he understands voters’ being frustrated, but said his office was being “scapegoated” for problems that existed long before he entered office, and exacerbated by the pandemic.
“The challenge is we’re confronting a page straight out of the national Republican playbook,” Mr. Boudin said on the “Fifth & Mission” podcast before the election.
“You look at what Donald Trump did at the national level, and basically he lied over and over and over again, but he did it loud enough and consistently enough and got enough other people in places to repeat those lies, that people started doubting things like vaccines among many, many other things that are basic incontrovertible science,” he argued.
Mr. Boudin also called the recall effort shortsighted for not presenting any solutions to the challenges facing his office and the city.
Mr. Boudin is the first of the progressive prosecutors elected in big cities around the country to get the boot.
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner and Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx have faced similar blowback, but they won reelection in their respective races in 2020 and 2021.
Mr. Boudin’s father was a member of the extremist Weather Underground group and spent decades in prions for second-degree murder and first-degree robbery charges before being granted parole last year.
Whatever the case, voters made it clear they are not happy with the current situation.
“This recall is so much more because the problems of San Francisco writ large are symptomatic of so many cities across the country — crime, homelessness, mental health challenges, housing — all of it,” Mr. McCaun said. “This DA recall has become less about progressive DAs across the country … and more about the loss of capacity and capability to govern in cities from S.F. to L.A. onto points east.”
“That is the message out of this recall,” he said
• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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