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Voters in progressive San Francisco on Tuesday overwhelmingly supported the recall of Chesa Boudin, the city’s radical left-wing district attorney, two years after he was elected on a platform that emphasized reducing the jail population and prioritizing “restorative justice.”
Sixty percent of voters supported the recall, known locally as Proposition H, highlighting just how frustrated San Francisco residents have become with Boudin’s soft-on-crime approach that many believe has helped make the city a more dangerous place to live, visit, and do business.
The first batch of votes were posted just before 9 p.m. in California. The Associated Press called the recall results about a half hour later.
Richie Greenberg, a San Francisco community activist who helped lead the recall effort, declared victory soon after the initial batch of votes was released. In a prepared statement, he called the successful recall “bittersweet.” He said the campaign against Boudin was “people powered.”
“We shouldn’t be popping champagne bottles,” Greenberg said. “People have died under Chesa Boudin’s watch. Lives have been ruined, families broken, businesses shuttered.”
Boudin, the son of Weather Underground terrorists and a former public defender, was elected district attorney by San Francisco voters in 2019, winning a plurality of votes in a race in which he stood out running against multiple tough-on-crime former prosecutors.
A former translator in Hugo Chávez’s presidential palace in Venezuela, Boudin was part of a wave of progressive activists who took over big-city district attorney’s offices vowing to reform the criminal-justice system from the inside. On the campaign trail, Boudin was a champion of “decarceration,” and he ran against “the notion that to be free, we must cage others.”
Once in office, Boudin implemented a series of progressive measures. He ended cash bail, stopped prosecuting drug-possession cases stemming from “pretextual” traffic stops, stopped using “enhancements” to extend prison sentences for convicted gang members, and stopped prosecuting so-called quality-of-life crimes — things such as prostitution, public camping, public defecation, and open-air drug use. Supporters of the recall say that sent a message that San Francisco was a consequence-free place to engage in low-level crimes, which simply encouraged more crime in the city generally.
That even left-wing San Francisco would overwhelmingly vote to oust one of the progressive-prosecutor movement’s leading figures shows just how much the nation’s mood has changed over the past two years as rising crime has plagued big cities across the country.
While crime has long been an issue in San Francisco, during Boudin’s tenure the city gained a reputation as an epicenter of organized retail crime and a hot spot for anti-Asian hate crimes. Open-air drug use became increasingly common in some parts of the city, where used needles litter the sidewalks. In 2021, a year that saw nearly 500 people in the city killed by a worsening fentanyl crisis, Boudin’s office didn’t convict a single person of dealing the drug. They chose instead to emphasize diversion programs and lower-level “accessory after the fact” charges, in part to protect immigrant drug dealers from deportation, according to a San Francisco Standard report.
Rachel Michelin, president and CEO of the California Retailers Association, said in a prepared statement that Tuesday’s results made clear that voters will provide consequences for district attorneys across the state who fail to hold lawbreakers accountable. She said her association “is hopeful the recall of San Francisco’s District Attorney will mark a turning point so retail customers and employees need not fear becoming victims of crime.”
Boudin and his supporters pointed at police crime data, which showed Part 1 crimes — the most serious crimes — actually declined during his tenure. “We’re experiencing somewhat of a disconnect between what the data shows us and what people feel,” Boudin told the Atlantic.
But his opponents said the crime data don’t tell the whole story. They argue that many crimes aren’t being reported because nothing would happen if they were. Even London Breed, San Francisco’s Democratic mayor, has said that criminals in San Francisco are “destroying our city.”
It will now be up to Breed to appoint Boudin’s successor.
Boudin’s ouster comes less than four months after San Francisco voters recalled three progressive school-board members who were widely condemned for prioritizing social-justice politics — renaming schools named after prominent American figures, painting over an outdated mural — over more pressing issues, such as reopening schools last year and restructuring the district’s finances.