LOS ANGELES (CN) — California Governor Gavin Newsom made waves Tuesday in the upcoming Los Angeles County district attorney runoff election, throwing his support behind George Gascón, the longtime law enforcement official who mounted a progressive challenge to unseat incumbent Jackie Lacey amid the ongoing nationwide reckoning over police accountability.
Gascón, the former San Francisco District Attorney and onetime LA Police Department assistant chief, campaigned on the promise to implement progressive reforms in the largest prosecutorial agency in the country.
Diverting people with mental illness away from incarceration, not seeking the death penalty in criminal cases and raising the standard for use of deadly force by police are all hallmarks of the Havana, Cuba-born former prosecutor’s campaign.
Lacey — the first woman and the first black person to serve as LA County DA — clings to the tough-on-crime approach from an era of policing that eroded community trust in police, Gascón has said in campaign events.
The Nov. 3 election has been framed by political figures and activists as a referendum on Lacey’s record in office, a period marked by her refusals to bring criminal charges against police officers who killed people or who act unlawfully.
In announcing his endorsement Tuesday, Newsom — who as San Francisco mayor appointed Gascón to lead the city’s police department in 2009 — said in a statement Gascón has the track record to prove he can implement reforms to LA County’s criminal legal system.
“This November, Angelenos will choose who to turn to as calls to reimagine our dated system of justice grow louder, and I urge them to join me once again in turning to George Gascón,” said Newsom.
Newsom elevated Gascón to the San Francisco DA position after then-DA Kamala Harris was elected as California attorney general.
Newsom said in the statement Gascón “burnished a national reputation as a leader in the fight to reform our dated system of justice” during his time as DA.
In a statement, Gascón praised Newsom’s leadership and called him a friend who has long supported progressive reforms.
“From his rapid response to the pandemic to his courageous moratorium on the death penalty, this is a governor that is willing to make the difficult and sometimes unpopular decisions that are backed by data and science,” Gascon said.
The governor’s endorsement is the latest ripple in the massive wave of support for Gascón that has been building since he forced a runoff election in March.
U.S. Representatives Adam Schiff and Maxine Waters pulled their longstanding support for Lacey earlier this year, with Waters saying in a statement LA County needs a DA office willing to hold officers accountable for misconduct and unlawful deadly force.
Gascón has also been endorsed by current San Francisco Mayor London Breed, as well as Harris and Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. All three are former presidential candidates and Harris is now the Democratic nominee for vice president.
Lacey struck a conciliatory tone in a statement after Newsom’s announcement.
“I respect Governor Newsom, and I understand why he chose to endorse his former San Francisco police chief, due to their history together in San Francisco,” the DA said in a statement. “I’m focused on winning this race and doing the job I was elected to do, reforming our criminal justice system and keeping LA County safe.”
Lacey has acknowledged the need to eradicate racial disparities in the criminal legal system and has touted her effort to divert people with mental illness from jail. And though her office has prosecuted at least one LAPD officer for a fatal shooting, critics have said her other actions — such as her move to expunge marijuana-related convictions — have come too late.
Gascon’s record has come under fire from LA County police unions — particularly the Los Angeles Police Protective League, which represents 10,000 cops — who say his policies have led to increases in some forms of crime.
Gascon did not immediately respond to a request for further comment by press time.
Also on Tuesday, Newsom announced his support for a slate of statewide ballot measures related to criminal justice and civil rights.
The governor urged voters to back Proposition 25, which would enact Senate Bill 10, a law passed in 2018 that replaces cash bail with a system based on risk assessments that gives judges broader authority over release.
State Senator Bob Hertzberg, the Democrat who wrote the bill, said in a statement SB 10 faces a considerable challenge from the bail industry.
“Californians will not be swayed by a for-profit industry spending millions of dollars to protect a system of money bail that takes away peoples’ liberty just because they don’t have enough money in their pocket,” said Hertzberg.
Assemblymember Rob Bonta, co-author of SB 10, called the current bail system “predatory” and one that further impoverishes poor residents.
“No one should have their liberty taken and languish in jail simply because they can’t afford to post bail, which averages $50,0000 in California,” Bonta said.
Newsom also backed Proposition 17, which restores voting rights for Californians on parole, and Proposition 16, which would restore affirmative action in state colleges and government agencies by repealing Proposition 209, approved by voters in 1996.