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San Francisco’s progressive DA likely headed for recall

A campaign to recall the former public defender garnered tens of thousands more signatures than needed, but the signatures must still be validated by San Francisco election officials.

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — A campaign to oust one of the nation’s most progressive prosecutors will likely go to San Francisco voters next year after recall supporters submitted far more signatures than needed to qualify for the ballot on Friday.

Three days before the Oct. 25 deadline, organizers of a campaign to recall San Francisco’s criminal justice reform-minded district attorney Chesa Boudin submitted 83,000 signatures — 32,000 more than are required — to the San Francisco Department of Elections.

If at least 51,000 signatures are verified by city officials within the next 30 days, a special recall election could be held as soon as June of next year.

A former public defender and son of left-wing militants who went to prison when he was 14 months old for a deadly robbery gone wrong, Boudin, 41, ran for DA in 2019 on a platform of promising to end mass incarceration and boost non-prosecution diversion programs.

Within his first few months in office, Boudin made good on his campaign pledges. He eliminated cash bail for defendants with the goal of making pre-trial release determinations based on risk instead of wealth. He ordered the DA’s office to stop applying sentencing enhancements based on gang affiliations, arguing that they contribute to racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

He also directed the office to stop applying California’s Three Strikes Law, which he said helped fuel mass incarceration. Additionally, he announced a halt in prosecuting contraband possession cases if they result from a stop for a minor traffic violation, based on a belief that “pretexual” stops erode trust in law enforcement and contribute to racial disparities.

But in a city with high rates of property crimes, overdose deaths, homelessness and mental health problems that many attribute to the prevalence of illegal drugs, Boudin’s critics argue that his policies have made the city less safe.

Boudin’s detractors were quick to blame him and his policies for the deaths of two women, 60-year-old Elizabeth Platt and 27-year-old Hanako Abe, who were killed in a hit-and-run on Dec. 31, 2020, by a parolee. The driver, Troy McAlister, was out on parole and had been arrested for a series of property crimes before the fatal incident, but Boudin had not filed charges against him.

Boudin defended himself by noting that other law enforcement agencies, including the parole department, Daly City police and San Francisco police, could have done more to prevent the tragedy, but he vowed to implement “concrete changes” and work with law enforcement partners “to make systematic changes immediately.”

San Francisco has also made headlines in recent months over a viral video of a man brazenly shoplifting in a Walgreens store while ignoring a security guard and reports that the pharmacy chain is closing multiple stores in the city, citing the high cost of retail theft. While some have challenged that narrative and questioned Walgreens’ true motives for closing stores, data shows that Boudin has prosecuted fewer shoplifting cases than his predecessor, George Gascón. Boudin prosecuted 44% of shoplifting cases in 2020 compared to 70% prosecuted Gascón in 2019, according to the San Francisco Examiner.

The committee supporting Boudin, Stand with Chesa, has labeled the recall campaign as an effort driven by Republicans, police and affluent people who want to roll back progress on criminal justice reform and undo the results of a fair election.

“From the moment District Attorney Boudin was sworn in, the ultra wealthy, police unions and conservative political operatives have made clear they will stop at nothing to remove him from office,” Stand with Chesa spokesperson Julie Edwards said in a statement. “Now these special interests have spent more than $1 million dollars in their attempt to push a politically motivated and unnecessary recall.”

Edwards claims the campaign used “dark money” to gather signatures, and she noted steps Boudin has taken to make the city safer, including going after ghost gun manufacturers with a civil lawsuit.

Boudin's defenders also argue that most violent crime has gone down under the progressive DA's tenure, though homicides have risen in San Francisco and across the country over the last two years. Burglaries have also increased dramatically in San Francisco since 2019, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The recall campaign Safer SF’s spokesperson Andrea Shorter did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment Friday , but the campaign’s website features a list of crime victims with claims that Boudin’s policies have made the city less safe.

“Chesa Boudin is failing all of us,” a statement on the website reads. “He doesn’t hold serial offenders accountable and has released them from custody without consequences. Most San Franciscans do not feel safer than they did a year ago, and enough is enough.”

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