The city by the Bay says nay
San Franciscos fire their progressive district attorney
Before Chesa Boudin was sworn in as San Francisco’s district attorney in January 2020, he once served as a translator for Hugo Chavez, the autocratic former president of Venezuela, and co-wrote a book about the Bolivarian revolution.
Now Mr Boudin has experienced his own revolt -- by voters.
On June 7th a majority of San Francisco voters decided to “recall” him from office.
The mayor will appoint an interim district attorney, with a permanent replacement elected in November.
What may sound like a provincial spat is anything but.
This was a litmus of values in a city that has always been on the bleeding edge of social and political change.
In 2019, when Mr Boudin was campaigning as a progressive promising to revolutionise criminal justice, his offbeat pedigree was an asset.
He is a Rhodes scholar, a former public defender and the son of two members of the leftist Weather Underground, who were sentenced to prison for their role as getaway drivers in an armed robbery that led to two police officers and a security guard being killed.
Mr Boudin promised to end cash bail and put fewer people in jail.
Prosecutions have indeed fallen since he took office.
If he did what he said he would, why did he come under fire?
His rhetoric and brash manner alienated many from the start.
At his election-night party in 2019, people lashed out at the Police Officers Association, chanting “Fuck the poa”, which had spent heavily to try to defeat Mr Boudin.
Since then, the relationship between Mr Boudin’s office and the police has been about as cosy as an old jail cell on Alcatraz.
Morale in the district attorney’s office is “terrible”, says Michael Swart, one of seven prosecutors Mr Boudin fired after assuming office.
By October 2021, 59 attorneys, or around 40% of the prosecutors in his office, had either quit or been sacked.
Some who have worked with Mr Boudin felt he was too quick to side with defendants, when his job was to prosecute crimes and represent victims.
The recall campaign gained steam after a few incidents in which his office’s choice not to keep people in jail carried deadly consequences.
One paroled felon stole a car, drove while drunk and killed two young women crossing a street (earlier that year the man had been arrested five times, and each time the district attorney’s office had declined to file charges).
The degraded state of San Francisco has left a lot of inhabitants angry -- and blaming Mr Boudin.
“People are really sick of living in chaos,” says Michael Shellenberger, author of a book, “San Fransicko”, which argues that progressives are mishandling cities, who ran unsuccessfully for governor as an independent.
Downtown, drugstores have closed or refused to stock goods on shelves, due to shoplifting.