Brooke Jenkins begins well as new DA
But there are problems ahead
So far Brooke Jenkins is saying the right things.
Mayor London Breed’s appointment to replace recalled San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin says she’s going after “open air drug markets” and “repeat offenders.”
That’s right in the wheelhouse for SF voters, not only because they were unhappy with Boudin’s response to those hot button issues, but because it gives voice to a general dissatisfaction with the state of crime in the city.
In addition — and granted this is a small sample size — Jenkins has shown an ability to command the podium when she speaks in public. She sounds forceful and assertive. And let’s don’t pretend that doesn’t make a difference to voters. They want to hear a DA who sounds authoritative.
However, she faces some problems.
First, there’s a short time frame. She’s appointed for now, but an election is set for November. That’s not much to time to demonstrate tangible results — to show that this is a different DA’s office.
And you have to admit that Boudin was right about some things. For instance, he was correct when he said that property theft and car break-ins are notoriously difficult to stop. It takes a matter of seconds to smash a car window, grab the whatever is inside and make an escape.
It is easy to say you are going to fix something. It is harder to get it done. For reference check Mayor Breed’s crackdown on drug dealing in the Tenderloin. Great concept, but it never happened.
So, if you’d like some free advice (and that’s kind of what we do here), Jenkins should look for a standout, signature accomplishment that will symbolize a new approach. Successfully prosecuting a multi-offending smash-and-grab offender, and announcing the sentence in a press conference, would make a point.
But there’s more.
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Boudin loyalists in the office are making it clear they have no intention of helping Jenkins. In fact, it seems pretty obvious they are willing to openly undermine her.
She had no sooner held her first staff meeting than the Boudin staffers — who were furious at the successful recall — leaked comments to SF Gate.
They described the meeting as “horrible . . . icy” and “insane.” They said she appeared to have no idea how to run the office.
That’s a lot of conclusions to draw from what was described as a 20-minute meeting in front of 25 people, most of whom are admittedly Boudin holdovers.
They reportedly rolled their eyes at Jenkins when she said she wanted to review cases where a plea offer had been made, particularly in drug cases. But unhappiness with consequences for drug dealers was a primary driver of the Boudin recall.
They said she made no distinction between going after drug users and drug dealers. But just because she didn’t mention the difference doesn’t mean she’s advocating to arrest and prosecute users. I seriously doubt that Jenkins, or hardly anyone else in law enforcement, thinks locking up addicted users is a successful or worthwhile strategy.
Go after the dealers. End the open air drug market in the Tenderloin.
Now, I’m going to go way out on a limb here and say this is a strategy. The Boudin-ers fantasy is that Jenkins gets bogged down in endless battles about policy — for example, you can’t look at all the drug case plea deals, there are too many of them — and isn’t able to get much accomplished before the November election.
And at that point, the story goes, Boudin returns triumphantly to the fray and runs for DA again. And wins.
It’s a lovely fantasy for the pro-Boudin crowd, which was apoplectic when the recall succeeded. Check out Supervisor Ronen on the night of the recall.
However, there are some problems.
First, Boudin’s recall turned into a “reverse Newsom.”
As we remember, opponents of Gov. Gavin Newsom finally managed to get a recall on the ballot after multiple attempts. There’s been a recall attempt every year he’s been in office, just as there was for previous Gov. Jerry Brown. All but this one failed.
And as you also remember, Newsom defeated the recall by a resounding 62-38% margin.
The result, a commanding show of support, effectively cleared the field. He cruises into his November bid for a second term with virtually no creditable opponents.
That’s not what happened with Boudin. He lost the recall and did so convincingly. There was a lot of a-ha-ing from his supporters when what was initially announced as a 20-point “landslide” defeat narrowed down to 10 points. But a 10-point margin is a clear, definitive loss.
And remember, the recall was only a referendum on Boudin. There weren’t other choices, as Newsom had in his recall. This was straight, yes or no, on Boudin. And the result was no, by double digits.
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Second, the talk that San Franciscans actually approved of Boudin’s progressive measures on crime, like eliminating cash bail and reducing jail sentences, doesn’t scan.
Asian voters, who have become a San Francisco political power after the recalls of Boudin and three members of the SF School Board, would seem to be no more likely to support the former DA now than then.
The perception that Boudin was not taking attacks on Asian-Americans seriously, and the prevalence of those assaults, hurt Boudin’s cause.
They didn’t like him then. They are unlikely to like him in November.
Time to move on. Jenkins is a new beginning. Now we just need results.
Contact C.W. Nevius at email@example.com. Twitter: @cwnevius