The sad saga of Chesa Boudin
A melodrama in three parts
We can debate whether Chesa Boudin is a good District Attorney all day.
But one thing we can say is that he’s a lousy politician.
And that has made all the difference.
Based on plenty of polling, it looks like it will cost him his job. He’s almost certainly going to be recalled at Tuesday’s election.
In San Francisco, District Attorney is an elected position. And the reality is the voters and constituents want to feel their concerns are being heard by their elected officials. And that steps are being taken by those officials to address those concerns.
Boudin has never done that. You can gripe about the amount of money poured into the recall effort (and Boudin and his supporters certainly have) but there is no mistaking that he has really, really pissed a lot of people off.
And it isn’t because San Franciscans, or Californians, have suddenly done a 180 on progressive policies. Or that this is a product of a Republican playbook to kick out the libs. As the Chronicle’s Joe Garofoli points out, there aren’t enough Republicans in San Francisco — 7 % of all registered voters — to recall a dogcatcher.
And, as the Washington Post points out, roughly 80 percent of the yes on recall funds are local.
Nor, Garofoli says, does this look like a throw-out-the-progressives purge. Democratic state Attorney General Rob Bonta is an unabashed progressive. Yet a Berkeley IGS poll shows him getting 46 percent of the vote, compared to the two Republicans in the race who are at 16% and 12%.
If Boudin is recalled, it will be dissatisfied local Democrats that will do it.
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How did we get to this point? Well, it started with the 2019 election. Mission Local’s Joe Eskenazi lays out the numbers.
As expected in an off-year election, voter turnout was low, just 42 percent of registered voters. The ranked choice process picked Boudin, but he won only 36 percent of first place votes. Appointed interim D.A. Suzy Loftus got 31 percent of first place votes and fellow moderate Nancy Tung picked up 19 percent.
At best it was a narrow victory, with the two moderates accounting for 50 percent.
Yet, and you’ve probably read this from national deep-thinkers, Boudin’s win was seen as a mandate for his progressive agenda. He talked of keeping people out of jail, replacing “incarnation with de-carnation,” and “dismantling the war on drugs.” He also instituted “no cash bail,” which his office called “the most progressive bail policy in the nation.”
Unfortunately, Boudin’s progressive agenda coincided with national angst about rising crime. Fueled by the pandemic, concern about lawlessness — in San Francisco it has been auto break-ins, home invasion and shootings — had voters across the country worried about becoming victims of crime.
And to repeat, when the constituents of elected officials are expressing concerns, you need to show that you hear and understand them.
Instead, Boudin — and Police Chief Bill Scott — pushed statistics that showed it was just your imagination. Crime was not actually spiking. That rates were at, or below, previous levels. And that’s generally true.
But residents, having seen scary videos of crimes taking place, and reading about them in triggering neighborhoods apps like Nextdoor, were not reassured.
It was like that old line from the country-western song: Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?
Finally, last August, Boudin and Scott got the memo. As I wrote back in August, Boudin and Scott dropped the stats argument in a virtual panel discussion and admitted that “We know many people are feeling less safe than ever.”
That was the right message, but by the time Boudin sent it, he had more problems.
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San Francisco’s Asian community, which make up over a third of the city’s population, was experiencing a series of unprovoked attacks and assaults.
A particularly grievous example was when an 84-year-old man was shoved down by a 19-year-old man. The elderly man died.
Boudin’s response? He said the alleged assailant was having “some sort of a temper tantrum.”
The family of the victim was outraged at the comments and went public with criticism of Boudin, which helped to fuel the general sense of distrust in the D.A.
And if there is one thing we have learned in the last two years it is that the Asian community is a force to reckoned with.
Three members of the School Board learned that when their recall was partially fueled by poking the hornets’ nest that is merit-based Lowell High School. The school board changed admissions at Lowell to a lottery, Asian parents rose up and campaigned long and hard to get the School Board members recalled.
And they were in a virtual landslide.
Many of them are now all-in on the Boudin recall. Large groups showed up with “Yes on H” signs at Chase Arena for Sunday night’s Warriors’ game in the Finals. And they were out on San Francisco streets Monday — we saw them on Lombard — the day before the election.
Meanwhile, the “temper tantrum” comment was another example of Boudin’s ear-clanging inability to read the room. Put it up there with his comments about the Tenderloin.
That was so tone deaf that recall advocates put it on a downtown billboard.
Finally, there is a red flag in the D.A.’s office. Brook Jenkins and Don Du Bain, former prosecutors in Boudin’s office have not only resigned, they are actively campaigning against him. And they aren’t the only ones.
The two say over half the staff, 32 people, have left the department since Boudin took over, frustrated at his lack of accountability. In fairness, Jenkins has been mentioned as a possible successor if Boudin is recalled and Mayor London Breed appoints a replacement, so that must be factored in.
But she says it is a mistake to think that she’s advocating for a lock-them-up return to full prisons.
“I don’t think we are calling for a tough-on-crime D.A.,” she said. “We want a competent D.A.”
As for those who say the turnover is typical when a new guy takes over, Du Bain says, “I have been a prosecutor for 30 years. Never have I seen an office when I saw half the staff walk off the job.”
It all adds up to a tsunami of bad political tea-reading by Boudin.
And let’s be fair. He’s probably a nice enough guy. He’s certainly bright, a Rhodes Scholar. And he has a compelling personal story.
But he’s the wrong man for this job.
Contact C.W. Nevius at email@example.com. Twitter: @cwnevius