San Francisco Voters Oust District Attorney Chesa Boudin in Recall

Son of infamous Brink’s truck robbers, the prosecutor faced fierce backlash as crime concerns mount in the city.

San Francisco residents voted to recall Chesa Boudin, a far-left district attorney who sought to reform the city’s criminal-justice system but met fierce opposition from critics who painted him as too soft on crime.

About 60% of voters favored ousting Boudin. He’ll be replaced by an interim DA chosen by Mayor London Breed.

The controversial referendum comes as local officials across the country debate approaches to public safety. Boudin, 41, took office in January 2020 with promises of holding police accountable and ending harsh sentencing that fueled mass incarceration. But opponents blamed him for many of San Francisco’s ills, including spikes in some categories of crime and drug use on city streets.

California’s recall-friendly process allowed Boudin’s detractors to get a referendum on the ballot, sparking a flood of national attention and local political jockeying in the months leading up to Tuesday’s election.

Boudin’s supporters argued that no prosecutor could single-handedly turn around crime trends, while the deeper problems plaguing San Francisco, like homelessness and mental illness, aren’t ones the district attorney has the power to address alone.

But polling showed that even in a famously liberal city that professes to broadly support reform efforts, Boudin was unpopular. Frustration with his response to high-profile incidents of crime, like shoplifting and hate crimes against Asian-Americans, also were likely factors in the recall’s success.

“San Francisco voters sent a clear message that they want a District Attorney who prioritizes public safety for every community,” the recall campaign said in a statement Tuesday evening. “San Franciscans want leadership that holds serious, violent, and repeat offenders accountable while never forgetting the rights of victims and their families.”

In a concession speech Tuesday, Boudin said his efforts at reform were about more than just the district attorney’s office and that he was part of a “movement, not a moment.” He pointed to voter frustration with the pandemic and criticized the “two cities” he sees in San Francisco.

“We have two systems of justice,” he said. “We have one for the wealthy and the well-connected and a different one for everybody else, and that’s exactly what we are fighting to change.”

The recall campaign raised more than $7 million, mostly from PACs supported by prominent Bay Area tech, real estate and business leaders, including PayPal co-founder David Sacks and Republican donor William Oberndorf.

Local papers like the San Francisco Chronicle and The San Francisco Examiner endorsed a “no” vote on the recall, and the ACLU of Northern California and Ripple Labs Inc. co-founder Chris Larsen donated to Boudin supporters’ smaller war chest.

Boudin’s recall dovetails with an election in Los Angeles that also placed public safety and the return to tough-on-crime rhetoric front and center: Voters in L.A. advanced billionaire Rick Caruso to a runoff for mayor after he made public safety a central tenet of his campaign. Nationally, far-left prosecutors in places like New York City, Philadelphia and Chicago’s home of Cook County have also faced backlash.

In their statement, the recall campaign resisted their association with the “far right,” saying the city would continue to be “a national beacon for progressive criminal-justice reform.”