Yesterday evening, San Franciscans packed into Del Mar, a tiki bar that became the postelection gathering spot for those supporting the recall of the city’s district attorney, Chesa Boudin. The mood was both hopeful and nervous. Would the controversial DA actually be ousted with a “yes” vote on measure H? Every poll had predicted that he would be, but polls have been wrong before.
Then, sometime around 8:30 p.m., someone hushed the crowd to read the first round of results. Everyone stopped talking and listened. The early tally: 61 percent of voters had chosen to recall Boudin.
The screams of joy and relief were deafening. Finally, San Franciscans could relax. This is what the majority of the city’s beleaguered residents had so desperately wanted but were almost afraid to expect.
Boudin’s supporters had tried to frame the recall as a Republican-funded, extreme right-wing movement—an absurd approach to take in a deep-blue city. When that argument didn’t seem to take hold, they bizarrely attempted to tie the recall effort to abortion, claiming a vote to recall was a vote against women’s reproductive rights.
In the end, none of these ruses could disguise the reality that criminal activity was the primary driver behind public discontent with Boudin. Residents had become tired of hearing that such disorder, which they saw with their own eyes, wasn’t happening. They stopped believing the charts and statistics “proving” that they weren’t in danger. They rejected Team Boudin’s efforts to portray property crimes like car break-ins and residential thefts as minor nuisances.
Boudin supporters have learned that crime is a big deal to San Franciscans, and it is all too real. Just about everyone who lives in or visits the city sees and experiences it. They know it’s happening to their businesses, their family members, and themselves.
San Franciscans also see the drug dealers lining the streets, openly selling illegal substances. With Boudin in office, the drug trade has flourished. The dealers, mostly Honduran nationals, face little to no repercussions for the mayhem they cause because the district attorney doesn’t want them deported. To Boudin, they are victims, not perpetrators. So residents have watched in horror as the addicts to whom these dealers sell drugs collapse and die in public view. The resulting chaos has caused many mom-and-pop stores to close and residents to give up many of the basic amenities of urban life.
Yet recalling Boudin was no easy task. Richie Greenberg, one of the city’s few Republicans, managed one recall campaign, while Mary Jung, a Democrat, handled another. Disagreements broke out between the two groups; sometimes they would stand on corners of the same block, each with the same “recall Boudin” message but causing confusion among potential petition-signers. In the end, the divided effort didn’t matter. The goal was to recall Boudin and restore order, safety, and justice in the city.
The victory was hard-won, especially considering the opposition from high-profile Boudin supporters. The DA’s team dragged in singer John Legend and Jesse Jackson in a last-ditch effort to sway voters, but these outsiders ended up discredited and mocked. Criminal-justice reform advocates, such as Alec Karakatsanis, also chimed in, flooding Twitter with attacks on recall supporters. They oppose virtually any kind of incarceration, calling prisons “cages”—a hollow complaint in Boudin’s San Francisco, where even the most egregious criminals and repeat offenders can roam the city freely.
It was clear that Boudin’s supporters were losing the plot, but so was the local media. The San Francisco Chronicle and San Francisco Examiner urged readers to vote against the recall. Boudin was just doing the job that he was elected to do by the people who voted for him in 2019, the papers argued. He was fulfilling his campaign promises and was not responsible for the chaos.
But all these forces aligned behind Boudin failed to take the temperature of the city. San Franciscans were fed up with being talked down to and tired of seeing cherished neighborhoods fall to ruin. Boudin was not doing what he promised, which was to ensure public safety. Yesterday, they voted him out before he could do further damage.
Mayor London Breed will soon appoint an interim district attorney. The list of possible candidates includes Brooke Jenkins, a progressive prosecutor who broke away from Boudin’s office and has been spreading the word of his appalling behavior. City residents will have a chance to vote for a new DA next year.
For now, however, the rejoicing in Baghdad by the Bay continues. Ousting Chesa Boudin was a crucial win for the city. San Franciscans can’t be blamed for gloating.
Photo by Jane Tyska/Digital First Media/East Bay Times via Getty Images