San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin is days away from learning whether the progressive ideals and policy proposals that brought him into office two years ago will be rejected by the city’s voters midway through his first term.
Boudin, who was raised in Hyde Park by his adoptive parents — the left-wing radicals turned college professors Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn — is facing a recall election Tuesday in which voters will be asked whether to keep Boudin as the city’s district attorney or kick him out in favor of a new top prosecutor appointed by the city’s mayor, London Breed.
Recent polls show Boudin gaining ground and many voters still undecided.
Boudin said Friday he believes those polls are a result of the fierce campaign led by Republicans and backed by conservative billionaires to unseat him — but not indicative of the feelings of most voters. He said the latest polls seen by his campaign have him neck-and-neck.
“I’ve been out in the community more than, frankly, I’ve been able to do since I took office because of the pandemic,” he said in an interview. “And there is a massive shift in energy in our direction.”
The recall effort has led to speculation that it could be a bellwether for public support of other progressive prosecutors, including Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx.
On Friday, Foxx called the effort to recall Boudin “ridiculous” and noted that the same reforms Boudin is campaigning on were why voters elected him in 2019.
Foxx pointed to her own reelection two years ago as showing voters back the reforms that she and Boudin champion despite sometimes vocal and powerful opposition.
“We’ve seen so-called progressive prosecutors get reelected even in these challenging times of rising violence across the country,” Foxx said, pointing to support for Larry Krasner in Philadelphia and Kim Gardner in St. Louis. “I don’t think it’s any indication that the momentum around prosecutors taking a more progressive approach is slowing down.
“This is gonna be really difficult for him,” Foxx said of Boudin, who is a friend.
One of the biggest challenges facing Boudin in the recall election is that he has no opponent to compare policy proposals against, Foxx said.
Unlike in a primary or general election, “This is a rejection vote,” she said, since votes don’t know who Breed would appoint to replace him.
Like Foxx, Boudin has faced backlash from voters who cite crime as a top concern and opposition from their cities’ police unions.
Boudin said San Francisco has experienced less of the increase in crime, particularly violent crime, than other cities with more traditional “tough-on-crime” prosecutors. He pointed to neighboring Oakland’s soaring homicide rate and to Jacksonville, Florida, whose population is a similar size to San Francisco.
“Nobody in the nation or the Twitter verse is calling for the recall of the DA in Jacksonville, and Sacramento or in Oakland,” Boudin said. “What we see is very clearly is a plan from the playbook of national Republicans to attack and undermine criminal justice reform.”
Boudin’s birth parents — Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert — were imprisoned for much of his life for their role as getaway drivers in a 1981 attempted robbery of an armored truck that left a guard and two police officers dead. His political foes frequently point out that his parents, as well as Ayers and Dohrn, were members of the Weather Underground, a group that took part in a politically motivated bombing campaign in the 1970s.
But his unusual upbringing, much of it on the South Side of Chicago, also helped lead him to a career as a public defender and shaped his views that the criminal justice system needs new ways of thinking, he said in a 2020 Chicago Sun-Times Interview before taking office as district attorney despite never having been a prosecutor.
“We have got to do a better job, in my office, in this movement in making sure that people understand the reforms are to make us safer,” Boudin said.