Deputy public defender jumps into race for SF district attorney

Most candidates to become San Francisco’s next top prosecutor are lining up to the right of outgoing District Attorney George Gascon, but not one contender who jumped into the race Tuesday.

Deputy Public Defender Chesa Boudin, who helped lead efforts to reform the cash bail system in California last year, became the first candidate with the support of the progressive establishment to enter the race Tuesday.

Boudin is one of five candidates to wade into the field that Gascon left open when the left-leaning district attorney announced his decision to not seek re-election last October. This is The City’s first district attorney’s race in decades without an incumbent in the running.

With plans to fix the “broken” criminal justice system, Boudin will face off against candidates who have criticized Gascon’s handling of property crimes including former Police Commission President Suzy Loftus.

“Falsely equating public safety with length of sentence and conviction rates actually makes us less safe,” Boudin said. “I want to break the cycle of incarceration and I want to do that by focusing on the roots of crime.”

Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
Suzy Loftus

Loftus is an apparent frontrunner in the race, and has the endorsements of political moderates like Mayor London Breed and U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, as well as progressive Supervisor Rafael Mandelman.

A former San Francisco prosecutor who now works as an attorney for the Sheriff’s Department, she launched her campaign late last year by calling for more consequences for auto burglars.

Also to the right of Gascon, candidate and former city prosecutor Nancy Tung wants to clamp down on drug dealing in the Tenderloin.

Nancy Tung is running for district attorney. (Courtesy image)

She called for improved cooperation with the police on “larger drug sweeps and undercover operations” in the neighborhood.

“It can’t just be this catch and release philosophy,” said Tung. “We have to take a hard look at who these offenders are and if they continue to offend, we can’t sacrifice our communities any longer.”

Tung, an assistant district attorney in Alameda County, also wants to improve morale in the district attorney’s office and relations with rank-and-file police officers. She plans to kick off her campaign with an event at the Hall of Justice on Wednesday.

Boudin, who has the endorsements of supervisors Aaron Peskin and Hillary Ronen, said that as district attorney he would work to ensure that people of all professions, including police officers, are treated equally.

“We need to let everybody know that if you don’t follow the law there are consequences no matter who you are, no matter what your skin color is, no matter what your job title,” Boudin said.

Boudin said he was surprised that Gascon did not charge an officer in any of the two dozen fatal police shootings that occurred during his tenure as district attorney.

Last May, Gascon drew scrutiny when he decided not to charge the officers who shot and killed Mario Woods in 2015 and Luis Gongora-Pat in 2016.

“I think that there were a tremendous number of people in our communities who expected that the police would be held accountable,” Boudin said, while declining to comment on any particular case. “In some cases when the police kill it’s justifiable, and in others it’s not.”

Gascon has not endorsed any candidate in the race. His office has repeatedly charged law enforcement with crimes, just not officers who shot suspects.

Despite criticism, Gascon’s office prosecuted 88 percent of drug sale arrests made between January and August of last year. Reported auto burglaries also fell 17 percent by the end of 2018.

As a public defender, Boudin said he is driven by his own personal experience with incarceration.

At 14 months old, both his parents were arrested in the burglary of an armored car that resulted in the killings of two police officers and a security guard in 1981. While neither parent pulled the trigger, both were convicted of felony murder for acting as getaway drivers in the crime.

His parents were part of the far-left Black Liberation Army at the time and former members of the Weather Underground, a radical group birthed of the anti-war movement in the late 1960s.

Boudin himself is positioned to the left of Gascon. While both men support bail reform, they disagree over who should be released from jail before trial, with Boudin arguing for a more limited standard.

Boudin litigated a landmark case that resulted in the California Court of Appeal deciding last January that it is unconstitutional for a judge to set bail for a defendant without considering their ability to pay.

While Boudin and Gascon agree that a defendant should not be held in jail simply because they cannot afford to pay their way out, Gascon has since asked the California Supreme Court to review and clarify the decision.

The other candidates in the race so far are Fire Commissioner Joe Alioto Veronese and Deputy Attorney General Leif Dautch.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

Michael Barba
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