Suzy Loftus speaks at a news conference after she was appointed interim District Attorney by Mayor London Breed at a news conference at Far East Cafe in Chinatown on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

With Loftus set to take office, poll shows voters disapprove of last-minute DA appointment

Mayor London Breed made an unpopular decision when she named candidate Suzy Loftus interim district attorney just a few weeks before the November election, according to a new poll.

The poll reflects the backlash that the appointment prompted from opponents of Loftus and their supporters, who argued that Breed unfairly tipped the scales of the election at the last minute.

But political observers say the decision likely did not cost Loftus votes among those who were already sold on her candidacy as the next top prosecutor of San Francisco.

The question now is whether Loftus will use her short time in office before the Nov. 5 election to attract more voters by holding press conferences and announcing new initiatives.

Loftus will not be sworn in until after District Attorney George Gascon officially steps down at 6 p.m. on Friday to explore a run for office in Los Angeles.

The former police commissioner will then have up to 11 business days to serve as interim district attorney before election day, depending on when she formally takes the oath of office.

Loftus’ campaign and the mayor’s office have yet to announce when the swearing-in ceremony will be held and whether it will be open to the public.

Observers say it would be wise for Loftus to avoid taking any unnecessary risks since she already received a bump in name recognition from the initial announcement.

“It would not be in her interest to do anything that could tick anybody off other than a few bland proclamations,” said political consultant David Latterman. “She’s not going to go over the top. It absolutely does not help her campaign, so she’s going to play it relatively safe.”

Jason McDaniel, an associate professor of political science at San Francisco State University, said Loftus should tread lightly if she does make announcements.

“Anything you do in that office is subject to criticism,” McDaniel said. “If there are things like that, I would expect them to be very uncontroversial.”

Lauren Feuerborn, a spokesperson for the Loftus campaign, said Loftus looks forward to addressing public safety challenges “head on.”

“Suzy looks forward to starting work as interim DA to address the car break epidemic and make our streets safe,” Feuerborn said.

The decision to appoint her earlier this month drew protests and ire from groups including the ACLU, who called it “undemocratic.” The district attorney’s race would have been the first in more than a century without an incumbent.

The poll numbers released Wednesday reflect those concerns, with 40 percent of the 529 voters reached by the Public Policy Polling group over two days last weekend disagreeing with the decision. Another 25 percent agreed with the appointment, while 35 percent were unsure.

The poll was released by the backers of a campaign finance reform measure on the November ballot and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percent.

McDaniel called 40 percent being in disagreement “a big number.”

“I don’t think that’s going to cost her the election,” McDaniel said. “I expect she will win, but there is a downside risk that I think the mayor’s office has underestimated.”

While it’s not likely the appointment turned off voters who already supported Loftus, McDaniel said it may have drawn supporters to her opponents and focused them around a common cause.

Indeed, opponents including Chesa Boudin said they have seen a rise in volunteers since the announcement. Boudin called the appointment a “political stunt.”

“The only thing we can expect Loftus to do during the 11 court days she’ll be the interim DA are press conferences and campaigning,” Boudin said.

Latterman said it doesn’t matter what Loftus does in office before the Nov. 5 election.

“The value in this whole play was getting her name in the newspaper as the appointee,” Latterman said. “That was in the news cycle. What she is going to do for two weeks is almost utterly irrelevant.”

In response to the poll, a spokesperson for Breed said the mayor appointed Loftus to “address the drug dealing, auto break-ins, property crimes and other issues impacting our communities today.”

“Polling has nothing to do with public safety, and the mayor’s focus is on making sure we are keeping people safe and holding people accountable when they break the law, which is what Suzy Loftus will do as district attorney,” said Jeff Cretan, the spokesperson.

In addition to Boudin, Loftus is also running against candidates Leif Dautch and Nancy Tung.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

S.F. Examiner Staff Writer Joshua Sabatini contributed to this report.

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