Boudin urges successor to keep progressive policies

  • by Cynthia Laird, News Editor
  • Wednesday June 29, 2022
Share this Post:
San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin kissed his wife, Valerie Block, at his swearing in on January 8, 2020. Photo: Rick Gerharter<br>
San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin kissed his wife, Valerie Block, at his swearing in on January 8, 2020. Photo: Rick Gerharter

San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, who was recalled from office in the June 7 primary, hopes his successor will retain the progressive policies he implemented during his two and a half years in office.

During a phone interview June 28, Boudin said he does not know when he will officially leave. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors certified the election results later that day, but Boudin said he has not been in contact with Mayor London Breed, who will appoint his successor.

"I have not heard from the mayor," he said.

The new district attorney will need to run in a special election on the November ballot to complete Boudin's term, which runs through 2023. Anyone else can also run, and Boudin did not rule out being a candidate himself. He said that many supporters have talked to him about such a possibility.

"I'm exploring it. I'm considering it for sure," he said.

According to final results from the San Francisco Department of Elections, Boudin was recalled with 55.3% of the vote, a narrower margin than was first reported on election night as additional returns were counted, while 44.97% voted to keep him in office.

Boudin, 41, had some words to impart to his successor.

"Criminal justice reform makes us safer and is widely popular with voters," he said. "I urge whoever is appointed, stay the course with bail reform and not prosecuting juveniles as adults."

Both of those policy changes — along with expanding victim services — are changes Boudin implemented after taking office in January 2020, and of which he said he is most proud.

Those programs, along with others, like not seeking gang injunctions and refusing to seek the death penalty, are at the heart of a letter to Breed signed by several organizations stating what they would like to see in the next DA.

"The staff and volunteers of our organizations have had conversations with thousands of San Francisco residents over the past several months. Through these conversations, it has become even more clear that San Franciscans overwhelmingly support reducing incarceration, holding police officers accountable when they break the law, eliminating racial bias from our legal system, and investing in mental health and substance use treatment. And they want the policies that support those values to remain in place," stated the letter, which was signed by the American Civil Liberties Union Northern California, San Francisco Rising, Smart Justice California, Glide, Courage California, Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth, the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness, and Service Employees International Union Local 1021.

The letter also noted that in Contra Costa County in 2017, leaders there conducted an open DA recruitment and appointment process that included community forums, and other opportunities for public engagement. That resulted in the appointment of progressive District Attorney Diana Becton, who easily won reelection last month. Becton was a former Superior Court judge in the East Bay county. The letter urged Breed to follow a similar path.


Boudin said there were "absolutely" things that in hindsight he would have done differently.

"Every day we make mistakes when you run the risk of balancing due process," he said, adding that his office has over 300 employees. Imperfect investigations by other agencies also contribute to oversights, he said.

But he regretted that at the outset of the COVID pandemic, he did not "adequately explain to the public the effect of court closures," he said, noting that he "had just two months of full court access."

The court closures affected cases from shoplifting to murder, he noted. The COVID-related shutdowns that closed the courts began in March 2020, just two months after Boudin assumed office.

Public safety was a big issue during the recall, with Boudin coming under attack for expanding diversion programs and other alternatives to incarceration. But he was firm that the problems like car break-ins and the city's homeless population existed long before he became DA.

"It depends on how you measure it," he said of the state of public safety in the city. "There is a lot of work to do. Over decades there have been serious problems with property crime. But in my 880 or so days in office there were 28,000 fewer reported crimes than in the 880 days before I was in office.

"Homelessness and drug overdoses — the DA can't solve," he said.

Boudin said that he was on the city's 2018 methamphetamine task force. Its report listed the establishment of a meth sobering center as the top priority, as the B.A.R. reported at the time. ( Yet it was just this month that Breed announced the opening of a drug sobering center.

"It's frustrating that it took four years," Boudin said, "and an example of why, if City Hall can't do it, it doesn't matter who the DA is."

Longtime LGBTQ Democratic leader David Campos, a gay lawyer and former supervisor hired by Boudin to be his chief of staff in September 2020, told the B.A.R. he "really enjoyed" his time working at the office. Campos had taken a leave of absence earlier this year to focus on his ultimately unsuccessful bid for state Assembly.

"We had a good working relationship," said Campos, who elected not to return to his position with Boudin following his defeat in the special runoff race in April for the Assembly seat. "He is a smart, hardworking person who I think leads by example in terms of how hard he works. He is truly committed to the mission of criminal justice."

Asked if he thought Boudin should run again for election as DA, Campos told the B.A.R. that he didn't "have an opinion one way or the other," as it is a decision his former boss needs to decide on his own.

"It was a rewarding experience for me to serve as his chief of staff. I think whatever differences people have with him, there is no question he is a dedicated public servant," said Campos. "I hope he continues to serve."

Future plans

As for the future, Boudin said he hasn't made any decisions. He said that he was in campaign mode almost the entire time of his tenure as DA — an earlier recall effort fizzled before the successful one made the ballot. And he continues to point out the millions of dollars pumped into the pro-recall campaign. In an email to supporters soliciting donations to retire his campaign debt, Boudin noted that the pro-recall campaign spent $65 per vote. By contrast, he said his campaign spent $9 per vote.

"I want to remind you that the recall effort spent 10 times more than what our campaign spent on the entire 2019 election," he wrote. "And despite that, we won about 15,000 more votes against the recall than when I was elected 2.5 years ago."

Boudin's predecessor, former San Francisco DA George Gascón, was elected Los Angeles County DA in 2020 and now he is facing a potential recall. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, Gascón, also a progressive, has been the subject of intense criticism since taking office. While a first recall effort against Gascón failed, a second one has a July 6 deadline for submitting 569,000 valid signatures that organizers say they will meet, though as the paper reported, some observers say the recall effort faces an uphill battle.

Boudin said he has not spoken with Gascón on the phone, but he has been part of group calls.

"I expressed my hope that it doesn't qualify," Boudin said of the LA recall effort. "I know how much of a distraction it is. They need and deserve a DA focused full time and not being in a perpetual campaign cycle."

Right now, at least, Boudin is planning to spend some time with his family.

"My focus is on my family," he said, noting that he and his wife, Valerie Block, had their first child last summer and his father, David Gilbert, won parole last October after being imprisoned for 40 years in a New York state prison.

Gilbert and Boudin's mother, Kathy Boudin, were involved in a botched robbery in 1981 of a Brinks armored truck in Rockland County, New York that left three people — a Brinks guard and two police officers — dead. In one of his last acts in office before resigning last August, former New York governor Andrew Cuomo commuted Gilbert's sentence. Gilbert then received parole.

Gilbert and Kathy Boudin were members of the Weather Underground, a radical revolutionary group responsible for a bombing campaign targeting government buildings and banks in the 1970s. Kathy Boudin also served 23 years in prison in connection with the case and was released in 2003. She died of cancer in May, just weeks before the recall election.

Boudin said that he remains committed to "continuing the fight for criminal justice reform."

Help keep the Bay Area Reporter going in these tough times. To support local, independent, LGBTQ journalism, consider becoming a BAR member.