The Meaning of Chesa Boudin's Recall
Don’t mistake it for a sign of the coming renaissance of American cities.
Don’t mistake the landslide passage of Measure H, the recall of San Francisco’s socialist District Attorney Chesa Boudin, for a sign of the coming renaissance of American cities. It is true, the City by the Bay rejected the George Soros-backed prosecutor by what looks to be over 60 percent of the vote. However, the contest by no means signifies the end of subversion of criminal prosecution in the United States.
Boudin sought to turn the office of district attorney into a social-justice outfit, promising a large-scale decarceration and a new focus on prosecuting “class enemies”: corporations and landlords. He sees perpetrators as victims of circumstances whose needs should be addressed outside of the criminal-justice system and the justice system itself as an impediment to solving social problems. Instead of convicting criminals, Boudin sought to dismantle the functions of his office.
Since he assumed his duties in January 2020, the rate of criminal convictions in San Francisco plummeted. The city’s chief prosecutor secured just three drug-dealing convictions in 2021, a year in which about 500 San Franciscans died from fentanyl poisonings alone. Organized theft, car burglaries, and drug use continued to spiral, and the number of homicides rose 36 percent compared to 2019.
As the argument goes, San Franciscans finally had enough of rampant criminality and a poor quality of life and turned out to oust their derelict district attorney. However, just 46 percent of registered voters participated in the June recall and primary. By contrast, over 86 percent of registered voters showed up for the November 2020 presidential election. The situation is made even more pathetic considering Joe Biden would have won California handedly without any of San Francisco’s half a million voters.
Even if they affect residents’ lives in the most profound ways, Bay Area local electoral contests don’t generate much enthusiasm. Among those already poorly attended contests, down-ballot races like that for district attorney are decided by wonks. Traditionally, voters assumed that somebody qualified would get elected for the position and everything would sort of work out. Unfortunately, the days when only qualified, interested individuals ran for D.A. are over. Chesa Boudin explained during his 2019 campaign:
And I think that in running and winning this race, I can be part of a broader national moment that is really testing the boundaries of what’s possible through that office, which for far too long has been abandoned to the most reactionary conservative forces in our society.
Today, the district attorney is the most important local elected office. He makes key decisions about criminal prosecution, and if he neglects or is simply unable to fulfill his duties due to incompetence, tough luck. Junkies will take over public transportation, thieves will casually walk into upscale boutiques and plunder the merchandise, etc. No mayor, no councilman, no sheriff will save the plebs from lawlessness.
And sure, there is plenty of blame to go around when it comes to the rise of criminality in the Golden State, but district attorney is the key position without which law enforcement can’t happen at all. Without orderly life, there is no civilization. America needs to wake up to this reality.
A sufficient number of San Franciscans have, but, looking at the demographics, I am not sure that the rest of us will come to the same conclusion, or come to it quickly enough. Measure H was most vehemently supported by Asian Americans, who felt that Boudin is at best indifferent to anti-Asian crimes, including hate crimes. Their communities were energized by the successful recall of the woke San Francisco Unified School Board members who ended merit admissions to a magnet school.
In both cases, the recall was directed against figures who were, in the words of Saul Alinsky, easy to pick, freeze, personalize, and polarize. At the school board, the ire was directed against its president, Gabriella Lopez, a semi-literate former teacher who led an unsuccessful attempt to rename every school in the district and flipped off concerned parents on social media. Boudin is a proud son of unrepentant domestic terrorists who pursues his parents’ Weather Underground communist agenda with long-march tactics. Boudin himself doesn’t come across as a tough revolutionary. He radiates the aura of submission, talking excessively—with the facial mannerisms of a puppy begging for food—about his childhood trauma, and how he can relate to black people because his biological parents were incarcerated for felony murder.
In both these cases, the recalls perfectly aligned with the cultural values of Asian communities in San Francisco: educational excellence and law and order. At the same time, the anger that fueled the vote has yet to morph into a full-fledged political movement with a coherent ideology capable of delivering true change in education, law enforcement, or any other sphere of city life.
San Francisco is happy with its other incumbents. Nancy Pelosi glided to a primary election win with over 70 percent of the vote, even after the octogenarian behaved erratically at the 2022 State of the Union address, getting up with a giddy smile on her face and rubbing her knuckles, and after her husband was arrested for driving under the influence just days before the vote. That the corrupt autocrat Gavin Newsom was preferred by more than three quarters of the voters doesn’t come as a surprise either.
The recall movement, such as it is, might spread to Los Angeles, where the campaign to oust District Attorney George Gascon, a San Francisco transplant, is gaining ground. However, across the bay in Contra Costa County, Soros D.A. Diana Becton was re-elected by a landslide despite ethical questions about her handling of a case of child sexual assault being raised publicly. And in Alameda County, Soros-backed civil-rights attorney Pamela Price proceeded easily to general election with 40 percent of the primary vote. Yesenia Sanchez, a similarly race-focused candidate for sheriff, is also heading for the November contest.
It is worth noting that the crime rate in parts of Alameda County, like the City of Oakland, far exceeds that of San Francisco. The latter is a fabulously wealthy town with a giant homeless enclave that imports criminals from the former. It’s surrounded by water almost entirely, which makes the importation of those criminals somewhat of a challenge. Allowing lawlessness in Oakland—or virtually any other American city—will be far, far more tragic than in San Francisco.
What socialist district attorneys have in mind is not simply passage of more lenient criminal laws—a phenomenon with which many Americans are well familiar—but the effective end of criminal prosecution. Soros D.A.s have developed tools like trying criminals for lesser charges or dropping the charges completely, plea down and empty prisons at every turn to create the atmosphere of lawlessness and insecurity on the streets. Some of these elected officials wouldn’t be able to bring cases to trial successfully because they lack prosecutorial experience and because, like Boudin, they have fired or driven all experienced assistants out of the office.
We need to realize that the movement to declaw criminal justice is far from over. It is well oiled and well organized. They will regroup. In the last decade, George Soros spent just $40 million electing racialist prosecutors. Considering that his resources are, for practical purposes, infinite, Soros can continue spending on this crucial electoral position. Moreover, he can draw candidates from an equally endless list of employees enjoying comfortable careers in his “non-profits.” They can easily commit a couple of years to “public service” before safely returning to the Tides Foundation.
It’s true that the voters can do a better job educating themselves about the functions of the D.A., and that many have already learned from their mistakes. However, since they already figured out how to play this game, it’s reasonable to expect Soros’s district attorneys to pop up periodically in cities across America. Instead of playing whack-a-mole with socialists candidates, we need to fortify the position and make it costly for lawyers to subvert prosecutorial procedures.
San Franciscans need to demand accountability for the actions that brought death and ruin to their once-lovely city. Instead of simply celebrating the recall, they need to make an example out of Boudin. He needs to learn that “the most reactionary conservative forces” can get revanchist. The derelict prosecutor should be investigated, indicted, fined or at the very minimum disbarred.
Boudin’s ethics violations in the Troy McAlester case alone warrant at least disbarment. As a D.A., the Weather Underground scion, who represented McAllister in his defense practice, released the repeat violent offender on parole. In short time, his former client committed burglary and, fleeing the crime scene in a stolen car, killed two pedestrians, including the Japanese citizen Hanako Abe. Unfortunately, the California Bar adopted such a chill attitude towards obvious cases of corruption and conflict of interest that it is unlikely to punish him. For that, the organization itself should come under scrutiny.
In San Francisco, specific steps can be taken to make sure that somebody like Boudin never assumes his position in the future. Political commentator and community activist Richie Greenberg tells me about one possible strategy:
Get weekly emails in your inbox
Boudin was known previously as a mediocre public defender, and had never spent time in the prosecutor’s office. If indeed San Francisco required experience, Chesa Boudin would never have been a candidate. Instead, we’ve been subject to the equivalent of “the mortician performing surgery.” I believe legislation must be passed to close this loophole to protect our city, and society in general.
Although meaningful reform might be a tall order in San Francisco, there is no excuse for red states and municipalities not to explore what’s possible to prevent the emergence of imposter district attorneys. Moreover, laws fortifying criminal prosecution could also be passed on the federal level. The lives and property of American citizens and our guests should never again be abandoned to socialist experiments.
This New Urbanism series is supported by the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation. Follow New Urbs on Twitter for a feed dedicated to TAC’s coverage of cities, urbanism, and place.