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Deadlocked San Francisco District Attorney Race Shows Strength of Progressive Prosecutor Movement

Chesa Boudin is just 240 votes behind Suzy Loftus, even after local law enforcement spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to defeat him.

Chesa Boudin Photo via Chesa Boudin for San Francisco District Attorney/Facebook.

The San Francisco district attorney race, a high-profile battle in a national movement to elect progressive prosecutors, remains too close to call, with police-backed Suzy Loftus leading reformer Chesa Boudin by only a slim margin.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Boudin, a deputy public defender, had earned more first-place votes than interim district attorney Loftus, as of early Wednesday morning. But, as with most local races in the city, voters can select their first-, second-, and third-place choices in a process called ranked-choice voting. When second- and third-place selections were tabulated, Loftus pulled ahead of Boudin by 240 votes. About 70,000 ballots remain uncounted, of which 57,000 are vote-by-mail ballots and 13,000 are provisional ballots, according to the San Francisco Department of Elections.

In the last weeks of the election, Loftus and Boudin led the four-candidate pack, which also includes Alameda County prosecutor Nancy Tung and Leif Dautch, a deputy attorney general for California. In October, Mayor London Breed, who endorsed Loftus, appointed her to serve as interim DA after George Gascón resigned, affording her, what critics said, was an unfair boost. In addition to Breed, the San Francisco Chronicle, Governor Gavin Newsom, and Senator Dianne Feinstein also endorsed Loftus. 

Boudin earned national headlines, as well as high-profile endorsements. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, and Black Lives Matter co-founders Patrisse Cullors and Alicia Garza all announced their support for Boudin.

“This is a national movement. It is growing,” Krasner told The Appeal. “We reflect not only a departure from a traditional form of criminal justice prosecution but also an example for more traditional prosecutors, for candidates thinking about their platform.”

If elected, Boudin plans to continue the work he did as a deputy public defender to eliminate money bail, and expand alternative to incarceration programs, including for first-time DUI offenses. 

Boudin also pledged to implement restorative justice practices, which, he said, helped him cope with the trauma of growing up with incarcerated parents, Weather Underground activists Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert. His parents were convicted for their participation in a robbery in which three people were killed. “I went through a lot of these kinds of challenges that many children with incarcerated parents go through: feelings of guilt and abandonment and anger,” Boudin told The Appeal in January. 

During the campaign, Loftus also promised to end cash bail and pledged to prioritize decarceration through alternative to incarceration programs that, as her website states, “address the root causes of crime.” But as interim DA, Loftus has ended a diversion program for those charged with a first-time DUI offense. 

“Traffic safety is so important for all of us, particularly given that so many of us have lost a loved one due to someone driving under the influence,” Loftus said in a statement last month. “These deaths are preventable, and prevention starts with people knowing there is accountability when it comes to drinking and driving.”

Boudin criticized Loftus’s decision, calling it an “ominous sign.”

“It was clear that she was never a reform candidate and her campaign promises are being violated before she has even won the election,” Boudin texted The Appeal on Tuesday. 

Much of Loftus’s career has been spent in law enforcement. She was president of the San Francisco Police Commission from 2012 to 2016 and worked under Senator Kamala Harris, a 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful, in both the DA and attorney general’s offices. (Harris tweeted her support on Election Day.) Before serving as interim DA, Loftus was assistant chief legal counsel for Sheriff Vicki Hennessy.

Local law enforcement spent more than $650,000 campaigning against Boudin. “Chesa Boudin: The #1 Choice of Criminals and Gang Members!” read one mailer sent by the San Francisco Police Officers Association. “Say No to Chesa Boudin.” The association also donated $3,500 to a pro-Loftus political action committee. 

Former police chief Greg Suhr, whom then-Mayor Ed Lee asked to resign in 2016 after several police shootings and mass demonstrations, also supported Loftus. While Loftus was head of the police commission, there were 15 fatal police shootings, according to SFPD data; 10 involved people of color.

The Department of Elections will release updated results around 4 p.m. Pacific time, but it may be days before a winner is known, according to the Chronicle.