Voters in San Francisco have elected progressive public defender Chesa Boudin, the Jewish son of 1970s anti-war radicals, as their new district attorney.
In a race among four candidates, Boudin, 39, won a close-fought battle with Suzy Loftus, who was appointed to the DA position on an interim basis by Mayor London Breed just last month. The battle came down to Boudin and Loftus after the other two candidates were eliminated in San Francisco’s ranked-choice voting system.
The campaign leading up to the Nov. 5 vote saw a Sept. 10 candidate forum held at the Jewish Community High School of the Bay in San Francisco.
Boudin was a baby when his parents, Weather Underground members Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert, were arrested and sentenced to lengthy prison terms for their involvement in a disastrous 1981 robbery attempt in Rockland County, New York that left three dead.
Adopted and raised in Chicago by left-wing activists and Weather Underground leaders Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, Boudin would go on to earn a Rhodes Scholarship and a law degree from Yale in 2011. In 2015 he became a full-time public defender in San Francisco.
Boudin says his personal history informs his views on the criminal justice system. He “knows first-hand the destructive impacts of mass incarceration,” a biography on his campaign website reads. “He had to go through a metal detector and steel gates just to give his parents a hug.”
Boudin’s election, which became official on Saturday, four days after the vote, follows a recent trend of progressive prosecutors elected as DAs in major U.S. cities. Like Boudin, Larry Krasner in Philadelphia, Rachael Rollins in Boston and Kim Foxx in Chicago were all elected on their promises to reform the criminal justice system and challenge mass incarceration.
Boudin declared victory, and Loftus conceded, after his lead grew to nearly 2,500 votes with only 1,200 votes left to count, according to news reports. Loftus was appointed interim DA in October after DA George Gascón, who had already announced he would not seek reelection, abruptly stepped down so he could run for Los Angeles district attorney.
Loftus, a former police commissioner, was backed by the likes of Gov. Gavin Newsom and Sen. Kamala Harris. But when it came to fundraising, Boudin outdid Loftus by more than $300,000, with backing from labor unions and supporters across the city, and the country.
During the campaign, which included more than 30 debates, Boudin outlined an ambitious agenda of progressive priorities including eliminating cash bail; ending racial disparities in the city’s criminal justice system; forming an “immigration unit” to protect immigrants against ICE policies; and expanding mental-health treatment in a city beset by highly visible mental illness and drug-addiction challenges.
“We’re safer when we stop using jails and prisons as an answer to all social problems,” he said in a Nov. 11 radio interview.