Public Defender Chesa Boudin Joins District Attorney Race

The first incumbent-free race for San Francisco district attorney in decades has some strong candidates stepping up to the plate.

Deputy Public Defender Chesa Boudin files papers for district attorney, flanked by Supervisors Hillary Ronen and Aaron Peskin, Jan. 15, 2019. (Image: Nuala Sawyer)

Former Police Commission President Suzy Loftus now has a serious competitor in the race for San Francisco district attorney. Deputy Public Defender Chesa Boudin filed papers at the Department of Elections today, kicking off what is sure to be a heated, issue-driven sprint toward the November 2019 election. 

“I’ve spent my entire career in the Hall of Justice,” he tells SF Weekly. “I’m the only candidate running for DA who actually works in the Hall of Justice. I see every day how much potential there is for change. I feel there’s a path to make San Francisco safer, and more humane.”

Boudin has a fascinating life story; his parents Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert were part of infamous radical cult Weather Underground and were imprisoned after being caught in a New York City robbery that resulted in the deaths of three people — including two police officers. They were given long sentences when he was still a toddler, and the impact of visiting his mom and dad in prison had a lasting effect on him.

“I’ve grown up my whole life visiting my parents in prison, so I know firsthand just how broken our system of mass incarceration is,” Boudin says. “I know the impact it has on families, I know the fact that it fails to rehabilitate people, and I know that it does very little for victims of crime. I started speaking out against issues of mass incarceration in high school.”

The district attorney election has been building for a while. Current District Attorney George Gascón has come under fire from activists after refusing to file charges against a slew of police officers who have fatally shot people in city streets in the past few years. Every Friday, a group stands on the steps of the Hall of Justice demanding his resignation, and Gascón was recently granted a restraining order against a protester. In October, less than a month after Loftus filed papers to run against him, Gascón announced that he was dropping out of the race for personal reasons. 

Boudin says he would have handled the police shootings differently. 

“It’s absolutely imperative we enforce the law equally and we hold police accountable for violating the law, the same we do for everybody else,” he says. “If we don’t enforce the law equally regardless of skin color, regardless of income, regardless of job title then the entire criminal justice system loses integrity. The police are not above the law, and we can rebuild trust with the community that has been so badly damaged by these shootings if we work together to hold those officers that don’t follow the law accountable.”

Reclaiming that trust from the community is a key issue Boudin plans to tackle if elected. 

“Sunshine is the best disinfectant,” he says. “As district attorney, I would seek to do everything in my power to make my policies and procedures transparent. I’d also form an advisory board made up of members of all of San Francisco’s communities to help inform the policy-making process at the district attorney’s office.”

Standing with Boudin on Tuesday morning in the Department of Elections were Supervisors Hillary Ronen and Aaron Peskin, both of whom are endorsing him in the race. 

“I met with all the [district attorney] candidates who reached out to me and I was remarkably impressed by Chesa and his depth of thought about the whole criminal justice system,” Peskin tells SF Weekly. “I did some independent work and reached out to members of the bench and legal scholars, and everybody was crazy laudatory not just about his ability to understand the courtroom and the role of prosecutorial justice, but his scholarly writings. At the dawn of the 21st century when we’re changing the way criminal prosecution works in urban America — he’s at the forefront of that.”

Nevertheless, the path ahead for Boudin won’t be easy. Loftus has a hefty slate of endorsements (and money) behind her, including U.S. Senators Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein, Mayor London Breed, State Senator Scott Wiener, Assemblyman David Chiu, Supervisors Vallie Brown, Ahsha Safai, Catherine Stefani, Shamann Walton, and Rafael Mandelman. 

We’ll keep you updated on the race as it progresses; but in the meantime, you can find out more about both Suzy Loftus and Chesa Boudin on their campaign websites. 

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