Friday, June 3, 2022

California: Key historical facts on the San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin Recall Election

Next Tuesday, we will see two major recall votes -- the recall of San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin and Proposition C, which looks to radically cutback (if not effectively kill) the recall in the future.

Hopefully, I'll have a full look at this recall on Tuesday, but in the meantime, here's some facts and details to consider:

1. This is the second recall to got to a vote of a District Attorney in San Francisco history. The first was in 1917 against D.A. Charles Fickert over his prosecution of Tom Mooney over the bombing of the San Francisco Preparedness Parade (as well as other complaints about anti-labor behavior and underworld support). Fickert easily won the election (which was basically a new race) 46,451-20,394-1721.  Fickert is a fascinating character in California history, who beat Francis Heney in 1909, but lost a gubernatorial primary race in 1918.

2. San Francisco may seem like a recall haven, but this may be only the 11th in the city (and importantly, county) history. The others, were the three school board members in 2022, Mayor Dianne Feinstein in 1983, Mayor Roger Lapham in 1946, Judges John Sullivan and Morris Oppenheim in 1921, Fickert in 1917, State Senator E.E. Grant in 1914 and Police Judge Charles Weller in 1913. All but Feinstein and Lapham lost their votes.

3. This would be the second recall of a District Attorney in California in two years, as the Sonoma County DA survived a vote on September 14. That may have been the first recall of a District Attorney in California since 2001 (in Marin County).

4. District Attorney recalls are quite unusual. Until the Sonoma County D.A., I counted only four recalls against attorney positions in 10 years (with one other official resigning). The only one that took place in California was in 2013 against San Bernardino City Attorney Jim Penman. Penman, who represented the city but did not try criminal cases like a District Attorney, lost the vote. 

5. One book that looks at recalls in California until 1930 mentions notes that there was only one District Attorney recall that led to an ouster up to that point, the Kern County D.A. in 1917. 

6. There may be another D.A. recall in Colorado, as signatures were just handed in. 

I looked at the recall of District Attorneys in some more depth in this piece in the Recorder and why there are so few D.A. recalls in the US. Notably, there are fewer District Attorneys, usually only one per jurisdiction, as opposed to the multi-member city councils and other legislative bodies. District Attorneys usually faced less controversy and were more the crusading "tough on crime" types. But since the 2017 Philadelphia D.A. Larry Krasner election, there has been a change in who has run for the office. The Boudin recall (and the attempt against Los Angeles D.A. George Gascon) appears to be a reaction to this success. I was (and still may) write more on this, though the always-excellent Governing Magazine's Alan Greenblatt has a great look at this. 

As for this recall, petitioners handing over 83,484 signatures and needed 51,325 valids. There was no word on how many signatures were valid (they used a statistical sampling method of 4174 signatures and found that it would meet the requirement). There is no replacement race. The mayor would select any replacement. 

The recall (San Franciscans for Public Safety) is led by local Democrats Mary Jung (the former chair of the local Democratic Party) and Andrea Shorter. The pro-recall side has raised about $1.6 million, while the anti-recall forces have raised about $800,000.

A first recall effort against Boudin failed, with petitioners claiming that they were1714 signatures short (though that is before verification, so it could be a lot less).

This first recall was led by former Republican Mayoral candidate Richie Greenberg (though Greenberg said he was replaced as head of the effort). It was considered the "Republican" recall. The recall is over complaints over lenient treatment of criminals. Recall efforts kicked into high gear after a convict who was arrested on suspicion of driving a stolen vehicle and violating probation was released without bail and then ran over two women while running a red light. 

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