Suzy Loftus is appointed interim San Francisco district attorney by Mayor London Breed on Oct 4, 2019, following the unexpected resignation of George Gascón the previous day. (Sruti Mamidanna/KQED)
San Francisco Mayor London Breed on Friday appointed Suzy Loftus, a San Francisco attorney and former Police Commission president, to be the city's interim top prosecutor.
The announcement immediately spurred controversy, as it was made a day after the surprise resignation of District Attorney George Gascón, who was widely expected to serve out the remainder of his term through the end of the year.
The move also comes just a month before San Francisco voters head to the polls — on Nov. 5 — to elect Gascón's successor.
"I have confidence in Suzy Loftus, and so that's why I made the decision," said Breed, standing beside Loftus at a restaurant in Chinatown where the announcement was made. "When I received the letter yesterday from the district attorney announcing his resignation, I couldn’t help but get excited about the future because I know that Suzy Loftus is the right person to do it. We don’t just leave an office open just because there’s an election coming up."
The press event, originally slated for Portsmouth Square in Chinatown, was abruptly relocated after demonstrators converged on the park to protest the decision.
Loftus will leave her post as assistant chief legal counsel at the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department. She previously led San Francisco's Police Commission from 2012-2017, a turbulent period when the city was shaken by a string of officer-involved shootings.
She also worked for Kamala Harris in the state attorney general’s office, and before that, as a young prosecutor in the San Francisco's district attorney's office.
At Friday’s event, Loftus told attendees that she would “work every day to build safety that is not predicated on ZIP code.”
"I‘m accustomed to doing a lot at once and I have an incredible team both within the DA’s office and across the city and in communities, who care about this race and care about that office, and they’ll help me make sure I get the job done," she said.
Appointment of Endorsed Candidate Spurs Criticism
Breed had already endorsed Loftus in the district attorney's race.
Loftus is running against Deputy Public Defender Chesa Boudin, Alameda County prosecutor Nancy Tung and Deputy State Attorney General Leif Dautch, all of whom slammed Breed's decision to temporarily fill the position with the candidate of her choice, so close to an election.
"Mayor London Breed appointing her endorsed candidate for District Attorney, just days before people start voting, reeks of cronyism and political backroom deals," said Nancy Tung in a statement released shortly after the announcement. "This is a blatant move to inappropriately influence this critically important election, and yet another example of the District Attorney’s Office being politicized and used for personal favoritism. Enough is enough."
It's unclear what impact the interim appointment of Loftus will have on next month's election results.
The throng of protesters, who reconvened outside Far East Cafe where the press event took place, chanted and held signs accusing Loftus of defending police officers involved in fatal shootings.
"When Suzy Loftus was president of the Police Commission during the height of police killings, she did nothing, so all of this is more corruption," said Adrienne Fong, one of protesters. "I think this is very unfair and it’s a bad move by London Breed."
Gascón announced last October that he wouldn't seek another term, citing the ailing health of his mother. He has been toying with a run in his native Los Angeles for months, and wrote in an email to supporters on Thursday that it's "time for me to move on to a new opportunity."
"Moments ago, I tendered my resignation to the Mayor, effective Friday, October 18 at 6 PM," he wrote. "At that time, Cristine Soto DeBerry will temporarily assume my duties until a new District Attorney is elected by the voters or appointed by the Mayor."
Gascón went on to write that he and his wife will return to L.A. "to rejoin our family and explore a run for District Attorney. Making our communities safer and more equitable remains my life’s work, and I’m simply not ready to slow down and put public service behind me."
Marisa Lagos of KQED News contributed to this report.