Boudin Grabs Small Lead Over Loftus in the S.F. District Attorney Race

San Francisco Deputy Public Defender Chesa Boudin. (Stephanie Lister/KQED)

Updated Friday, Nov. 8, 6:00 p.m.

Chesa Boudin, a deputy public defender promising an emphasis on reform over incarceration, has taken a small lead over interim District Attorney Suzy Loftus in the race to be San Francisco's next district attorney.

The latest results from the San Francisco Department of Elections gave Boudin a lead of just 156 votes, erasing a margin of 879 votes by which Loftus led on Thursday.

Under the city's ranked-choice voting system, the second- and third-place votes from the lower-place finishers — Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Nancy Tung and Deputy Attorney General Leif Dautch — are redistributed to the top two candidates.

The department still has approximately 15,500 ballot left to process. Of those, 13,500 are provisional ballots received from polling places, 500 are conditional ballots from voters who registered on election day and another 785 are vote-by-mail ballots that arrived in the mail Friday and were postmarked by Tuesday.

The race is too close to call, but if Boudin were to ultimately prevail, it would be a stunning rebuke to the city establishment that endorsed Loftus, including Mayor London Breed, U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris and Gov. Gavin Newsom.

In the city's District 5 supervisorial race, challenger Dean Preston remains ahead of incumbent Supervisor Vallie Brown by a scant 35 votes. Brown was appointed to the seat by Mayor Breed, who easily won reelection Tuesday, but can't afford to lose Brown's vote at the Board of Supervisors, where the more centrist mayor has struggled to get a six-vote majority from that left-leaning body.

The race between Loftus, a former prosecutor and police commissioner who most recently worked as legal counsel to San Francisco County Sheriff Vicki Hennessy, and Boudin, a progressive, attracted national attention.

The San Francisco Police Officers Association (POA) on Wednesday sent a sharply worded letter to Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer, who led chants of "Fuck the POA" at the election night party for Boudin. Supervisors Hillary Ronen and Matt Haney, along with other members of the city's progressive community watched and showed no sign of disapproval at the chants. Boudin was not present at the time.

The POA spent $650,000 on campaign ads attacking Boudin and has a long history of animosity toward the city's liberal leadership.

The letter from POA president Tony Montoya described Fewer's actions as "unhinged," adding that it would "stoke anger" against the city's police officers. The letter asked for an apology from Fewer and encouraged her to take "a 40-hour implicit bias training to better understand your apparent hatred of police officers."

Supervisor Fewer issued a public letter, saying “I would like to issue an apology to the 2,000 officers of the San Francisco Police Department; I am sorry for any offense that my comments may have caused.”

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Both Boudin and Loftus struck optimistic notes Tuesday night.

"There is a broad recognition across the country, and we know voters in San Francisco are on the same page, that the status quo 'tough on crime; war on drugs' approach is not working for anybody," Boudin said.

Interim San Francisco District Attorney Suzy Loftus at her election night party on Tuesday.
Interim San Francisco District Attorney Suzy Loftus at her election night party on Tuesday. (Stephanie Lister/KQED)

Loftus has been acting as the interim district attorney for a month, following the unexpected resignation of George Gascón in October. Even before Gascón's surprise decision to quit his post early, the race was the most hotly contested in this off-year election.

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It would have been the first time in a century that there wasn't an incumbent running for the top prosecutor spot in San Francisco. But instead of waiting until voters weighed in, Mayor London Breed immediately appointed Loftus to serve out Gascón's term — a move that drew sharp criticism from Boudin's supporters.

Boudin had already been embraced by national reform-minded activists throughout the campaign — and, following Loftus' appointment, won the endorsement of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. Boudin, the child of incarcerated radical activists, ran on a platform of overhauling the current criminal justice system.

Loftus, part of the city's political establishment, spent the past few weeks as interim district attorney expanding programs and making policy announcements at a furious pace. That pace angered other candidates, who saw it as an attempt to get her name in the public’s eye as much as possible. Candidates have also accused her of poaching their campaign promises — ideas the four candidates have chewed over during the more than 30 debates they’ve participated in during the run-up to the election.

The race was a contentious one. For weeks, the four San Franciscans running for the office attended dozens of debates and tried to differentiate themselves from one another.

At the center of the debate were competing pushes: liberal San Franciscans’ desire to overhaul the criminal justice system and reduce incarceration, versus their desire for the improvement of quality of life issues in the city: open air drug dealing, car break-ins and property theft.

KQED's Mary Franklin Harvin contributed to this story.

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