The Lessons Liberal Prosecutors Are Drawing From San Francisco’s Backlash


Professor John Pfaff shared his expert opinion with The New York Times on an upcoming recall election for district attorney of San Francisco and how areas most vulnerable to violent crime tend to prefer liberal policies.

When Chesa Boudin, the district attorney of San Francisco, was ousted in a definitive recall vote last week, his loss was a setback for a national movement to remake the justice system.

Elected in 2019, Mr. Boudin became one of the most visible and powerful of a wave of prosecutors who are fulfilling campaign promises to jail fewer people, reduce racial disparities and hold police officers accountable for misconduct.

His ouster is sure to embolden those who say the policies of liberal prosecutors are a threat to public safety in a time of heightened concerns about crime and violence. Already Republican legislators in New York and Illinois, where they are in the minority party, have proposed legislation to allow prosecutor recalls. In Los Angeles, a second recall effort against George Gascón, the liberal district attorney, has reportedly far surpassed the number of signatures gathered last year, though may still fall short of the number required.

But there are also signs that the Boudin recall hinged on factors particular to the city of San Francisco and may not represent a larger national backlash to the movement.

But more liberal policies still seem to appeal to those most vulnerable to violence. John Pfaff, a law professor at Fordham University, said a preliminary look at voting patterns suggested that in San Francisco, Philadelphia and other cities, the areas most affected by violent crime and guns tended to strongly support liberal prosecutors. In San Francisco, though, gun crime was not the biggest issue — concerns centered on retail theft, car theft, hate crimes against people of Asian descent and a general sense of disorder and filth, not to mention a huge concern that is not a crime at all: homelessness.

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