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Behind the Scenes in Mayor London Breed’s Search to Replace DA Chesa Boudin
Monday, July 04, 2022

Behind the Scenes in Mayor London Breed’s Search to Replace DA Chesa Boudin

San Francisco Mayor London Breed has wasted no time in her search to appoint a new district attorney after the recall of Chesa Boudin—in fact, she started taking meetings to identify Boudin’s successor weeks before Election Day, sources told The Standard.

Breed has taken roughly two dozen meetings with community organizations, business groups, labor unions and even San Francisco Superior Court judges to learn more about the DA’s office and identify the ideology and abilities needed to serve as the city’s top prosecutor, according to sources at City Hall and individuals who have taken part in meetings.

While the mayor has been conducting a fact-finding tour of meetings and phone calls, sources told The Standard that Sean Elsbernd—the mayor’s chief of staff and a former supervisor—has taken on the task of personally vetting all of the candidates. Breed took a similar approach before appointing Supervisor Matt Dorsey last month and three school board members after a February recall election.

Supervisor Catherine Stefani at City Hall on November 16, 2021. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

The people most frequently being identified as candidates to become interim district attorney include Supervisor Catherine Stefani, a former county clerk and vocal supporter of law enforcement; Nancy Tung, an Alameda County prosecutor and expected candidate for the job in November; former San Francisco prosecutor and recall spokesperson Brooke Jenkins; San Francisco Superior Court Judge Victor Hwang; Eric Fleming, also a judge in San Francisco who previously served in the DA’s Office under Kamala Harris; Department of Police Accountability head Paul Henderson; Suzy Loftus, who was interim DA before Boudin’s election; and civil rights attorney Joe Alioto Veronese, who announced his run for DA earlier this year.

Breed is expected to officially appoint someone in mid-July after the election results are certified. Whomever the mayor selects would oversee the DA’s office until an election is held in November. The winner would then serve out the remainder of Boudin’s term, which ends in January 2024. 

Sources confirmed that Elsbernd met with Tung, who previously announced her intention to run for district attorney in November if the recall were to succeed. Tung did not respond to requests for comment for this story, but she told The Standard in a March interview that many people in the Asian American and Pacific Islander community have encouraged her to run. 

The AAPI voting bloc played a key role in recalling Boudin, as many involved in the Stop Asian Hate movement felt the progressive prosecutor was not being aggressive enough in his handling of cases.

“I think that the Asian American community has a very strong interest in public safety and, generally speaking, the victims have not been protected in this process since (Boudin) took office,” Tung said in a March interview. “I think victims have been mostly left out under his administration, and I want to fix that.”

San Francisco District Attorney candidate Nancy Tung in San Francisco, Calif., on Tuesday, February 5, 2019. | Scott Strazzante/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Alioto Veronese, who also met with Elsbernd, has started a committee to run in November. Alioto Veronese declined to discuss the details of his conversations with the mayor’s office, but he suggested the next DA should be a caretaker until voters can weigh in again come November.

“Although, I can tell you that if I were appointed, I could make San Francisco feel safer in 60 days,” said Alioto Veronese, adding that he plans to release details on how exactly he would do this in the next three weeks.

Supervisor Stefani has weekly meetings with the mayor’s office but has not met with Elsbernd to specifically discuss the DA appointment, a source told The Standard. The supervisor was one of just a few elected officials in San Francisco to publicly endorse the recall. Her criticism of Boudin was seen by many as a play for the job. 

When asked about her interest in being appointed DA on election night, Stefani said: “We shall see.”

Jenkins, who quit working in Boudin’s office last year to serve as the lead voice of the recall campaign, told The Standard she wants to return to the DA’s office.

“In what capacity? I don’t care,” Jenkins said. “I was perfectly fine trying cases. If somebody wants me to do something different, I am open to considering that.”

Hwang, whose wife Ivy Lee is a policy advisor to Mayor Breed, told The Standard he’s not interested in becoming district attorney and is not seeking an appointment. He has another six years on the bench after winning an uncontested race this month.

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Henderson declined comment but sent out a tweet that seems to reiterate comments Mayor Breed and others have made: The next district attorney will need to continue advancing reforms to the criminal justice system while making sure offenders are held accountable and the public feels like crime isn’t going unchecked.

Sources said Loftus has informed the mayor’s office she is not interested in being appointed DA again—Breed tabbed her just before the 2019 election—and requests for comment from Fleming were not immediately returned.

Former SF Assistant DA Brooke Jenkins on Tuesday, June 7, 2022, in San Francisco, Calif. | Paul Kuroda for The Standard.

Boudin has not made any public comment since election night, but recall results have tightened a bit over the last week. Current election tallies show a 55-45 split in favor of the recall, with 46% of registered voters casting a ballot.

Julie Edwards, a campaign spokesperson for Boudin, said the recall’s shrinking margin of victory suggests the progressive prosecutor still has substantial support in the city, and the results of the recall would have been much different if not for the millions of dollars spent on gathering signatures and campaign ads.

Despite the results of last week’s election, Boudin still has the option of running for district attorney again in November.

“As far as I know, he hasn’t made any decisions,” Edwards said. “But the fact you are asking reinforces what the numbers show: He has the support of a broad coalition of voters who weren’t swayed by the millions of dollars of attacks from the recall.”

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that Tung has not started a committee to run in November. 

Josh Koehn can be reached at [email protected].
Han Li can be reached at [email protected].
Contributors: Jonah Owen Lamb, Michael Barba, Mike Ege.
  • Boudin’s people are still gaslighting us.

    It wasn’t “millions of dollars” that got the pro-crime DA out of office. You’re accusing me of selling my vote, and you have been doing so for months. My vote is not for sale.

    We voted against Boudin because he cares only about criminals. He was still acting like the Public Defender. That’s where he belongs, not in the DA’s office.

  • I wish someone would act like a reporter and do a deep dive into the campaign finances on both sides of the recall, paying attention to timing of donations as well as identity of donors. I have a strong suspicion that the “Repbulican” money helped to finance the petition process, which is expensive and difficult, but less in the actual campaign after the petition was certified. We know much less about which people or groups funded Chesa, although we know it included at least one billionnaire who has also contributed to Republicans, Chris Larsen. I would be curious how much was given by small donors and in what amount. Before the concrete sets on this narrative, and now that the shooting is over.

  • Tung is the most qualified and will be heavily supported by the one community that has taken the brunt of these racist attacks.

  • We all want Tung as the new DA. I am not Asian. Stefani is maybe the only decent Supervisor (along with Dorsey). Keep her for Dist 2. We can’t have every last Sup being a commie.

  • Supervisor Catherine Stefani needs to complete her term as Supervisor before she is considered for an appointment to SFDA. That was the agreement she made with voters and she should see that through.

  • Why were these candidates not revealed and reported on by the Standard before the recall? Surely, some of them were known or suspected and it was very much in the public interest to report on before the election. The recallers will not be satisfied, I am afraid. They never had a vision for the future; just inchoate rage and dislike for Boudin. The new DA needs to end homelessness, stop drug dealing and drug overdoses and car break ins and lock up more people for hate crimes. That’s what the recallers told us all were the problems that the DA was responsible for. Since the DA has somewhere between slim and no control over any of those things, the DA’s public relations team will be more important than anything else.

  • If campaign spending did not work, those with money would not spend on campaigns.

    If political communications did not work, then billionaires would not spend on media.

  • Nobody cares, Kid, nobody cares. We hated Boudin for good reasons, not “inchoate” rage. Whoever Breed picks can be no worse than him. And if we hate her selection, we can pick somebody new in November.

  • Looks like the rabid out of towners have discovered The Standard’s comment section. So much heat and so little light. Why do red state folks waste so much time here instead of fixing their own patch of hell?

  • marcos: You might look into the history of big money being spent on campaigns. Or just ask President Tom Steyer or California Governor Meg Whitman.

  • @Dave what out of towners? Are you part of the SF Qanon chapter ? Local Democrats did not sign up for Crime. Local Democrats booted out Chesa, son of known terrorist and cop murderer. Enough said.

  • @Darcy, you’re saying that smart, wealthy people spend money on politics for no reason in particular? Does it always work? No. But under favorable conditions it often does.

  • Dave has so obviously never spent much time in a Red State before. But yeah, keep gaslighting your neighbors for just wanting to be safe!

  • Mimi,

    I try to listen to my fellow voters and this is what I heard from the recallers: 1. Crime is increasing in San Francisco, especially drug dealing and property crimes. 2. The DA is responsible because he is allowing those criminals to go unpunished.

    I think everyone would agree that we want crime to decrease. But, what should the new DA to do to make that happen? The recallers have been less clear here but the argument seems to be (and I hope you will correct me / share your thoughts) that having a DA be “tougher” on folks who are arrested for crimes will lead to a reduction in crime. In what city is that working now? Don’t the police have something to do with crime going up or down, regardless of who the DA is? Again, what specific policy do the recallers expect the DA to implement that will result in a reduction in crime? I have not heard a coherent plan to improve the problems that the recallers have identified. I only hear “we hated chesa and anyone is better”. I have no attachment to the recalled DA. Let’s all move on. But, to what exactly? That question was never answered during the recall. Now that Chesa is out, it’s the only question that should matter to anyone who wants to see the city improve.

  • “what should the new DA to do to make that (reducing crime) happen?” “Again, what specific policy do the recallers expect the DA to implement that will result in a reduction in crime? I have not heard a coherent plan to improve the problems …”

    Fair question, though it has been answered several times by Boudin recall proponents in several different ways. Here are a few policies to reduce crime:
    1) CHARGE DRUG DEALERS WITH FELONIES: Boudin generally would not do so. As a result, fentanyl and other deadly drug dealers returned to the streets, typically with a day of their arrest. ZERO fentanyl drug dealers went to prison in 2021, while progressive DA Gascon, his predecessor had 60 drug dealer convictions in his last year.
    2) CHARGE STRIKE ENHANCEMENTS: Drug dealers and other offenders who repeatedly commit violent crimes need to be charged with strike enhancements, as most DAs in CA do. (One dealer has been arrested 9 times). This gives the DA the leverage to win cases and makes it more difficult for defense attorneys to delay and obstruct justice.
    3) CHARGE AS FELONIES car thefts, break-ins, DUIs and flagrant repeat shoplifting and burglary crimes. Charging misdemeanors and then pleading them down or allowing repeat offenders to attend “diversion” programs with no recorded convictions is a recipe for more crime. (First time offenders and others can definitely benefit from diversion or other programs that avoid incarceration but require drug/alcohol/mental health treatment, under threat of incarceration. This can change people’s lives and can be justified. But it is different for repeat offenders in most cases.).
    4) CHARGE GANG ENHANCEMENTS FOR VIOLENT AND MAJOR CRIMES. Again, this gives the DA leverage and can help take down major gang leaders who control much of the drug and property crimes in San Francisco, as well as contributing to violent crimes to enforce their control.
    5) INVESTIGATE AND PROSECUTE DOMESTIC VIOLENCE OFFENDERS. Domestic violence advocates have charged Boudin administration with a bad attitude toward victims that allows DV to go unchecked.
    6) PROSECUTE HATE CRIMES. Hate crimes increased > 500% under Boudin. He has prosecuted zero as hate crimes.

    There are a number of other changes that are warranted. This would be a good start.

  • Recall Boudin is not enough, crime victims need to get together, hire a law firm to sue Chesa for “willful misconduct” while serving as DA and request the State Bar to discipline or at least record a derogatory entry in Chesa’s State Bar record.

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