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Analysis: Mayor Breed Gambles With Her Own Political Future in Appointing Brooke Jenkins as District Attorney
Sunday, August 07, 2022

Analysis: Mayor Breed Gambles With Her Own Political Future in Appointing Brooke Jenkins as District Attorney

Mayor London Breed faced a number of political pitfalls no matter who she appointed to replace Chesa Boudin as San Francisco’s district attorney. But selecting Brooke Jenkins—a former homicide prosecutor in the office—could very well define the mayor’s legacy, for better or worse.

First and foremost, Jenkins will need to win November’s election to retain the job in order for this appointment to be seen as anything other than a strategic blunder. We spoke with City Hall staff, political consultants and an elections expert to better understand what political calculus went into Breed’s decision and whether Thursday’s appointment will impact Boudin’s decision to run again for the seat.

The Breed & Brooke Show

The mayor and new DA are now politically joined at the hip. Breed had three real options: Jenkins, a Black and Latina woman who uniquely understands how the office operated before and after Boudin’s election; Nancy Tung, a prosecutor with experience in San Francisco and Alameda County who had substantial backing from the Asian American community; and Catherine Stefani, a supervisor who made her play known before the recall by endorsing Boudin’s ouster.

Breed’s appointment of Jenkins attempts to make a balanced overture to the city’s dueling criminal justice factions. As a prosecutor who worked in the DA’s office for almost eight years, Jenkins checks the box experience-wise. Her background as a woman of color also uniquely positions her to understand the experiences of people who are disproportionately targeted by law enforcement and incarcerated.

And yet, Jenkins is a bit of a political wildcard. 

Mayor London Breed announces the appointment of Brooke Jenkins to the position of San Francisco District Attorney on Thursday, July 7, 2022 in San Francisco, Calif. Jenkins replaces Chesa Boudin, who was recalled by the voters of San Francisco. | Paul Kuroda for The Standard

She’s never held political office and her decision to quit the DA’s office and become the lead spokesperson for the recall campaign was deeply personal—she accused Boudin of improperly intervening in one of her cases and also took issue with his handling of a case involving the killing of her husband’s relative.

As the recall spokesperson, Jenkins repeatedly said the DA’s office needed to take a tougher-on-crime approach. How that will play out when Boudin’s people get new marching orders from an interim boss who slammed their work is anybody’s guess.

In an interview with The Standard in May, Jenkins took digs at Boudin while laying out her vision of what the city should expect from its next district attorney.

“I think San Francisco has embraced this progressive mindset, embraced doing things differently and being on the cutting edge and wanting to change how we treat the underdogs in society. And I don’t see that ever changing,” she said. “But we have seen things go too far in a way that is leaving people vulnerable in ways they don’t want to feel vulnerable.”

The Blame Game

Boudin’s supporters often argued—many times with merit—that he was unfairly blamed for the city’s many crises, including homelessness and people shooting up and smoking drugs on the street. The city’s police department doesn’t really arrest drug users and drug dealing arrests have also plummeted. The department is understaffed but also closes cases at an abysmal rate. Over the course of the recall campaign, Boudin basically became a parrot in saying he could only try the cases police brought to his office. 

And it’s true. A district attorney can’t fix the housing crisis, end the nation’s opioid addiction, and initiate large-scale investigations and make arrests. On the other hand, police said they lost faith that Boudin would charge cases the department sent his way, creating an untenable situation.

While Jenkins will have a grace period to try and restore the office’s relationship with police, the ongoing overdose deaths and a sense that the rule of law is being disregarded on city streets is unlikely to end. If Jenkins can’t retain the district attorney job in November’s election, it won’t matter much what she says or does in the next four months.

But this is a pivotal appointment for Breed.

The mayor—and by extension SFPD Chief Bill Scott, who joined Breed in press conferences starting last year to apply public pressure on Boudin—no longer has the progressive prosecutor as a political punching bag. If San Franciscans don’t see the situation on the ground improve over the next year, Breed could be as vulnerable as any official on the ballot in 2023.

Boudin was blamed for signaling to criminals that they had free rein in San Francisco. By next summer we’ll see just how much thieves, drug dealers and violent offenders are listening to tough talk from a new prosecutor.

Boudin Strikes Back

The mayor’s appointment of Jenkins wasn’t subtle shade—it was an Oscars-worthy smack to Boudin.

See Also

The incoming district attorney spent the first half of this year telling anyone and everyone just how atrocious Boudin was at his job. But he still garnered 45% of the vote in the recall and he told the Chronicle last month that his supporters were urging him to run again.

So, would Boudin have a path to victory in November? Maybe.

The city’s ranked-choice voting system installed him into office with just 36% of the vote in 2019. Tung, who ran against Boudin that year and seemed to be the frontrunner as his successor, has said she intends to run in November. The mayor received more than 100 letters in support of Tung, a Chinese American, and the rise in reported hate crimes and discrimination targeting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders played a major role in the recall. 

It’s unclear how Jenkin’s appointment will sit with the local AAPI community, which in many ways has become the most important voting bloc in the city.

Tung could run and possibly win, but she could also run and split the “tough-on-crime” vote with Jenkins. Meanwhile, Boudin’s progressive base would be more or less untouched—and maybe he picks off enough second-place votes to sneak back into office. One other scenario is Jenkins could offer Tung a high-ranking job in the office in lieu of running.

Of course, a victory for Jenkins would not only put her on a new political trajectory but also insulate Breed from criticism in backing a neophyte and reopening the door to Boudin’s return. 

And if that seems like trolling, just consider that a Boudin victory could inspire his opponents to déjà vu San Francisco voters next spring by launching another recall in 2023.

Josh Koehn can be reached at [email protected].
  • The 45% of voters in opposition to Boudin’s recall won’t all support him becoming DA again. Some slice of that 45% was opposed to the recall on principle of it being a recall and against the overly simplistic arguments against him. That does not mean that given other viable options, they would all choose him as DA again. People like to pick winners, and he is not a winner these days. It is telling that Boudin has not secured a majority of voters in his quest for the DA office, ever. The majority of voters voted for 1) someone other than him to be DA, then 2) explicitly for him to stop being DA as soon as feasible. The other people in the mix are also progressive and support many of the same policies that Boudin does (and that SF voters remain supportive of when polled–just not when they are championed by Chesa Boudin). Also, some people voted against Boudin because of the litany of reports of bad management and his lousy relationships with other leaders in SF; relationships needed to be effective in the job. It is true that he got hammered with blame for a lot of things that were unfair to hammer him with, and it’s also true that his own choices contributed to him losing his job. It will be hard for him to garner much support outside of his relentless backers. It’s possible that will be enough to win in a rank choice vote. If that does come to pass, then we’ll have to hope Boudin has learned from his mistakes.

  • This is the new commie line: “SF voters LOVE crime and vagrancy, a majority just didn’t like Boudin’s management style”.

    We’ll see. Everyone I know who voted for the recall (and everyone but one person I know DID vote for the recall) did so not out of personal dislike for Boudin, but out of fear for personal and property safety in this ever more dangerous, (deliberately created) lawless city.

    SF VOTERS WANT LAW & ORDER RESTORED TO SF!!

    Period. No excuses in the name of spurious “criminal justice reform”. Just crack down on the criminals, and clean up the bums. Now.

  • “Catherine Stefani, a supervisor who made her play known before the recall by endorsing Boudin’s ouster.”
    Since the reporter Josh Koehn, chose to identify Brooke Jenkins as a Black and Latina woman, and nancy Tung as an Asian American. By not identifying Supervisor Stefani as White, if indeed she is, he is normalizing whiteness while making being Black, Latina, or Asian, not normal. All are normal, so either you do not identify the racial background or you do, but you don’t get to pick and choose.

  • Chesa was “unfairly blamed”. Yeah the only thing that was unfair was the murder of numerous residents of the city. Their lives don’t matter especially if they are not of the right color or credential (aka life long career in crime). There is only one race that matters with the progressive wing which is both racist and sad.

  • “If San Franciscans don’t see the situation on the ground improve over the next year, Breed could be as vulnerable as any official on the ballot in 2023.”

    I suppose “could” keeps this sentence within the realm of possibility. When was the last time, however, a noteworthy progressive has even entered a mayoral election against a moderate elected incumbent? Tom Ammiano jumped into the 1999 race late as a write-in candidate and forced the incumbent Willie Brown into a run off (which Brown won 60/40). It’s been decades since serious challengers have taken on a sitting mayor. It’s kinda discouraging as someone open to lefty ideas. Anyway, without being able to point to a meaningful opponent, Breed’s “vulnerability” seems largely invented for the sake of spicing up this story rather than a substantive notion.

  • Asian this year have played a crucial role in this years Board of Education and DA recall. Ms. Jenkins, voters have spoken don’t choose criminal reform at the expense of victim rights. Or you and Mayor Breed will be next to be unemployed.

  • @ Sean :

    ” Stefani ” ( I believe ) would be the plural form of the ITALIAN word ” Stefano ” .

    So, I would think that she is ITALIANA ( the female form for Italian) .

    You’re welcome.

  • THIS is exactly WHY “Rank Choice Voting” is an Absolute Egregious JOKE.

    You can sneak in a Bernster LEFTIST KOOK CLOWN even IF he barely surpasses 1/3 of the Vote, after he gets a boost from 999 rounds of “Ranking and Choosing” .

    THIS is also how his Boy , Supervisor Mar, plans to get re-elected AFTER going against District 4 Voters who OVERWHELMINGLY Voted YES ✓✓✓✓ on All 4 RECALL Votes on February 15, 2022, and June 07, 2022 , respectively.

    Mar Voted NO 4 Times ✓✓✓✓ on all of the RECALLS.

    We plan to leave MAR out of the Top 3 “Ranks” ; the 3rd Ranking will go to our favorite pets !

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