Former District Attorney Chesa Boudin might be jogging along Ocean Beach these days, but his recall continues to reverberate and may even spawn a new crop of politicians. One of his loudest critics—the brash public safety advocate Leanna Louie—is now testing the limits of the city’s dislike of Boudin and its receptiveness to candidates with the kind of pugilistic campaigns that attract law-and-order voters.
Louie, who is running in November’s election to represent District 4, which covers much of the Sunset neighborhood, is the ultimate foil to the Ivy-League-educated Boudin and the intellectual, left-wing culture that he grew up in.
Born in a farming village in China, Louie moved to San Francisco at age 7, went to public school and then enlisted in the army. A single mother, she earned $35,000 last year (she owns a small business that sells hand sanitizer and also was paid by the Boudin recall committee). She speaks off-the-cuff and is unabashedly pro-incarceration in a way that makes squeamish SF liberals cringe: Her tweet to new District Attorney Brooke Jenkins urged her to “Go get them!” and that “Leanna’s Army got your back.”
Unsurprisingly, both her style and stances have led to conflict with the city’s political establishment—and her fiery campaign stands in stark contrast to her two competitors, incumbent Gordon Mar and public safety advocate Joel Engardio, who fit the City Hall mold better.
Her detractors are raising questions about her residency, given that she only recently moved to a rented room in the Sunset after living for many years in the Bayview. Louie says she moved to the Sunset in August 2021 and intends to stay long term.
The animosity towards Louie reached a fever pitch when, during a recent round of endorsement interviews with the local Democratic County Central Committee, party official Gloria Berry accused Louie of saying that “Black people were evil” and said that her compatriots went around “yelling at babies and children and saying the streets aren’t safe.”
Rattled, Louie denied having made the racist comment.
“I have lived in Bayview since I was 16 years old,” she said. “Some of my best friends are African American, my boyfriend before my current fiance is a Black man…I’m appalled that you could even insinuate that I would ever say something like that.”
A few days later, on Tuesday, she posted a letter to her Twitter account demanding an apology from Berry and characterizing the accusations as anti-Asian hostility.
In a subsequent interview with The Standard, Berry explained that Louie made the remarks to her at a community event in the Bayview last year. Berry, a Boudin supporter, said she told Louie that many Black men would finally have justice under Boudin’s anti-incarceration policies.
According to Berry, Louie responded by saying that most Black people who go to jail are evil, which was different from the allegation Berry made in the endorsement interview, in which she said Louie made the umbrella statement that Black people were evil. At a later DCCC meeting, Berry apologized for how she phrased the initial allegation, though she did not retract it.
Berry also took issue with what she called fear-mongering by Louie’s anti-Boudin brigade, saying that they had become emboldened by the two successful recalls this year.
“I can sit down all day with a conservative, but the disrespect and bullying Trump-type behavior is not cool,” she said.
Louie said she doesn’t hold any grudges against Berry, though she still staunchly denies the racism accusations.
“There’s zero evidence I would say something like that,” Louie said in a phone call. “If she’s going to make that claim she better have evidence….she calls everybody racist, basically.”
But Berry’s issues with Louie as a political candidate go beyond the alleged racism and bullying. The party official also expressed doubt that Louie actually lives in the Sunset, given her long history living in the Bayview.
“It’s so preposterous that they bring up these little things,” Louie said. “I didn’t sell no drugs to nobody, I didn’t shoot nobody. Please, give me a break.”
Louie’s brand of political activism was born during the pandemic, when she and her fiance grew concerned about crime and vandalism.
The couple woke up one morning, and, on a whim decided to take matters into their own hands. They hopped into their truck to patrol Chinatown, and ended up doing that seven days per week for a year. Eventually, they named the initiative the United Peace Collaborative, and they now have 60 volunteers who wear uniforms and patrol Chinatown.
“We’ll confront shoplifters and say, ‘Hey man, put it back,’ and then we’ll take the stolen stuff back to the store,” she said.
It was after the Black Lives Matter protests started in the spring and summer of 2020 that she turned on then-D.A. Boudin. Louie said the police were too busy dealing with looting in downtown San Francisco, so the United Peace Collaborative tried to deter Chinatown looters themselves by taking photos and making noise while they waited for the police to show up.
“We went home at 3 a.m. that night, took a nap and came back out at 9:30 am in the morning,” she said. “The police told us, thanks for your hard work, but guess what, Chesa Boudin demanded that we let all the looters go.”
After pedestrian Hanako Abe was killed by a repeat offender, Louie started organizing Boudin protests. In the days before the recall, Louie, armed with a bullhorn and accompanied by a few dozen Asian protestors became standard fare at Boudin’s speaking events.
“The energy was so vile,” Berry said about Louie’s anti-Chesa protests. “It just makes me wonder if SF would want this type of person in office? She needs to go away.”
Louie doesn’t care.
“That’s their problem,” she said, before referencing two high-profile attacks on Asians. “You know what’s too much? Hanako Abe, that’s too much. Rong Xin Liao, that’s too much. You think us protesting is too much? That’s protecting our freedom of speech.”
And some Sunset residents, who are largely Asian, are nodding along with her firebrand rhetoric. Asian voters overwhelmingly supported the school board and District Attorney recalls this year, and they’re starting to flex their power as a voting bloc against the city’s progressive politicians.
Will Lee, a small business owner who had never been interested in politics, met Louie at a rally last year for Vicha Ratanapakdee, the 84-year-old Thai-American grandfather who was violently shoved to death. Inspired, he started going to more and more rallies and is now Louie’s campaign manager.
“We’re really in line with what the people want,” he said. “This is what SF wants. This is not just about pushing our campaign. It’s about what the people want and what’s best for SF.”
Others are not so sure her message has broad appeal.
“I’m not sure how seriously we can take her,” said longtime political analyst in San Francisco David Latterman. “Angry populism doesn’t work in SF. See David Campos. Her schtick only works with a very limited subset of voters.”
Anna Tong can be reached at [email protected]