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Willie Brown Thinks DA Chesa Boudin Should Run Again. And Says He’d Win

Written by Josh KoehnContributors Meaghan MitchellPublished Jun. 28, 2022 • 6:31pm
Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown sits for an interview with The Standard on June 15, 2022. | Jesse Rogala/The Standard

San Francisco’s political oddsmakers began taking figurative bets Tuesday on who would become the city’s next district attorney as the Board of Supervisors certified the recent election results and the clock started on Mayor London Breed’s window to appoint a successor to Chesa Boudin.

More than $7 million was spent to recall Boudin from office in the June 7 recall election, and much of that money came from the region’s wealthy investor class. The final vote tally showed 55% of voters supporting Boudin’s removal, which was closer than some expected. Mayor Breed must now wait at least 10 days from Tuesday to officially make an appointment, a window of time required by the City Charter.

A composite photo of San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin (left) on Monday, June 6, 2022, and San Francisco Mayor London Breed at City Hall in San Francisco on Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022. | Camille Cohen/The Standard ; Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images

But at least one of the mayor’s advisors and predecessors in office thinks Boudin—who told the Chronicle he might run again in November or next year—would have an excellent chance to win his job back.

“I think Chesa runs in November,” former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown told The Standard. “Of course, why wouldn’t he? ... He got 45% of the (recall) vote. I would run if I’m Chesa. I know that was not a true measurement of my electability in this recall. ‘I was literally running against myself.’ Nobody else on the ballot, period.”

It’s unclear who Breed will appoint, but sources told The Standard earlier this month that she started taking meetings about a potential appointment weeks before the election. Sean Elsbernd, the mayor’s chief of staff, has met with every potential candidate, a list that includes Supervisor Catherine Stefani and Alameda County prosecutor Nancy Tung. Several other judges and attorneys in the city also have been floated as candidates.

Brown said he is “adamantly opposed” to recall elections, but he stayed out of the effort to oust Boudin because “people had some legitimate reasons,” which included the DA’s handling hate crime cases involving Asian Americans. Attacks and incidents of discimrination against the city’s AAPI community have skyrocketed during the pandemic.

The anxiety and anger that built up during the pandemic eventually led to Proposition H, a ballot measure to recall Boudin that was in many ways funded by the Bay Area’s investor class.

“Any time you’re on the ballot by yourself, I guarantee you, you’re not going to win,” Brown said.

Despite a relatively sizable coalition of people who came together to recall Boudin, Brown suggested the reformer could have an opportunity to reclaim the job if he runs again in the fall.

“Chesa is better known than anyone (Breed) could appoint,” Brown said. “Chesa is better informed on criminal justice matters than anyone she could appoint. He has already incurred the wrath, in particular, of the Asian community.”

A major reason for the former mayor’s confidence in Boudin’s re-electability, however, comes down to the city’s ranked-choice voting system. Boudin took office in early 2020 after receiving just 36% of first-choice vote, and his profile in the city—for better or worse—has grown substantially larger since his first campaign in 2019.

Brown said voters “absolutely” got it right on the recall, but with “this stupid ranked-choice concept that we have in this town, you’re always going to get some oddball winning.”

He pointed to Malia Cohen’s ranked-choice victory for supervisor in 2010 as a prime example of not having a mandate. Cohen had less than 15% of the votes going into the 14th round of results in a crowded contest.

The pressure will now fall on Breed to make sure she gets the appointment right, especially with an agitated base of voters who have now recalled Boudin in June and three school board members in February.

“They have knocked off the school board, they have knocked off the DA’s office, there is now only one major (office) left,” Brown said. “And they won’t go after (Breed) now, on a recall, but in 18 months she’s on the ballot for re-election. So, we’ve really got our work cut out for us.”

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify that Chesa Boudin received 36% of the first round of votes in the 2019 election.

Josh Koehn can be reached at [email protected]

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