Another poll shows DA Chesa Boudin is in trouble, here's why

I just wrote about a poll of the recall effort in San Francisco two days ago. While that poll, commissioned by the anti-recall group, showed Boudin’s best numbers yet, the bottom line was still bad news. With just three weeks to go, 48% of respondents said they planned to vote for the recall and 38% said they would vote against it.


Yesterday another poll was released, this one commissioned by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce which is supporting the recall. The results of this poll were considerably worse for Boudin:

The latest, released Thursday by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and conducted by EMC Research, found that 67% of survey respondents were planning on voting “yes” on the District Attorney’s upcoming recall election, while just 31% said they would vote no…

Thad Kousser, Department Chair of Political Science at UC San Diego, said that all four polls “look like credible approaches” to surveying a representative sample of San Franciscans and capturing the political mood of the city in the lead-up to the election.

“I think the poll of polls from these, now that we have four data points, seems to be generally bad news for the district attorney and good news for the recall,” he said.

If you’ve been reading the news about Boudin lately it has been full of defenses of his record, essentially claiming that he hasn’t done anything that could credibly be said to contribute to the problems of crime and homelessness that plague San Francisco. Even when there are clear cases where decisions by his office were involved there are efforts to absolve him. Case in point:

Hanako Abe was one of two women killed by Troy McAlister on New Year’s Eve 2020. The other was 60-year-old Elizabeth Platt. Both were killed in a hit and run as McAlister was driving a stolen car though the city. He had a long record of felonies.


In July 2015, McAlister was arrested for robbing two women in San Francisco’s Mission District with a toy gun. Facing charges of armed robbery, McAlister had been sitting in San Francisco County Jail for nearly five years, awaiting trial in that case, when Boudin was elected DA in 2019.

Because of his past crimes, prosecutors could have charged McAlister with a third strike and tried to send him to prison for 25 years to life, as armed robbery — even with a toy gun — is considered a violent and serious offense in California.

But Boudin’s office chose to negotiate a plea deal with McAlister — the way an estimated 90% of criminal cases are resolved in the U.S. In exchange for a guilty plea, the DA’s office reduced the charges against McAlister to second-degree felony robbery.

Because McAlister had already been in jail for 5 years awaiting trial he was released.

…within months, McAlister was back in trouble with the law. Between June and December, he was arrested five times by San Francisco police on suspicion of various property crimes, including driving stolen cars and burglary. In each incident, the DA’s office declined to file charges, saying they didn’t believe the cases brought by police were strong enough to secure a new conviction.

Instead of charging him after any of those five arrests, the DAs office simply referred those crimes to the his parole agent. Nothing happened. McAlister’s 5th arrest happened on Dec. 20, 2020 and three days later he was released again. Eight days later he (allegedly) robbed a bakery and sped away in a stolen car, killing the two women, Abe and Platt. He then drove away from the scene. The DA’s defense is essentially that he’s not a mind reader and couldn’t have know this multiple felon was going to kill anyone.


“We had letters of recommendation from case managers. We had certificates of completion from programs that he’d done. He was in a trusted job,” said Boudin, while adding, “Look, I’m not here to defend him. I’m prosecuting him right now.”

Boudin ran on a promise to avoid pursuing sentencing enhancements, including California’s “three strikes” law, which can often double, triple or even quadruple a sentence. He noted that without any enhancement, the maximum sentence for a robbery, under state law, is five years.

“And Troy McAlister served a five-year sentence,” he said. “Now, you’re right that we could have been creative and found ways to keep him in prison for longer. And if we had a crystal ball, we might have done that. But we have to make decisions in cases based on the information available”

Even if you buy Boudin’s excuses for the plea deal his excuses for not charging McAlister after the subsequent five arrests are pretty vague. Convictions in any of those cases would have kept him off the street that New Year’s Eve.

But it’s not just the big cases like McAlister’s where people believe Boudin is failing the city. It’s also the small ones where no one is ever arrested.

In december, Richie Greenberg stepped out the front door of his home in a residential, park-filled neighborhood of San Francisco to find a woman he did not recognize on his steps. She yelled at him and tried to block him from going back into his own house, pulling out a small knife and stabbing the air with it. “Walk down the steps!” he shouted at her as he called 911. “Get off of my fucking steps!”

Greenberg made it into his house shaken but safe, and the cops arrived a few minutes later. But too many San Franciscans have experienced similar incidents of late, he told me, and many have suffered worse. “Practically everyone in this city has been a victim or knows a victim,” the political commentator and failed mayoral candidate said. “People are sick and tired of the whole atmosphere of the city. It’s not fun to live here anymore.”


Boudin of course sees the recall effort as illegitimate and political. He makes a habit of blaming it on Republican money but the polls noted above show that’s not what this is about. “It’s exploiting the kinds of tragedies that have occurred in every jurisdiction across this country for as long as we’ve been keeping track of data on criminal justice,” Boudin told the Atlantic’s Annie Lowery. But as usual with Boudin, there’s a lot more to the story.

Boudin’s struck me as an awkward position to take, in some way. There’s plenty of big money in the recall race, to be sure, and some of that money is Republican. But a large share of San Franciscans have expressed their dissatisfaction with the district attorney and their concerns about public safety. Many are liberals, and a lot of them are progressives. Indeed, perhaps the most compelling voice challenging Boudin is not Greenberg, who used to be a registered Republican (he’s an independent now, he told me); it is Brooke Jenkins, a progressive prosecutor herself.

Jenkins supports diversion programs for low-level crimes, she told me, as well as programs to shorten excessive sentences and free the wrongfully convicted. A Black and Latina woman, she deplores what mass incarceration has done to communities of color. She said that she appreciated how compassionate and reform-focused San Francisco was as a city. Thus, she said, she looked forward to working with Boudin when he came into office.

Yet, working on murder cases for him, she said, she came to question whether he was the right person for the job. He had decided what not to do and where to pull back, she said. But he had not figured out how to fight the crime the city was facing. “Chesa has refused to switch hats,” she told me. “He maintains the outlook or the mindset of a public defender. His view is that crime is just a part of life, something that we all have to endure and deal with. It’s never going to go away. No amount of punishment for any offender is going to change what happened, even in a murder case.”…

Perhaps her strongest argument was that Boudin simply isn’t good at the job. Half the lawyers working for him have quit, retired, or been fired. She personally decided to quit after he declined to hear her out on not accepting the insanity plea of a defendant who had murdered his mother. “He never requested to meet with me via Zoom or any other mechanism,” she said. “He never requested to see the file to review.” She declined to go to court to enter into the agreement. “That was a level of irresponsibility and recklessness that I wasn’t going to participate in,” she said.


Lowery concludes that’s ultimately why Boudin is likely to be recalled. Even if he’s arguably right in some of these individual cases, his arrogance and unwillingness to compromise with police, with his own deputy DAs and most importantly with the public who are fed up with crime and disorder show him to be someone who seems incapable of working well with others. He is, no surprise given his history, a strident leftist ideologue. Even in San Francisco there’s a limit to how much of that people can take.

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