San Francisco voters recalled District Attorney Chesa Boudin 60%-40% yesterday (but with only 26% turnout), which suggests a growing backlash against progressive crime policies as crime rates inch up from their historic lows:
Boudin was an easy scapegoat. Decades of failed housing and mental-health policies have fed a homelessness crisis in a city that was never as liberal as it appeared. The pandemic appeared to fuel deep sociological challenges that no politician or prosecutor had easy answers for. Still, his rejection reflected visible grassroots anger at both these conditions and his policies, particularly Boudin’s unwillingness to bring heavier charges against shoplifters and other kinds of petty thieves that had come to define, in the popular imagination, 2020s San Francisco. Wealthy, older voters were eager to dump Boudin, as were middle-class non-white voters, particularly Asian Americans. Victimized by a surge in hate crimes, Asian voters felt Boudin had not responded properly to their plight. In 2021, Boudin drew sharp criticism for failing to describe the murder of Vicha Ratanapakdee, an 84-year-old Thai man, as a racially motivated crime. While denouncing the crime, Boudin said the defendant was “in some sort of a temper tantrum” and said there was no evidence to charge him with a hate crime. His office would later charge him with murder and elder abuse, but it wasn’t enough to assuage anger in the community.
The outcome in Los Angeles, though, was not so decisive. [Rick] Caruso, a former Republican who developed the Grove and other popular malls in the city, unloaded almost $40 million to shoot to the top of the polls and discombobulate a sleepy race that was supposed to be Bass’s to lose. Caruso blanketed the city with TV and digital ads and secured the backing of several major celebrities, including Kim Kardashian and Gwyneth Paltrow. His campaign, in many ways, represented conservative backlash: He promised to hire more cops and championed the broken-windows policing pioneered by Bill Bratton, the former police commissioner of L.A. and New York. Like Rudy Giuliani and other right-wing mayoral candidates of yore, he vowed to crack down on perceived disorder in the city.
Caruso was also able to exploit the blind spot of California’s left — the belief that it is progressive, and accepted by broad numbers of people, to allow the unhoused to sleep in tents on public property. But, borrowing from some on the left in the housing movement, he also promised to build 30,000 new shelter beds, convert more hotels and motels into shelters, as well as petition the federal government to triple the number of Section 8 vouchers.
Because we Americans have the maturity and attention spans of toddlers, the Right can always count on progressive policies (mental health care, education, anti-poverty measures) taking too long to solve the problems (crime, drugs, homelessness) that a lack of said policies cause. In other words, we know how to reduce crime, drug use, and homelessness, but it takes a lot of time and attention to do so. Right-wing "lock 'em up" policies appeal to the toddlers voters because they seem immediate and decisive, even though overwhelming evidence shows they fail in the long run. The lack of voter turnout in San Francisco yesterday contributed to Boudin's loss, by some accounts.
I suspect Boudin's problems went a lot deeper than just advocating progressive, long-range solutions to crime and homelessness. It seems a lot like he had a tin ear and a rigidity of thought (i.e., arrogance) that pissed off his natural allies. We have the same situation here in Chicago, where Mayor Lori Lightfoot—whom I supported—has done everything in her power to ensure she only serves a single term, mainly by crapping on her friends. For example, in Chicago, it's hard to lose both the Chicago Teachers Union and the Chicago Public Schools, but Lightfoot achieved that elusive goal last year. It looks a lot like Boudin took a similar approach to office, with expected results.