Commentary: Julie Pitta

Winning Ugly

By Julie Pitta

On the eve of the June 7 election, a handful of Chesa Boudin supporters stood at the intersection of Geary Street and Park Presidio Boulevard, waving “No on H” signs. Most afternoon commuters drove by without comment; a few honked horns in appreciation.

Full disclosure: I was among those standing on that busy street corner. The day was not without incident. One man rolled down his window to spew obscenities. His face, contorted with rage; his words, intended to wound, will haunt me for a very long time.

At last count, 122,000 San Franciscans cast their ballots to oust District Attorney Chesa Boudin, about 24% of those eligible to vote in our City’s elections. It’s likely that the divide between those who voted to recall Boudin and those who voted to retain him will be 55-to-45. Given the more than $7 million spent to remove the district attorney from office, the margin was remarkably narrow. The “No on H” campaign was outspent 3-to-1.  The recallers paid nearly $100 per vote.

The money was spent to propagate a false narrative created by the powerful Police Officers Association (POA), outraged that Boudin was making good on his campaign promise to go after bad cops. Boudin, the POA insisted, would not prosecute suspected criminals. Meanwhile, the San Francisco police officers are responsible for the lowest arrest rates of any municipal police department in the country. Only 8.1% of reported crimes lead to an arrest. 

Corporate leaders, angry that the district attorney intended to prosecute wage theft, spent big to spread POA talking points, receiving an able assist from out-of-state Republicans with their own agenda of disrupting elections in solidly blue states.

Enough voters bought in to remove the district attorney from office. Many were disturbed by the pain they see daily on San Francisco streets, made worse after two years of a pandemic. Recalling the district attorney will do nothing to address the widening gap between rich and poor. The district attorney is gone; the problems will remain.

It’s unclear what impact, if any, Boudin’s ouster will have on the national movement to reform the criminal justice system. According to recent polls, many of Boudin’s policies like the elimination of cash bail and his commitment to not charge children as adults remain popular

What is clear is that big money buys a lot of bad behavior.

Early on, the recall campaign signaled that it was willing to win at any cost. To gather the requisite number of signatures to qualify for the ballot, it set up shop on private property, like 

Safeway stores, violating state campaign laws and infuriating store managers (by refusing to leave when asked). It erected a free COVID-19 testing site on the grounds of the Market Street Safeway. San Franciscans tested at the site were asked to sign a piece of paper which turned out to be a petition to recall the district attorney.

Once on the ballot, the recall campaign’s tactics ratcheted up the disinformation. Consider the slick ad criticizing Boudin for his handling of the Tenderloin’s drug crisis featuring Richmond resident Max Young. Young claimed he closed his mid-Market bar, Mr. Smith’s, because of “constant drug dealers in front of my shop.” As it turns out, Mr. Smith’s was shuttered in September 2019, two months before Boudin was elected.

The Tenderloin’s drug problem, it should be noted, predates Boudin by decades. Drug deaths in San Francisco are up; it turns out that our City is not immune to the national opioid crisis.

California has a low bar for recalls. Boudin’s ouster is a warning that the losing side in any political battle can petition for a re-do, potentially unseating a democratically elected office holder. That, combined with our inability to stop money from distorting the electoral process, means that those who can afford to buy elections will do so, using unethical — and in some cases, illegal — tactics to achieve their aims.

A man shouting obscenities at Boudin supporters a day before the election is another example of the way our political discourse has coarsened. The recallers won. They disgraced themselves in the process.

Julie Pitta is a neighborhood activist. She is a former senior editor for Forbes Magazine and staff writer for the Los Angeles Times. You can email her at Follor her on Twitter: @JuliePitta.

4 replies »

  1. How about a Yes on H demonstrator being assaulted and having his megaphone stolen, presumably by a Boudin supporter? Not just verbally assaulted but physically assaulted. Bad behavior was on both sides. Many small donors also contributed to the recall effort and Boudin was recalled by more votes than he elected by. This was not a Republican campaign, there are hardly any Republicans in SF so most of the yes votes came from Democrat voters.


    • Hi Christina, that is indeed presumptuous that Marks bullhorn was actually robbed by someone working for the No on Prop H campaign.

      It is not a presumption, however, that the pro recall folks stood with their bully horns outside Kezar and rudely shouted through the high school graduation of our child. More than a few felt this was an obnoxious gesture to disrupt their child’s special day.

      Seven million dollars bought an onslaught of repetitive, slanderous advertisements and will go down as the most expensive campaign in city history. That is unless out of town money decides to put forth even MORE to slander various Supervisors I’ve been noticing as new targets?

      Oberndorf and real estate interests got what they wanted. Who is the next scapegoat?

      Liked by 2 people

  2. What is really sad is that the out-of-state Republican Party donors who were major funders of the Recall don’t care about San Francisco (or poor people) at all. They want the failed policies of the past. Sad also that the police aren’t doing the job they’re being paid to do because they don’t want a D.A. who will hold them accountable when they break the law. It’s like not doing your work at the office because you don’t like your boss. And recall proponents think that it’s Boudin’s fault arrests aren’t being made. Something wrong there.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. just two questions, since you brought up the sfpd clearance rates
    why did chesa repeatedly lie about not supporting defunding the police?
    why complain about clearance rates when even chesa admitted that hundreds of thousands of dollars had been diverted from the sfpd into other programs, leaving some districts with skeleton crews…..cant have high clearance rates without the manpower


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