But he may not be out of the public spotlight — or San Francisco politics — for long.
In his first interview since the June 7 election, Boudin told The Chronicle he has not ruled out running again for district attorney, either in the special election taking place this fall or in next year’s scheduled race.
“A lot of my supporters and endorsements and donors and democratic clubs that were behind me are urging me to run now, or in 2023,” Boudin said on Monday. “I’m committed, as I always have been my entire life, to doing the work to support our communities, to fight for a fairer system of justice.”
San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors was expected to certify the results of this month’s election on Tuesday, starting a clock on Boudin’s final 10 days in office.
Mayor London Breed has yet to publicly announced Boudin’s replacement, but she has interviewed candidates with prosecutorial experience, according to multiple people familiar with the situation. Her appointment would helm the DA’s office until voters select the city’s next DA in November. Boudin’s term would have ended in 2024.
The past year has left Boudin with little time for reflection, he said. In the span of 10 months, Boudin witnessed the birth of his first child, the release of his long-imprisoned father, the death of his mother and, now, a vote that will force him to relinquish his office and his status as one of the most high-profile prosecutors in the country.
“There’s a lot to think about,” Boudin said. “I want to spend time with my family. The weekend after the election, I did the household errands and went shopping … things I hadn’t been able to do for months while running the office and fighting two separate recalls.”
After the election, Boudin said he and his family went to Chile for a few days to celebrate his wife’s grandfather’s 94th birthday and to introduce him to his great-grandson. During that time, Boudin said he was also working remotely on the budget and other regular office meetings.
Boudin edged out more moderate candidates in the 2019 race by promising to hold police officers accountable for wrongdoing, combating prison overcrowding and creating policies for a more racially just criminal justice system.
But the political winds began shifting about a year into his term, as pandemic-induced anxieties over a perceived rise in crime began to take hold. Though overall reported crime fell during his tenure, a spike in offenses like home burglaries and a series of shocking crimes committed by people already arrested on Boudin’s watch fueled a sense of lawlessness in the city. Critics also alleged mismanagement of his office and pointed to the many staffers who quit under his tenure. Boudin’s supporters argued that turnover is common after a change in leadership, and said they had no problems drawing in highly qualified new hires.
Perhaps the most consequential of these cases was that of Troy McAlister, a man accused of a New Year’s Eve crime spree that ended with the deaths of two pedestrians, Hanako Abe and Elizabeth Platt, after McAlister allegedly struck them in a stolen car while intoxicated.
McAlister had a long history of arrests in the months leading up to the crash, but his state parole was never revoked and the District Attorney’s Office did not file any new charges. Many came to see the case as an indictment of Boudin’s policies and felt that criminals were too often allowed to go free without consequences.
Just a few months later, two separate recall groups were actively campaigning to recall Boudin, and raising millions of dollars to do so.
The final split for the recall vote was 55-45 in favor of Boudin’s ouster, a decisive outcome but a significantly thinner margin than the one that was predicted in the polls or counted during the first ballot returns.
“I was only in office for two months with our courts functioning at their normal capacity,” he said, referring to the first months of 2020, prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. “And despite that, I was attacked for literally everything that’s wrong in the city, things that have been wrong for decades. And so when you put in that context, I’m actually really proud of the fact that we won a lot more votes in 2022 than we did in 2019.”
Boudin in 2019 won 86,712 votes in a ranked-choice election, narrowly overcoming the 83,872 that went to Suzy Loftus, whom the mayor appointed to fill former District Attorney George Gascón’s seat after he left to run for the same job in Los Angeles. Boudin got 100,177 votes in the recall election, compared to the 122,588 ballots cast to unseat him.
Among the slate of reforms he enacted, Boudin, a former public defender, effectively barred his staff from asking for cash bail, gang enhancements, adding “strikes” for previous convictions that could boost prison time, and charging youths as adults. Many of Boudin’s policies, like the expansion of diversion programs, remain popular with voters, according to a San Francisco Examiner poll .
Boudin’s loss — in what’s considered to be a liberal bastion like San Francisco — touched off a torrent of speculation over what the results meant for national politics, particularly whether the recall reflected a growing resistance to the progressive prosecutor movement among Democrats.
Boudin said conclusions about blowback against criminal justice reforms overlooked the unique realities of recall elections.
“Recalls are extremely odd elections, especially in San Francisco,” he said. “Unlike the governor’s recall, I wasn’t competing against other candidates. There weren’t contribution limits and there was no requirement that voters choose between competing platforms or visions or policy.”
Boudin noted that more than $7 million was spent by the recall supporters, more than double what his team collected.
“Not a single affirmative idea or policy or candidate was put forward, and despite that we got more votes than we did in 2019.”
Boudin acknowledged there were things he could have done differently, both while running the office and on the recall campaign trail.
“We make mistakes every day. All of us do,” he said. “And certainly when you’re running a bureaucracy of over 300 staff members, things go wrong. And in the criminal justice system, we’re managing, every day, a huge amount of risk.”
Boudin also admitted to what he characterized as a lack of political shrewdness that might have helped him win over some of the voters who chose to oust him.
“I didn’t make major changes when political winds shifted or when it was politically expedient to do so,” he said. “But the reality is I wouldn’t have implemented any of those policies if I didn’t believe that they made our city safer.”
Boudin’s fear, he said, “is that the person appointed with no mandate, having not gone through the traditional vetting of a normal election where they’re asked for a specific policy commitment, will not publicly reverse course, but instead quietly, slowly undermine the work that we’ve done these last two and a half years.”
Regardless of whether he runs again, Boudin said the will continue his career in criminal justice reform.
“There are better ways to solve the problems we’re facing in San Francisco,” he said. “I’m committed to continuing to work on developing those solutions.”