San Francisco just recalled its progressive DA. Would Long Beach support ousting Gascón?

Activists in Los Angeles County who are hoping to unseat District Attorney George Gascón were celebrating last night with the news that San Francisco voters decided to oust their progressive District Attorney Chesa Boudin in a recall election being watched as a potential bellwether for the criminal justice reform movement.

Gascón could “be walking the same plank in the near future,” said organizers, who are in the middle of a petition drive to trigger a recall vote here. To do so, they need to collect at least 67,000 more signatures over the next 28 days, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Despite a perceived win in San Francisco, the anti-Gascón camp hasn’t so far achieved majority support among Long Beach voters, according to a recent poll.

Just over 45% of Long Beach voters support removing Gascón with a recall vote, according to poll results released Monday by the Long Beach Center for Urban Politics and Policy at Cal State Long Beach. Of that total, 33.5% “strongly” supported the recall and 11.7% “somewhat” supported the recall.

On the flip side, 17% strongly opposed the recall and 10.1% somewhat opposed it. Another 27.8% were undecided.

If the recall campaign succeeds in triggering a vote, Long Beach will be just one of of the 88 LA County cities to cast ballots, but “attitudes toward Gascón in a city like Long Beach—which is heavily Democratic and racially and ethnically diverse—could be a bellwether for the county overall,” the Long Beach Center for Urban Politics said in a statement.

The poll, which surveyed a representative sample of 1,037 registered Long Beach voters from May 19 to May 25, had a margin of error of 3.04 percentage points.

It’s yet to be seen whether Boudin is a unique case or a true referendum on more progressive prosecutors like Gascón and Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner. (Krasner easily won reelection last year.)

Miriam Krinsky, executive director of Fair and Just Prosecution, told the Associated Press that support is growing for more liberal approaches to criminal justice because people are learning that tough-on-crime policies don’t mean safer communities.

“If one can read anything into tonight’s outcome, it should be the distorting impact of a low turnout recall process easily swayed by special interests and coming at a time of deep frustration and trauma, rather than clear and considered opposition to a prosecutor committed to ending failed tough-on-crime policies,” she told the Associated Press after Boudin’s loss Tuesday.

Boudin is a 41-year-old former public defender who narrowly won office in November 2019 as part of a wave of reform-minded candidates across the country. Almost immediately though, opponents cast Boudin as the face of high-profile crimes in San Francisco including brazen shoplifting that sparked viral videos and a spike in attacks on Asian American people.

Anxiety about crime has also risen in Long Beach.

More than 41% of voters said they think crime has “increased a lot” in the last year, with another 32.1% saying they think it has increased “a little,” according to the Long Beach Center for Urban Politics poll.

Crime has risen in Long Beach during 2022, up 8.7% through April, according to police data.

The increase has been driven mostly by property offenses like theft and commercial burglary, but robberies were also up 20%, and there had been 18 murders through the end of April compared to 10 at that point last year. Despite killings increasing from the historic lows seen in recent years, they are still orders of magnitude lower than highs in the 1990s when Long Beach could tally more than 100 murders.

Not all crime is up either. Shootings, which had plagued the city at the beginning of 2021, were down through April, with 126 incidents compared to 158.

Experts say the causes of crime are a very complex mix of factors that undoubtedly includes the pandemic and economic hardship, but, like with Boudin, Gascón’s opponents have laid the blame at his feet, saying his policies—such as refusing to pursue certain sentencing enhancements and not prosecuting some nonviolent misdemeanors—have emboldened criminals.

Gascón has pointed out that the rise in crime is not unique to Los Angeles County or cities with reform-minded prosecutors. And an LA Times analysis found Gascón’s office filed felony charges at about the same rate as his predecessor—although misdemeanor prosecutions fell.

In Long Beach, when pollsters asked voters to describe Gascón, the most common word they used was “progressive” at (3.6%). It was followed closely (3.2%) by “lax/lenient.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Jeremiah Dobruck is managing editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his journalism career in 2007 as an intern at Palos Verdes Peninsula News and has worked for The Forum Newsgroup in New York City, the Daily Pilot and the Press-Telegram.