‘I refuse to be distracted’: S.F. District Attorney Boudin talks recall at first in-person event since pandemic shutdown

Boudin (left) takes part in discussion with Manny Yekutiel, owner of Manny's in the Mission District.
1of5Boudin (left) takes part in discussion with Manny Yekutiel, owner of Manny’s in the Mission District.Scott Strazzante/The Chronicle
San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin arrives for an in-person discussion at Manny's.
S.F. District Attorney Chesa Boudin takes part in conversation with Manny Yekutiel, owner of Manny's cafe in San Francisco.

July 10, 2021 (SFChronicle.com)

San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin took aim Thursday at recall campaigns targeting him and other progressive leaders, saying they’re not about removing bad actors from office but instead about changing the outcome of elections.

In his first in-person discussion with an audience since the pandemic restrictions forbade gatherings, the progressive district attorney fielded questions at Manny’s, a cafe in the Mission District, from friend and venue owner Manny Yekutiel about his first 18 months in office.

The event was an opportunity for the district attorney to talk about crime and criminal justice, his accomplishments and his thoughts about the campaign drive to remove him from office. The audience was friendly and receptive, responding to many of Boudin’s comments with head nods, snaps and applause.

At one point, Boudin addressed whether the recall efforts have been a distraction to his work, while a lone heckler with a megaphone droned on outside the door.

Recall Campaign

Raising his voice and without missing a beat, Boudin took aim at not just his own recall campaigns but dozens of others throughout the state, largely targeting progressive leaders.

Boudin compared the recall movement with the “Big Lie” spread by former President Donald Trump, in which Trump and his supporters falsely claimed that his election was stolen.

These local and county leaders, “are being recalled not because of high crimes and misdemeanors, not because of things that would lead anyone to be impeached at a federal level,” Boudin said. “It’s happening because people don’t like the outcome of elections.”

The prosecutor continued, now drowning out the protester. “So to answer your question, I refuse to be distracted,” he said, drawing cheers and loud applause from the audience.

Yekutiel’s questions gave Boudin the chance to highlight what he views as his most significant accomplishments in office as well as address his detractors. Boudin underscored the new programs put in place, including one that secures funding for victims of police violence. He spoke of never accepting funding from police unions and of his pursuit of criminal charges against five police officers accused of undue force.

Boudin also delved into what is perhaps the most persistent perception of his leadership: that crime in the city is up and that Boudin himself is to blame.

Citing police statistics, Boudin said overall crime was actually down by approximately 20% in 2020 — a trend he attributed not to his office’s policies, but a pandemic that threw the world into disarray.

While this included most types of violent crimes, certain categories of property crimes like commercial and home burglaries rose, Boudin acknowledged. These types of crimes are personal, he said, and paired with San Francisco’s social crises exacerbated by the pandemic, can make residents feel unsafe.

“The thing that keeps me up at night is figuring out how we can continue to make it a safer city; and also how to make sure that everybody feels safe,” he said.

Boudin said his recall campaigns have been fueled by a few wealthy and powerful people “who didn’t like the outcome of this election.”

“It’s been 18 months — I’ve been able to go to my office for two of them,” he said. “And they want to recall me now, when crime rates have fallen by 20%?”

“I mean, there’s room for improvement, I’m aware,” he said. “And we are working tirelessly to find ways to do better.”

Megan Cassidy is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: megan.cassidy@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @meganrcassidyFifth & Mission

Megan Cassidy is a crime reporter with The Chronicle, also covering cops, criminal justice issues and mayhem. Previously, Cassidy worked for the Arizona Republic covering Phoenix police, Sheriff Joe Arpaio and desert-area crime and mayhem. She is a two-time graduate of the University of Missouri, and has additionally worked at the Casper Star-Tribune, National Geographic and an online publication in Buenos Aires. Cassidy can be reached on twitter at @meganrcassidy, and will talk about true crime as long as you’ll let her.

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