National message

National message or history of San Francisco?

San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin speaks to supporters at election night on Tuesday. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The successful recall of San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin on Tuesday has already led some pundits to declare the “progressive prosecutor” dead.

But a look around the country — and a closer look at San Francisco’s particular problems — tells a more complicated story.

What is clear is that Boudin was firmly rejected by his constituents. What is less certain, or simple to explain, is why. Boudin had powerful and wealthy opponents lined up against him, sure, but the progressive candidates overcame those hurdles in a series of races this primary season. More problematic for Boudin, however, was his poor reputation with voters in San Francisco, which recently recalled three school board members, and general discontent, not unlike what we’ve seen in other typically liberal cities, with overlapping issues of crime, homelessness and the cost of living.

Boudin hasn’t done himself too many favors by trying to assuage some very real concerns about his performance in office, but an early analysis of the incoming results shows a divide between younger voters and older, wealthier voters.

Outside of town and across the country, the outlook for other types of progressive prosecutors still looks bright.

Just last fall, Alvin Bragg won the district attorney race in Manhattan – in the same cycle that saw New Yorkers elect Eric Adams as mayor. In Philadelphia, District Attorney Larry Krasner easily won reelection despite ultimately overreacting to his politics. And in the Chicago area, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx won a second term in 2020.

Boudin’s ousting is certainly a blow to the movement he represents, at least for now. But the implications for the future are harder to pin down, especially if the headlines that fueled discontent around him don’t end with his tenure.