Mayor London Breed’s announcement that she would gift her preferred DA candidate, Suzy Loftus, the mantle of incumbency a mere 24 hours prior to San Franciscans receiving their vote-by-mail ballots was a farcical moment. The excuses justifying this undermining of the first open race for District Attorney in more than a century should be believed by nobody. And the ultimate takeaway is that the folks doing the political math here figure you, the voters, can’t add. Or you simply don’t care to.
Just another day in the political neighborhood. But there’s plenty of blame and disappointment to mete out; nobody has a monopoly on that. So, let’s start with outgoing DA George Gascón. The timing of this process may stink, but it’s of his making.
Our District Attorney leaves a complex legacy here and did accomplish a good many things — but learning to leave office neatly and cleanly was not one of them. He has, in essence, walked away from dinner with the tablecloth still tucked into his pants and left us to deal with the mess.
A year ago Gascón, whom Mayor Gavin Newsom surprisingly tapped as DA in 2011, announced this would be his final term as San Francisco DA. Earlier this month he announced he’d cut short his term by several months, and leave office on Oct. 18 — with a run for Los Angeles DA highly anticipated.
Mission Local has heard that Gascón’s Los Angeles progressive backers, who are dissatisfied with incumbent L.A. DA Jackie Lacey, have let it be known that Gascón needed to either get into the race or they’d find a new candidate. It would, certainly, behoove Gascón to be in Los Angeles yesterday; candidates must declare by December for a March election in a region the size of several Eastern states with a population exceeding even that.
Gascón would’ve done well to be down there pounding the pavement long ago. Or, failing that, he could’ve waited until his successor was elected. Instead, he split the difference, leaving a two-week gap between his departure and Election Day.
Sources close to the DA — who has a chilly relationship with both the mayor and Loftus — said it’s no coincidence he waited until after the ballots were printed to announce his move. Anybody familiar with this race by only reading the names on the election materials won’t see “interim DA” next to anyone’s name. But our sources also said Gascón did not anticipate that Breed would install her preferred successor to the post a scant two weeks prior to election day and only hours before ballots hit voters’ mailboxes.
Loftus’ challengers also told me they were stunned by this move. Because, bluntly, it’s so incredibly crass.
There is no credible non-political reason why Gascón’s deputy, Christine Soto DeBerry, couldn’t run the office for a couple of weeks, with Breed subsequently appointing the election-day winner to fill out Gascón’s term. A couple of weeks is not a long time; if Gascón had traveled to France or fallen off his motorcycle he’d be away from his desk for about that long, and nobody would be itching to appoint an out-of-office successor.
No disrespect to Loftus, but just how much time can she afford to devote to internal workplace matters in the closing weeks of a frenetic campaign? And, under DeBerry for that half a month, it’s not as if the city’s prosecutors would begin skipping work or taking off their shoes and socks in court. Nobody is suggesting leaving the office rudderless until January. Just a few weeks of DeBerry handing off the ball, from 6:01 p.m. on Oct. 18 until an election winner emerges in November.
The entire Board of Supervisors goes on break longer than that, every year.
Viewed outside of a political context, the excuses for hurriedly naming Loftus — and imparting upon her the advantages of incumbency and ginning up name recognition on the eve of an election — seem all the more contrived. Because, remember, Gascón isn’t leaving office until Oct. 18. Last week’s announcement was just that — an announcement about what would happen in two weeks. That announcement, however, just happened to be made right as ballots were hitting mailboxes and early voting commenced.
This in an election that, according to multiple campaigns’ polling, is wide open and where name recognition is low.
So, that was contrived. As was holding this announcement in the heart of Chinatown at Portsmouth Square and then retreating from loud protesters to the Far East Cafe. This would appear to be a pretty naked play for Chinese American voters; any expectation for Chinese American DA candidate Nancy Tung to now unite with Loftus and urge her backers to give Loftus their No. 2 vote in a ranked-choice effort against leftist candidate Chesa Boudin has likely been obliterated.
The political math — which is quite a different equation than what’s right or what’s good and effective government — is that you don’t care.
You don’t care about political shenanigans like gifting a favored candidate the mantle of incumbency in the ninth inning of a campaign. You probably don’t even really know there’s an election taking place in November. You have plenty of company: One DA candidate told me that, after knocking on the doors of thousands of high-propensity, ostensibly knowledgeable voters and making a pitch to be the next D.A., an alarmingly frequent response is: “What did Dennis Herrera ever do to you?”
These are, again, the high-propensity voters. The best we’ve got. The people most likely to participate in what’s expected to be a low-turnout November contest.
The people of San Francisco handily voted for Ed Lee for mayor after he broke the one, singular promise that earned him a shot as mayor — that he wouldn’t run for mayor. We have demonstrated a less-than abiding concern with even the most overt political dishonesty and shenanigans. “What a rapscallion that Willie Brown is,” we think when we read about him intentionally misleading the public on nine-digit overruns on misbegotten public works projects in his weekly column in San Francisco’s newspaper of record.
While this is a transitory city, its government — openly and unashamedly referred to as the “City Family” — is not.
Backers of the mayor’s move to tap Loftus for DA as the election commences explained to me that the folks raising a stink about this are the folks who probably wouldn’t have voted for Loftus in the first place; the protester who infiltrated Loftus’ ceremony last week, after all, chanted “Anybody but Suzy Loftus.”
This is, bluntly, a crassly stupid thing to say. We could do worse than Suzy Loftus. One could argue we have, already, done worse than Suzy Loftus. Repeatedly.
To wit, none other than erstwhile District 11 Supervisor and progressive mayoral standard-bearer John Avalos gave a co-endorsement to Loftus. Why? Because, he says, she was solid on police use-of-force issues as Police Commission president. Because she was earnest and good to work with on these issues.
Avalos’ 2011 mayoral campaign indicates that he’s not always a bellwether for where this city is politically. But he may be a canary in the coal mine. Avalos’ initial support puts the lie to the simplistic charge that Loftus is some manner of reactionary on policing issues; her insistence on use-of-force reform induced primal outbursts from this city’s police union and their government whisperers — yes, the same folks that are now tacitly lining up behind her and issuing belligerent online missives that read as if someone typed them with their face.
But Avalos last week rescinded his endorsement of Loftus and is now solely backing Boudin, describing Breed’s decision to shoehorn Loftus into the DA’s office as “low-level corruption.” Vanquished mayoral candidate Mark Leno also said this move spurred him to political action in what has, suddenly, become a referendum on Mayor Breed.
It remains to be seen how many voters, perhaps sympathetic to Loftus, are now turned off. All of her challengers’ campaigns say they’re experiencing bursts of support and hearing testimonials from voters supposedly disenchanted with Breed’s appointment. As you’d expect them to.
So, we’ll see. The safe bet in this city is always on entropy.
The shame of it is that Loftus is a good and qualified candidate. Loftus has been gunning for this job for years. She would’ve run whether Gascón stayed in office or not.
Voters are now being forced to separate Loftus, and her decadeslong resume, from this opportunistic political act. We are forced to separate her from the other people and entities who created this unseemly moment, or who endorse it.
“You know me well enough to know this is not the path I’d choose,” she tells me. “But we find ourselves where we are.”
When asked if she considered refusing the appointment, she says she did not.
“No. I didn’t have any hesitation. It’s not who I am. When the mayor calls me and asks me to serve, I’ll always step up.” Declining the appointment, she said, would have been political and calculating. Accepting it was not. Not for her, at least.
“The people are going to decide who the next DA will be,” Loftus continued. “People who, frankly, weren’t paying that much attention before. Now they are. And now it’s my job to make the case I’m the right person for them to choose.”
And if she wins that case, the prosecutor will be elected. And if she loses — well, that’d be mortifying and, to boot, a humiliating loss for the mayor who appointed her.
But Loftus is right. It’s the people’s choice now. The jury is out. It returns on Nov. 5.