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At a contentious Monday night debate hosted by Mission Local and the San Francisco Public Press, candidates for the District Attorney crossed swords in a dramatic night filled with attempts at one-upsmanship.
The debate — one of the very last after more than two dozen — was preceded by an informational breakdown in which the Public Press’ Laura Wenus and Mission Local’s Julian Mark gave attendees a summation of measures on the upcoming November ballots.
But around 7:40 p.m., Joe Eskenazi, the managing editor for Mission Local, took the stage and introduced the four candidates running for the city’s district attorney: Alameda County Deputy DA Nancy Tung, Interim DA Suzy Loftus, Assistant Attorney General Leif Dautch and Deputy Public Defender Chesa Boudin.
Audio of the debate can be heard on KSFP 102.5 FM tonight at 6 p.m. and on Wednesday at 8 a.m. It will also be available at https://sfpublicpress.org.
Loftus was asked about her appointment to interim District Attorney by Mayor London Breed and whether or not she was able to retain independence from the mayor.
“Is Manohar Raju, our public defender, independent of the mayor?” Loftus asked. “He was appointed by the mayor.”
She brought up Mark Leno’s appointment to the board of supervisors by former mayor Willie Brown. Like it or not, she said, the city charter allows mayors to fill positions in the city by picking people they feel are the most qualified. And she was not going to start apologizing for being the person Breed feels is most qualified.
The room erupted into cheering and clapping. But it gave Boudin an opportunity for rebuttal. The comparison to Raju, his boss, was one he felt was apt — for his own reasons. He compared the extended period it took the mayor to settle upon a replacement for Jeff Adachi, the former public defender who died in February, to the rapid anointment of Loftus upon the announced departure of George Gascón.
“It took the mayor six weeks to decide who to replace [Adachi]. It was a thorough process. Suzy was announced as the next person in less than 12 hours,” Boudin said. He let that statement linger in the air as bells signaled the end of his 30-second rebuttal period.
From this point on, the debate turned snippy between Boudin and Loftus, who spent the debate digging into each other. It left the two remaining candidates, Tung and Dautch, out in the ether to fight their way into the spotlight.
Eskenazi asked Boudin what he meant in a prior debate when he told the surviving family of Jesus Delgado Duarte that “your family gets justice the day I take office.” Considering that Duarte fired a pistol at police officers prior to being shot dead, Boudin was asked, “what does ‘justice’ look like in this case? What would your office do?”
Boudin reiterated that he would revisit the case and thoroughly examine the circumstances of Duarte’s death — and that justice “doesn’t automatically mean criminal charges.”
Loftus pushed back in her rebuttal.
“That’s not what you actually told that family,” said Loftus, who accused Boudin of walking back his statement to Duarte’s survivors, and overpromising what he could deliver. “I will not overpromise something that doesn’t work.”
The debate, however, was not as raucous as some prior DA debates in the city. There were no protesters, no interjections from the public, and no people waving signs.
In her closing statement, Tung emphasized her 18 years of experience as a prosecutor in the state and county levels, and Dautch talked about his real-world experience. Loftus described herself as “not the typical person who runs for DA” and asked voters to make her “the people’s lawyer.” Boudin talked about growing up with his parents in jail and having his life affected by a broken criminal justice system.
After the debate, the candidates lingered, to varying degrees, to speak to the attendees.
Brenda White and Paul Selmants were two audience members who, even after the debate ended, could yet determine who they would vote for.
“I think they all had really good points. I couldn’t come to a decision for me. There were some that were more popular than others but that doesn’t sell me yet,” White said.
“Every time I might find someone to lean towards someone else would make a good point,” Selmants said. “Every one of them meets the bar for what we want.”
Another attendee, Laura Witzig, had been hoping there wouldn’t be as much jabbing between the candidates and easily spotted some of the animosity between Boudin and Loftus. She was leaning towards either Boudin or Dautch, but she was still undecided and wanted to listen to other debates.
“You gotta strike a good balance on calling each other out, like getting along and showing you can work with other people. I found a little more argumentation that I hoped for,” Witzig said.
But they all have qualities the city needs, she said.
Election Day is Nov. 5.