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San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin greets supporters after partial election returns showed him being recalled by voters on in San Francisco on June 7.Noah Berger/The Associated Press

If you have been to San Francisco any time in the past few years, you will probably understand why residents there just voted to recall the city’s ultra-progressive district attorney.

You may even ask yourself what took them so long.

Once vibrant and hip, and a beacon for creative-class types from around the world, San Francisco is the opposite of all that now. Its downtown streets are filthy, destroyed by homelessness and drug addiction, and boarded-up properties have given the city an eerie and dystopian vibe.

Many critics blame the city’s decline on its long tradition of liberal politics. After all, San Francisco was woke before woke was a thing; that was once part of its appeal.

But it now appears that the overwhelmingly Democratic city’s nearly 900,000 residents have decided the left has gone too far, even for them.

Earlier this year, residents voted to recall three members of the San Francisco Board of Education, blaming the trio for wasting too much time on a crusade to rename a third of the city’s schools – including one originally named in honour of Abraham Lincoln – instead of working to return kids to the classroom during the pandemic.

Tuesday’s recall election to oust district attorney Chesa Boudin came after the former public defender-turned-top city prosecutor had spent his first two years in office seeking alternatives to prison for non-violent criminals and easing bail requirements. He went to war against the city’s police department. He and Mayor London Breed were barely on speaking terms.

More than anything, Mr. Boudin baited his critics instead of listening to them. The son of Weather Underground radicals who went to prison for their roles in a 1981 Brink’s-truck robbery that resulted in the deaths of two police officers and a security guard, the Rhodes scholar and Yale Law School graduate was unapologetic about his progressive approach to criminal justice despite a surge in burglaries and other property-related crimes.

And while Mr. Boudin could not be blamed for problems that predated his election, he was seen as having made them worse.

In the end, 60 per cent of those who turned out on Tuesday chose to give him the boot.

“They did it because he didn’t seem to care that he was making the citizens of our city miserable in service of an ideology that made sense everywhere but in reality,” Nellie Bowles wrote in The Atlantic. “Residents had hoped Boudin would reform the criminal-justice system and treat low-level offenders more humanely. Instead, critics argued that his policies victimized victims, allowed criminals to go free to reoffend, and did nothing to help the city’s most vulnerable.”

Along with the first-place finish of Republican-turned-Democrat Rick Caruso in Tuesday’s Los Angeles mayoral primary, on a platform to reduce homelessness and crime, Mr. Boudin’s ouster marked a setback for progressive Democrats. It could also signal the death knell of the “defund the police” movement that took off in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in 2020.

“Voters sent a clear message last night,” U.S. President Joe Biden said on Wednesday. “Both parties have to step up and do something about crime as well as gun violence. It’s time states and the localities spend the money they have to deal with crime, as well as retrain police officers, as well as provide for more community policing.”

While gun control and the House of Representatives committee hearings into the Capitol Hill riot of Jan. 6, 2021, are sucking up most of the oxygen in Washington now, and despite a potentially explosive Supreme Court ruling on abortion rights anticipated to arrive later this month, many political analysts think November’s midterm elections are more likely to turn on voter concerns about rising crime and inflation.

That is bad news for Democrats. On Wednesday, the National Republican Congressional Committee announced that it would spend US$52.3-million on political ads for Republican House candidates that would blame Democrats “for spikes in violent crime in addition to inflation and poor management of the southern border.” Swing-district Democrats who voted for the reform-minded George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which passed the House last year, are particularly vulnerable.

For his part, Mr. Boudin blamed his recall-election loss on “right-wing billionaires” who helped fund the effort to oust him. “They exploited an environment in which people are appropriately upset. And they created an electoral dynamic in which we were literally shadowboxing,” he said. “Voters were not asked to choose between criminal justice reform and something else. They were given an opportunity to voice their frustration and their outrage, and they took that opportunity.”

That is probably true. Republicans, and many Democrats, are likely to take all the wrong lessons regarding criminal justice reform from Tuesday’s vote by seeking to discredit efforts to find alternatives to incarceration and to reform policing tactics. But for now, Mr. Boudin has become a symbol of progressive overreach. Expect his name to come up a lot on the midterm campaign trail.

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