Liberal prosecutor booted out by voters in left-leaning San Francisco
Chesa Boudin (AFP)

Voters in famously liberal San Francisco turfed the city's chief prosecutor from office Tuesday after complaints that he was just a little bit too left-leaning -- even for them.

District Attorney Chesa Boudin lost a recall vote sparked by perceptions of rising crime and exploding homelessness that blight what was once one of the most livable cities in the United States.

Critics charge it is his fault; that his refusal to seek the death penalty, his use of treatment -- not punishment -- for criminals with drug habits, and his attempt to reform the police have given criminals free rein.

Shortly after polls closed on Tuesday, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that early results showed a six-to-four majority of voters in favor of booting him out.

"Boudin will be removed from office 10 days after the Board of Supervisors formally [accepts] the election results," the paper explained.

The recall mirrors a larger discontent in some American cities where liberal voters who have traditionally shunned the tough-on-crime rhetoric of the political right are calling for a crackdown.

In Los Angeles, a similarly minded district attorney is fending off a second slow-burning attempt to fire him for his supposedly soft approach to prosecution.

And in Seattle, taxpayers are chafing at rocketing robberies and surging violent crime at a time the number of law enforcement officers working in the city has shrunk in the wake of campaigns to "Defund the Police".

Progressive

Boudin, 41, who was elected in 2019, has a thoroughly progressive pedigree.

His parents were radicals in the revolutionary communist Weather Underground group, and were jailed for their part in an armed robbery that left two police officers dead.

He worked for a while as a translator for left-wing Venezuelan firebrand Hugo Chavez, and spent much of his career as a public defender.

His policies in office -- not prosecuting children as adults, aggressively going after wrongdoing by police officers, and reducing the prison population -- were not radical by European standards, but stand out in the United States.

And they are not universally popular, even in a city that prides itself on tolerance and enlightenment.

Statistics show overall crime in San Francisco has been largely stable during Boudin's time in office, though burglaries and car break-ins are up.

But a few well-publicized incidents -- smash-and-grab raids at swanky department stores, and vicious anti-Asian attacks -- have combined with the long shadow of pandemic frustration to generate a perception that the city is going to the dogs.

Boudin says the recall effort was driven by right-wing businesspeople and by less-than-liberal police officers.

"This is a Republican- and police union-led playbook to undermine and attack progressive prosecutors who have been winning elections across the country," he told The Guardian.

"The playbook involves delegitimizing and fear-mongering and recalling. It's a tactic being used by folks who are increasingly unable to prevail in elections when they put forward their views about public safety and justice."

But the recall push also garnered support closer to home, with many fellow Democrats lukewarm about Boudin, including Mayor London Breed, who is likely to appoint a moderate as interim district attorney until a citywide vote later this year.

Tuesday's vote in San Francisco was one of a number of ballots taking place in the United States, most of them primaries that will decide who goes through to a run-off in November, when Americans will cast midterm votes for Congress and in a slew of local and state races.

Los Angeles is likely to narrow down a crowded field of mayoral candidates to two, including a billionaire former Republican promising to be tough on crime.

Democrats in solidly blue New Mexico voted on a new attorney general, and there were also contests in New Jersey, Iowa, South Dakota and Montana.