With no incumbent on the ballot for the first time in more than a century, San Francisco voters were living through an open race to elect their district attorney. That changed last week when incumbent District Attorney George Gascon announced his premature resignation. Shortly after, Mayor London Breed announced her decision to appoint the candidate she had endorsed, Suzy Loftus, as interim DA to temporarily fill the vacated position, beginning  on October 15.  On Monday evening, Loftus was in the hot seat when she faced her opponents for the first time since her controversial decision to accept the appointment, effectively transforming her into an incumbent with just three weeks left before election day. The move has outraged community members and the other candidates.

Free SF, an organization that advocates for safety and transformative justice in local communities, hosted a sold out forum at Mission High School, filling the venue with a crowd of approximately250 people. Those who attended had the chance to hear from all four candidates on issues related to immigrant rights, but it was the political maneuvering that drew a heated reaction from the group.  

“What do you think of the mayor’s recent decision to appoint a candidate as interim DA?” a moderator asked. The question was followed by cheers from the crowd and an awkward laugh from Loftus.

“All I can say is hope the cases Ms. Loftus prosecutes are fairer than the election she’s running in this race,” said Chesa Boudin, a public defender and Loftus’s leading opponent. He argued that the appointment was an interference in the democratic process.

“Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame!” the disruptive crowd screamed when Loftus was called on to give her reaction.

Loftus defended her acceptance of the position, saying the office needs supervision in the midst of its move to a new building.

“The voters will decide who San Francisco’s next district attorney is on November 5th,” she said. “When an unexpected thing happens and George Gascon vacated his post unexpectedly, and the mayor asks me to serve the city…I’m going to say yes.”

The race for district attorney has been hotly contested, with high-profile endorsements and national media attention surrounding Boudin. Boudin has shared his story of his radical leftist parents who were incarcerated when he was 14 months old. His candidacy has attracted endorsements from Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx,  Civil Rights icon Angela Davis, and musician and criminal justice reform advocate John Legend.

Loftus has garnered her own high-profile endorsements, including California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, and presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA). Loftus previously served as policy chief when Harris was DA. She led the San Francisco Police Commission during a period where there were 15 fatal shootings by police, 10 involving victims of color. Former SFPD Chief Greg Suhr was forced to resign in 2016 over recurring police shooting controversies, though he has since returned to the spotlight to campaign for Loftus. Some of the same Mission District activists who led the push to remove Suhr from office were present at the forum, according to Julian Mark from Mission Local. Suhr’s support for Loftus’s campaign has drawn ire.

Some audience members held up signs with the names of police shooting victims: “Suzy Loftus you murdered Alex Nieto” and “Suzy Loftus you murdered Luis Gongora” were among them.

When questioned on how the candidates would handle police shootings if elected, Loftus proposed taking the investigations out of the DA’s office and out of the hands of police into an independent investigating agency in order to promptly handle the cases. She pointed out that she oversaw the implementation of SFPD’s new use-of-force policy, which has helped reduce the use of force by nearly 30 percent since 2016.

“We have a new standard under the law,” Loftus said. “And if someone commits murder in San Francisco, I will charge them.”

Still, other candidates argued there needs to be an elected district attorney without the ties to police and other elected officials that Loftus brings to the office.

“The DA cannot be accountable to one person, San Francisco deserves one DA accountable to them and not the mayor,” Boudin said.  

Alex Arriaga is a reporter and writer based in Chicago. Her work focuses on how people engage and participate in democracy and how community reporting can empower that participation in different ways....