Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon, criticized as being soft on crime, is facing a recall drive just six months after taking office, making him an anomaly among prosecutors whose campaigns were funded by left-wing billionaire George Soros.
A beneficiary of Mr. Soros’ Justice & Public Safety PAC, Mr. Gascon joined a phalanx of Democratic prosecutors aiming to deal with crime by employing social justice tactics such as reducing charges and sentences against accused or convicted criminals, ending gang task forces and easing parole requirements.
Some of the outcomes have been less than encouraging. Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore has reported a 73% increase in shootings during the first four months of this year compared with the same period last year. The city is on pace to have about 340 killings by the end of the year after recording its highest death tally in more than a decade — 350 — in 2020.
“All of the steps he has taken, from ending the gang unit to dropping all enhancements and always looking for the minimum sentences, all of this has made George Gascon persona non grata even in this Democratic city,” said Tim Lineberger, a spokesman for the recall drive.
Though Mr. Gascon is the only “Soros DA” targeted for recall, Los Angeles is not alone in experiencing skyrocketing crime during the terms of Soros-funded prosecutors. Still, the prosecutors have proved remarkably resilient once they take office. In Chicago and St. Louis, where shooting rates are at record highs, the leftist district attorneys have won reelection — even after the St. Louis district attorney ran afoul of campaign finance laws.
In May, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner cruised to victory in the Democratic primary after facing organized pressure from law enforcement groups. Only a fraction of the voters who comprised Philadelphia’s record turnout in November voted last month, and Mr. Krasner handily beat his only serious challenger by 30 percentage points.
Supporters of the liberal prosecutors say these elections have vindicated their approach, but some of those seeking Mr. Gascon’s recall say he hid the extent of the left-wing approach he intended to take once in office.
“Gascon blindsided the voters, the deputy district attorneys, law enforcement and crime victims,” said Tania Owen, a former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputy. “People now need to know they have a voice and that the people are his boss.”
Ms. Owen said she was outraged when Mr. Gascon took the death penalty and other charges off the table in the case against the paroled felon who fatally shot her husband, Sheriff’s Sgt. Steve Owen, execution-style in 2016 when he responded to reports of a burglary.
“The man who murdered my husband had more empathy for my family than George Gascon did,” Ms. Owen told The Washington Times.
“From beat cop to top prosecutor, I have reduced violent crime in every leadership position I have held,” Mr. Gascon told The Times. “Critics of these important reforms are not advocating for more safety; they are advocating for more punishment.”
Mr. Gascon, 67, ousted District Attorney Jackie Lacey last year after promising to take a liberal prosecutorial approach.
Supporters say he was crystal clear on the campaign trail when he said he would eliminate the death penalty and that the recall drive just six months after he took office is an effort mounted by sore losers.
“These are the same people who opposed him before basically looking for a do-over,” said Max Szabo, a California political consultant who has worked closely with Mr. Gascon.
Mr. Szabo acknowledged that some family members of crime victims are irate, but he described “soft on crime” as a caricature of Mr. Gascon’s approach. He said most voters and even victims’ families do not want a return to draconian punishment.
“They know that more incarceration does not mean more safety,” Mr. Szabo said. “As we learn more, Mr. Gascon continues to modernize his approach to fighting crime, but everywhere Mr. Gascon has been, he has reduced violent crimes against persons, and that’s what he’s going to do here.”
Still, Mr. Gascon has been at odds with crime victims and their families and with his own deputies. The deputies’ union filed a lawsuit over the district attorney’s failure to pursue sentencing enhancements that California law requires. Mr. Gascon said sentencing enhancements are matters of prosecutorial discretion.
The Los Angeles County deputy district attorneys’ lawsuit was upheld by a federal court and is under appeal.
Other cracks in Mr. Gascon’s support are showing. So far, 17 of the 88 incorporated cities within Los Angeles County have voted “no confidence” in the district attorney, and Sheriff Alex Villanueva has thrown his support behind the recall.
The most recent annual survey of residents from the University of California, Los Angeles, in March showed Mr. Gascon standing nearly dead even in public opinion, with 31% favorable to 32% unfavorable, of which 22% viewed him very unfavorably and only 9% very favorably. Recall organizers need to collect 580,000 petition signatures by Oct. 27 to continue their effort.
Statistics on recall drives favor incumbents. In 2020, there were 279 recall efforts against elected officials in the U.S., according to Ballotpedia. Of those, only 49 recalls made it to the ballot and 59% of the 49 officials were recalled.
Organizers in Los Angeles County hope voters can fend off recall fatigue. A campaign is underway to recall California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat. Mr. Newsom is expected to beat back that effort and cling to power, political analysts on both sides of the aisle predict.
“It’s easier to get a gubernatorial recall because you need a lower percentage of signatures, but Newsom’s staying because they can’t get anyone to mount a serious challenge to him,” Mr. Lineberger said. “But I think we’re in good shape, and we are taking a very scientific approach to this in terms of paid workers and a growing number of volunteers who are out gathering signatures.”
Organizers also are holding rallies in addition to door-to-door canvassing and said hundreds of more signatures have been collected at recent events in Pasadena, Lancaster and South Bay neighborhoods.
In the first week since the recall was approved, paid canvassers have topped 25,000 signatures. The total does not include signatures gathered by dozens of volunteers, Mr. Lineberger said.
• James Varney can be reached at email@example.com.
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