Embattled DA George Gascón skims over Los Angeles mayoral race

His name won’t be on the June primary ballot, but Los Angeles County Dist. Atti. George Gascón still dominates the race for mayor of Los Angeles.

In a contest that has been largely dominated by discussion of homelessness and crime, the beleaguered district attorney has become a foil for two prominent candidates to vent their frustration with the city’s leadership.

On Monday, real estate developer Rick Caruso joined Councilman Joe Buscaino backed the second attempt to recall the county’s top prosecutor in as many years.

Other prominent candidates including Rep. Karen Bass and City Atty. Mike Feuer, has sometimes raised issues with Gascón’s tenure but does not approve of the recall against him.

USC law professor Jody David Armor said Gascón’s recall played a kind of proxy role in the race, with supporters aiming to show they are “a traditional, tough-on-crime, tough-on-crime candidate. law and order” calling for Gascón’s ouster. .

Many of Gascón’s critics were quick to blame his politics for a dramatic increase in homicides and shootings in LA County following his election. The number of murders in the city jumped 53% from 2019 to 2021, while murders in areas patrolled by the sheriff’s department rose 77% in the same time frame, records show.

Criminologists, however, were quick to note that Gascón’s policies were unlikely to have an immediate impact on violent crime when they focused largely on reducing prosecution for petty crimes. Homicides also declined during Gascon’s eight years in San Francisco, making the connection between his policies and street violence murky at best.

Gascón — a former LAPD commander and San Francisco District Attorney — ousted DA Jackie Lacey to lead the nation’s largest local prosecutors’ office in November 2020. His victory was heralded as a victory for the growing movement of ” progressive prosecutors” and he announced a list of sweeping policy changes the day he took office.

Activists celebrated these moves, which reflected the restorative justice platform on which Gascón had run, but they were increasingly criticized by law enforcement officials, victims’ rights groups and even his own prosecutors in recent months.

Gascón swerved from his all-or-nothing stance on some criminal justice reform issues two weeks ago, saying prosecutors can now seek to try minors as adults and impose life sentences on defendants in certain cases. The move came as he faced increased backlash over his handling of the case of Hannah Tubbs, a 26-year-old allowed to plead guilty in juvenile court to sexually assaulting a child because the he attacker was a teenager at the time of the crime.

An attempted Gascón recall in 2021 failed due to lack of organization and poor fundraising.

But that attempt has already raised $1.8 million, according to a January financial disclosure report, more money than the same campaign raised in 2021. The group has not yet released an estimate of signatures collected, but must muster around 560,000 supporters by early July to qualify.

Caruso had covered the subject since entering the race in February, saying he wanted to see a change from Gascón before weighing in on the recall effort.

He officially endorsed the recall on Monday, pumping $50,000 into efforts to overthrow a man he has known since the early 2000s, when Gascón was a member of the LAPD’s general staff and Caruso was commission chairman. from police.

Caruso’s contribution makes him one of the largest individual donors to the recall, and by far the most prominent registered Democrat, records show. (Caruso, who has spent much of his life as a Republican, changed his registration to a Democrat in January.)

While the recall campaign has insisted it has bipartisan support, Republican megadonors Geoff Palmer and Gerald Marcil still account for a third of all money raised so far.

“As I have said, time and time again, I strongly believe that George Gascón had to stand up, admit that many of his policies have put the city of Los Angeles in jeopardy, crime is on the rise, change those policies, or he should resign. , and if he doesn’t quit, he should be called back,” Caruso said in a video posted Monday. “I’ve said it many times and clearly he doesn’t do that.

Caruso initially supported Gascón’s 2020 candidacy, co-hosting a high profile fundraiser for him where John Legend performed. He switched affiliations later in the race, donating $45,000 to a committee supporting Lacey in October 2020, according to campaign fundraising information.

Jamarah Hayner, a political strategist leading Gascon’s anti-recall efforts, accused Caruso of clinging to the recall effort to distract from what she sees as glaring problems with the own campaign. from billionaire to mayor. (Hayner also served as Bass’s campaign manager until two weeks ago. She declined to say whether her departure had anything to do with fears that Bass and Gascon politics would clash, and only said describes his exit from the Bass team as “fully reciprocal”.)

Speaking on behalf of Gascón, Hayner didn’t seem bothered by the increased attention and funding the recall effort has attracted in recent weeks, pointing to Governor Gavin Newsom’s easy defeat in a recall election last week. last year.

She also argued that many of Gascon’s criticisms are based on misinformation about his policies or their true impact on crime, and said the anti-recall campaign will focus on voter education while taking into account the suffering of victims of crime.

Buscaino backed the recall before Caruso jumped into the running, saying in January, “I believe in criminal justice reform. I believe in providing additional services and rehabilitation, but what George Gascón does is not that.

Feuer said in a statement that while he and Gascón “did not agree on a number of issues,” Feuer’s position as chief city attorney requires a working relationship with the district attorney. .

“That cooperation won’t happen — and community safety would suffer — if I got involved in the recall,” Feuer said.

Bass was repeatedly asked about Gascón during an appearance at the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn. in late January and specifically why his name and photo appeared on Stand With Gascón, a website dedicated to opposing the recall. She said she had no idea he appeared on the website.

Later, Bass spokeswoman Anna Bahr said the congresswoman requested that her name and face be removed from the mentions section of the anti-recall effort’s website. During this meeting, she told the group that there were some of Gascón’s policies that she agreed with and others that she did not. She also expressed her displeasure with the way callbacks were being used.

“While some of George Gascon’s policies need to be changed, I do not support his recall,” Bass said in a statement Monday, saying that if Los Angeles needed police and bail reform, the reforms should not be rigidly implemented and elected officials should use discretion.

Councilman Kevin de León took a slightly different view, while still opposing Gascón’s recall.

“The revocation process should be reserved only for those accused of serious crimes; not abused by the very wealthy to serve their own interests,” he said in a statement. “Nothing should distract us from the real work of bringing our homeless neighbors back in, keeping our neighborhoods safe and creating well-paying jobs.”

While Gascón’s broadsides by Caruso and Buscaino certainly won’t help the embattled district attorney, they weren’t entirely unexpected from the two most right-leaning candidates in the mayoral field either. .

Times writer David Zahniser contributed to this report.

Los Angeles Times

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