Los Angeles County district attorney seeks reelection in contest focused on feeling of public safety

Feb 22, 2024, 10:30 PM

FILE - Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón speaks during a news conference Feb. 22,...

FILE - Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón speaks during a news conference Feb. 22, 2023, in Los Angeles. Eleven candidates are challenging Gascón, a former police chief and two-term San Francisco district attorney, to lead the nation's largest prosecutor's office. The primary for Los Angeles County district attorney is March 5. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)

(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Los Angeles County voters are set to decide next month if embattled District Attorney George Gascón will remain the head of the nation’s largest prosecutor’s office in a race centered on perceptions of public safety.

Gascón, who was elected in 2020 on a criminal justice platform alongside a wave of progressive prosecutors, faces 11 challengers in the March 5 non-partisan primary. Voting is already underway.

Gascón’s challengers say his policies are to blame for rising crime, including a series of brazen smash-and-grab robberies at luxury stores that have garnered national attention from critics who say California’s Democratic leaders are allowing lawlessness. Property crime increased nearly 3% within the sheriff’s jurisdiction of Los Angeles County from 2022 to 2023.

Violent crime, however, decreased more than 3% in the city of Los Angeles and fix the city’s image.

“There isn’t a community, I believe, in LA County that would say things are on the right track from a crime perspective,” said Michael Bustamante, an election expert and public affairs consultant who is not involved in the race.

Gascón was elected after a summer of unrest following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

He immediately imposed his campaign agenda: not seeking the death penalty; not prosecuting juveniles as adults; ending cash bail for misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies; and no longer filing enhancements triggering stiffer sentences for certain elements of crimes, repeat offenses or gang membership.

Gascón quickly faced backlash, including a recall attempt within his first 100 days and a second attempt later, which both failed to get on the ballot.

His challengers include local prosecutors Jonathan Hatami and Eric Siddall and former federal prosecutors Jeff Chemerinsky and Nathan Hochman, a one-time attorney general candidate, who all have garnered notable endorsements. Hochman is running television ads and his campaign said Thursday he has raised $2 million.

To win outright, a candidate must receive a 50%-plus-one vote, an unlikely outcome in the largest-ever field to seek the office. Anything less triggers a runoff race between the top two candidates in November to lead an agency made up of almost 1,000 lawyers who prosecute cases in the most populous county in the U.S.

Experts believe Gascón will survive the primary but are less optimistic about his chances in November.

“Nobody has really broken out. And with a large number of each candidate getting a decent amount of support, it could become a random thing who gets into the runoff,” said Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of The John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation, which focuses on social science research in Los Angeles.

The challenger field is largely campaigning on a reversal of nearly all of Gascón’s progressive policies. They’re running with a more tough-on-crime approach but are mindful of going too far for LA County’s Democratic electorate.

Chemerinsky, for example, vowed to undo almost all of Gascón’s practices but said he would keep the ban on the use of the death penalty.

Gascón’s first term has been rocky. His orders to prosecutors to stop seeking longer prison sentences and cease using sentencing enhancements, among other controversial policies, were met with immediate backlash.

The union representing rank-and-file prosecutors sued Gascón, arguing he cannot bar the use of sentencing enhancements for prior felony convictions under the state’s “three strikes” law. The California Supreme Court heard arguments last year and has not issued a ruling.

Gascón faced a slew of no-confidence votes by municipal governments across the county. Other county district attorneys took the unusual step of criticizing his policies as reckless and tried to take cases from his jurisdiction.

He also was forced to roll back some of his biggest reforms, such as initially ordering more than 100 enhancements dropped and elevating a hate crime from misdemeanor to a felony. The move infuriated victims’ advocates and Gascón backpedaled, restoring enhancements in cases involving children, elderly people and people targeted because of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or disability.

“I think that most of the damage to Gascón happened relatively early,” Sonenshein said.

The unions representing rank-and-file Los Angeles Police Department officers and Los Angeles County deputy sheriffs, respectively, have not endorsed anyone in the primary. In 2020, both heavily opposed Gascón, a former police chief and two-term San Francisco district attorney.

The Association of Deputy District Attorneys, representing LA County prosecutors, has endorsed Siddall, its former vice president.

The other candidates are David S. Milton, Debra Archuleta, Maria Ramirez, Dan Kapelovitz, Lloyd “Bobcat” Masson, John McKinney and Craig J. Mitchell.

United States News

President Joe Biden gestures after speaking to graduating students at the Morehouse College commenc...

Associated Press

Biden tells Morehouse graduates that scenes in Gaza from the Israel-Hamas war break his heart, too

Joe Biden on Sunday offered his most direct recognition of U.S. students' anguish over the Israel-Hamas war.

1 hour ago

A helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi suffered a “hard landing” on Sunday, May ...

Associated Press

Helicopter carrying Iran’s hard-line president apparently crashes in foggy, mountainous region

A helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, the country's foreign minister apparently crashed in mountainous Iran on Sunday.

5 hours ago

Associated Press

Child is among 3 dead after Amtrak train hits a pickup truck in upstate New York

NEW YORK (AP) — A child was among the three victims killed when a passenger train hit a pickup truck, officials said. The northbound Amtrak train hit a Dodge truck Friday evening in North Tonawanda, New York, a small town along the Niagara River between Niagara Falls and Buffalo, police said. The victims included a […]

7 hours ago

Associated Press

11 hurt in mass shooting that marked a weekend of gun violence in Savannah, Georgia

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — An argument between two women led to a gunfight that left 11 people hurt in a busy tourist area of Savannah, Georgia, late Saturday, one of five weekend shootings in the city, two of which were fatal, authorities said. Two people were injured in separate shootings Friday. Two more shootings Saturday […]

8 hours ago

Associated Press

Pro-Palestinian protesters set up a new encampment at Drexel University

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Pro-Palestinian protesters set up a new encampment at Drexel University in Philadelphia over the weekend, prompting a lockdown of school buildings, a day after authorities thwarted an attempted occupation of a school building at the neighboring University of Pennsylvania campus. Up to 60 protesters were at the encampment on the campus’ Korman […]

9 hours ago

Associated Press

Power restored to most affected by deadly Houston storm, with the rest by Wednesday

HOUSTON (AP) — Houston area residents affected by deadly storms last week received some good news as officials said power had been restored Sunday to a majority of the hundreds of thousands who had been left in the dark and without air conditioning amid hot and humid weather. The widespread destruction of Thursday’s storms left […]

9 hours ago

Sponsored Articles


Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Beat the heat, ensure your AC unit is summer-ready

With temperatures starting to rise across the Valley, now is a great time to be sure your AC unit is ready to withstand the sweltering summer heat.


Midwestern University

Midwestern University Clinics: transforming health care in the valley

Midwestern University, long a fixture of comprehensive health care education in the West Valley, is also a recognized leader in community health care.


Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s 1 way to ensure your family is drinking safe water

Water is maybe one of the most important resources in our lives, and especially if you have kids, you want them to have access to safe water.

Los Angeles County district attorney seeks reelection in contest focused on feeling of public safety