UNITED STATES NEWS

Los Angeles County’s progressive district attorney leads in early results against 11 challengers

Mar 4, 2024, 11:05 PM | Updated: Mar 6, 2024, 1:28 am

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)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — One of the country’s most progressive prosecutors, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón, was leading in partial results in his bid for reelection, and Nathan Hochman, a one-time California attorney general candidate who ran as a Republican in 2022, was closely behind him.

Tuesday’s nonpartisan primary pit incumbent Gascón against 11 opponents, including county judges and former federal prosecutors, such as Hochman.

Partial returns showed Jonathan Hatami in third place. The local prosecutor who was running against his boss serves in the office’s unit that prosecutes the most difficult child abuse cases and has spoken about his own experience as a child abuse survivor.

It was too early to know which two candidates will advance to a runoff in November to lead an agency that prosecutes cases in the most populous county in the U.S. Partial returns showed none had enough to win the primary outright with 50%-plus-one vote.

Most people vote by mail with ballots that, as long as they are postmarked by Election Day, can arrive up to a week later and still be counted. The heavy reliance on mail ballots — every voter receives one — also results in an extended tally, since each must be opened, validated and processed.

Gascón’s challengers are seeking to harness voters’ perceptions of public safety, highlighting shocking footage of a series of brazen smash-and-grab robberies at luxury stores. The feeling of being unsafe is so pervasive that even the Los Angeles mayor and police chief said in January that they were working to fix the city’s image.

But while property crime increased nearly 3% within the sheriff’s jurisdiction of Los Angeles County from 2022 to 2023, violent crime decreased almost 1.5% in the same period.

Still, the candidates seeking to unseat Gascón blame him and his progressive policies for the rising property crime and overall safety perceptions.

Gascón was elected on a criminal justice reform platform in 2020, in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by police. He faced a recall attempt within his first 100 days and a second attempt later, which both failed to get on the ballot.

Hochman has tried to capitalize on voter anger over crime and homelessness, issues that led voters to unseat San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin in a recall election in 2022. In his campaign ads, Hochman, a defense attorney, vowed to change the direction of the district attorney, saying: “It’s time we had a DA who fights for victims, not criminals.”

During his first term, Gascón 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.

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

His challengers have pledged to reverse many or nearly all of his most progressive policies, such as his early orders to eliminate filing for sentencing enhancements.

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Los Angeles County’s progressive district attorney leads in early results against 11 challengers