A progressive prosecutor promising major criminal justice reforms for Los Angeles jumped out to an early lead in the bitter race to run the nation’s largest district attorney’s office.
Former San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon led two-term incumbent DA Jackie Lacey with 54% of more than 2.7 million votes counted by Wednesday.
The race is a test to see how willing Los Angeles County residents are to reform criminal justice following months of protests focused on police brutality and racial inequality.
Lacey, the first woman and Black person to hold the office, is a career prosecutor. Gascon, a Cuban immigrant who moved to LA as a teen, spent most of his career in a police uniform.
In a contest full of contradictions, Gascon’s former brethren in the police unions have contributed millions of dollars to defeat him while Black Lives Matter demonstrators have called for Lacey’s ouster.
The nonpartisan race between the two Democrats is a rematch from March when Lacey fell just shy of the majority needed in a three-way race to avoid a runoff. Gascon advanced by gaining the second-most votes between the two challengers running on reform platforms.
The campaign gained greater attention after George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police led to massive nationwide protests against police misconduct and racial injustice. Lacey lost some of her backers at the time, and Black Lives Matter protesters drew hundreds of additional supporters during weekly demonstrations they staged outside her office for failing to prosecute officers in fatal shootings.
Lacey has said Gascon has no courtroom experience and crime will increase if he wins. She has maintained that she has implemented reasonable reforms, including a conviction review unit and diverting mentally ill suspects from jail. Gascon has said those efforts have not succeeded and have clogged jails with people who should be getting mental health treatment.
Gascon, who co-authored a 2014 ballot measure to reduce some nonviolent felonies to misdemeanors, has promised more reforms to keep low-level offenders, drug users and those who are mentally ill out of jail and has said he won’t seek the death penalty.
More than $14 million in donations have poured into the race, mostly through super PACs with no contribution limits. Gascon leads slightly in fundraising and is largely backed by wealthy justice reform supporters. Most of the money for Lacey comes from law enforcement groups across the state.
The winner will oversee the largest prosecutor’s office in the U.S., which includes the nation’s second-largest city and a county of 10 million residents.