An Update on a Crucial District Attorney Race

An Update on a Crucial District Attorney Race

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Credit…Valerie Macon/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Good morning.

If you haven’t already gotten your ballot, you will soon.

And if you live in Los Angeles County, it will ask you to weigh in on one of the most consequential races in the country. No, again, I’m not talking about the presidential race.

Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey, elected in 2012 as the first woman and the first African-American to run the nation’s biggest prosecutor’s office, is facing a major challenge from George Gascón, who, until recently, was San Francisco’s district attorney.

[Read more from last year about the candidates’ opposing views of criminal justice.]

Mr. Gascón, who worked as a police officer in Los Angeles early in his career, pitched himself as a progressive reformer — someone who would help keep people out of jail and prison, rather than continue Ms. Lacey’s tough-on-crime approach.

In March, Ms. Lacey narrowly failed to win the majority of primary votes she needed to avoid a runoff.

And over the weekend, Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles withdrew his endorsement of Ms. Lacey, the incumbent, and became the latest leader to throw his support behind the challenger.

“He knows how to promote public safety through partnerships with and beyond law enforcement,” Mr. Garcetti said in a statement. “He will help our county shift the burden from the criminal justice system and jails toward diversion, intervention, and re-entry programs that save money and save lives.”

Of course, a lot happened during the months in between.

As protests erupted in cities across the country following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, movements for broad criminal justice reform in California picked up speed.

[Read more about calls to defund the police in California.]

Elected officials in California quickly spoke out in support of protests.

Although Ms. Lacey had for years been criticized by Black Lives Matter activists for not prosecuting police officers who have killed people — almost all of them Black or Latino, as a recent analysis by The Los Angeles Times showed — calls for her ouster gained traction and attention.

(It probably didn’t help that her husband at one point pulled a gun on protesters.)

Millions of dollars have been poured into the race. Police unions have backed the incumbent, while wealthy Bay Area advocates have boosted the challenger, according to The L.A. Times.

Now, the fight has been solidified as a referendum on the kinds of reforms activists and others have pushed for, even as some efforts to overhaul policing this year fizzled.

And the role of prosecutors in holding officers accountable for misconduct has become higher profile in recent months.

On Monday, Alameda County’s district attorney made the stunning announcement that she would reopen an investigation into the death of Oscar Grant III, the East Bay Times reported.

Mr. Grant was the Black man whose killing by a BART officer early on New Year’s Day of 2009 — captured on video — was one of the first to set off major recent protests and a reckoning over police violence.

The move came in response to demands by Mr. Grant’s family, who pointed out similarities between his death and Mr. Floyd’s. The officer who shot and killed Mr. Grant was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, but his family said a second officer had been seen kneeling on Mr. Grant’s neck and should be charged.

Read more:

  • In a column for The Times’s Opinion section, the writer Miriam Pawel dug into the history that set the stakes for the race. [New York Times Opinion]

  • Mr. Gascón’s successor, Chesa Boudin, was part of a wave of prosecutors across the country who have taken a radically different approach to criminal justice. But they’ve faced obstacles. [The New York Times]

  • Catch up on a debate between the two candidates. [ABC 7]

(This article is part of the California Today newsletter. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox.)


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Credit…Office of the Governor, via Associated Press

On Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that he had tapped the retired Judge Martin Jenkins for the California Supreme Court — a rare bright spot in one of the governor’s briefings, which have lately consisted mostly of updates on a raging pandemic and deadly wildfires.

Mr. Jenkins would be the first openly gay member of the state’s highest court and the third Black man to serve.

“He is both a product and a protector of the California dream,” Mr. Newsom said. “He has the right experience at the right time.”

Mr. Jenkins — who grew up in the Bay Area and was briefly a professional football player before becoming a lawyer and a judge — has been Mr. Newsom’s judicial appointments secretary since last year. The governor said he was able to “lure him out of a well-deserved retirement.”

The son of a clerk and janitor who worked at Coit Tower in San Francisco, Mr. Jenkins on Monday thanked his family and mentors, who he said paved the way for his career.

And he addressed young people who may be struggling with their identities.

“I am not here in spite of the struggle,” he said. “I’m here because of the struggle. It is deep in my character.”

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Judge Jenkins, a registered Democrat, has gotten judicial appointments from both Republicans and Democrats and has a largely moderate record.

He’d fill the spot left by Justice Ming W. Chin, who recently retired after nearly a quarter-century on the court. If the appointment is confirmed, Mr. Newsom said Mr. Jenkins could be on the court as early as next month.


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Credit…Christie Hemm Klok for The New York Times
  • California’s new coronavirus case numbers have been declining, Mr. Newsom said on Monday, in continuing signs of progress. The state’s positivity rate was just 2.8 percent on average over the past two weeks. But the governor cautioned that many areas around the world were experiencing a long feared “second wave.” Bars in Paris, for example, were set to close. And leaders in New York were fighting over how to address a new surge of infections.

Track coronavirus case counts by California county. [The New York Times]

  • Wildfires have burned more than four million acres in California during this record-smashing year. One million of those have been in the August Complex Fire, the state’s biggest blaze. Mr. Newsom said that although firefighters had made progress containing many of the most stubborn fires, they were still dangerous and causing smoky conditions across the state.

Read about how the compounding crises are challenging California’s solid economic foundation. [The New York Times]

  • “Biodegradable” may not mean what you think. [The New York Times]

  • “GLOW,” the Netflix dramedy that was on its surface about a women’s wrestling league but was also a fascinating window into Hollywood of the 1980s will not be returning for a fourth and final season after all. [Deadline]


California Today goes live at 6:30 a.m. Pacific time weekdays. Tell us what you want to see: CAtoday@nytimes.com. Were you forwarded this email? Sign up for California Today here and read every edition online here.

Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, graduated from U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter.

California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.

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