By James Oliphant
(Reuters) -San Francisco voters on Tuesday recalled the California city's district attorney, Chesa Boudin, a progressive Democrat who instituted criminal justice reform, in a nationally watched test of frustrations over rising crime and gun violence.
Downstate in Los Angeles, voters also sounded off on public safety concerns, with a plurality supporting Rick Caruso, a billionaire former Republican who ran on a platform of reducing crime and homelessness in the city. The mayor's race is headed to a runoff in November.
Boudin had been the target of a multimillion-dollar recall campaign by residents who say San Francisco has become an increasingly unsafe place to live.
With 80% of the estimated votes counted in the liberal enclave, 60% of ballots were to remove Boudin from office, while 40% voted no, according to Edison Research, which projected the recall.
Many recall backers were Democrats in a city where Republicans are a distinct minority. But the election has ramifications beyond San Francisco, with national polls showing Americans increasingly worried about violent crime.
Republicans hope to seize on that anxiety in their bid to assume control of the U.S. Congress in the November midterm elections. Republican-backed ads are already running in states such as North Carolina and Wisconsin addressing fears of rising crime.
The concerns in San Francisco and Los Angeles resemble those in other large cities in the United States, where gun violence spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, President Joe Biden addressed the California results, saying cities should use federal funds to put more officers on the streets.
“The voters sent a clear message last night. Both parties have to step up and do something about crime as well as gun violence,” he said.
Biden, a Democrat, called on states and localities to spend billions of dollars allocated “to hire police officers and reform the police departments. Very few have done it. In addition to that, I sent Congress a request for $300 million in this year's budget to deal with hiring costs.”
Boudin was elected district attorney in San Francisco in 2019 promising to institute criminal justice reforms designed to keep low-level offenders from jail and spare juveniles from facing long prison terms.
His critics blame those policies for an uptick in murders, shootings and property crimes, as well as an increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans and pervasive open-air drug markets.
His defenders say the spike was a function of the pandemic and note that crime is reverting to levels that existed beforehand. They contend the city’s swelling homeless population has distorted some residents’ perceptions of security.
The recall effort is San Francisco's second this year. In February, voters ousted three members of the city's school board over policies that some voters thought were too progressive.
Mayor London Breed, a Democrat, will choose Boudin's replacement.
In Los Angeles, Caruso, a Republican-turned-Democrat who pumped more than $30 million of his own money into his campaign, was leading Democrat Karen Bass, a top progressive in Congress, with 42% of the vote to 37% with 58.5% of votes counted. They will face each other in a runoff election in November, Edison projected.
A poll conducted May 24-31 by the University of California, Berkeley and the Los Angeles Times found that homelessness and crime topped voters' concerns in the mayoral election over issues such as jobs and education.
In the primary for California governor, Democratic incumbent Gavin Newsom was easily leading the field with 56.3% of the vote with 57% of the votes counted.
(Reporting by James Oliphant, Trevor Hunnicutt and Mary Milliken; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Alistair Bell and Jonathan Oatis)