George Gascon was clinging to a narrow lead Wednesday in a closely contested race for Los Angeles County district attorney against two-term incumbent Jackie Lacey.
With initial vote-counting from Tuesday’s election completed, along with a post-election update of still-outstanding ballots on Wednesday, Gascon had 53.8% of the vote, to Lacey’s 46.2%, with roughly 220,000 votes separating them. County election officials noted that there are still “many outstanding ballots to be counted,” but it wasn’t immediately known how many.
Early Tuesday night, Lacey was not ready to concede the race, telling ABC7, “I expect those numbers to change and to change in my favor.”
Gascon — a former LAPD assistant chief, chief of police in Mesa, Arizona, and San Francisco D.A. — positioned himself as a reformer in the race against Lacey. As incumbent, Lacey was plagued by protests from progressives who felt she was not aggressive enough in prosecuting police and sheriff’s deputies involved in civilian deaths.
That opposition continued Wednesday, when dozens of people attended a “Jackie Lacey Will Go” celebration organized by Black Lives Matter in front of the Hall of Justice in downtown Los Angeles, where anti-Lacey protests have been held weekly. Not phased by the continuing vote-count, attendees proclaimed Gascon the winner.
“Today we are definitely celebrating,” a BLM organizer told the crowd at the start of the event. “We want to take this moment as we have come out here every Wednesday consistently, knowing that with consistency comes success, so we are about to truly celebrate a success that has been three-and-a-half years in the making.”
The rally was met with a large police and sheriff’s department presence, which blocked northbound traffic on Broadway and eastbound traffic on Temple Boulevard.
Speakers included Albert Corado, whose sister Melyda was killed by an LAPD officer responding to a shooting at the Silver Lake Trader Joe’s, where she worked.
“…We know that no elected official is a savior, that no one is going to save us, George Gascon is not going to save us,” he said. “What he can do is what Jackie Lacey refused to do, and that’s first of all meet with Black Lives Matter LA, bring them to the table, but also meet with the families of those who have been killed by law enforcement.”
Youth organizer Jamelah Lewis, whose uncle was killed by law enforcement in Kern County on Oct. 2, also spoke to the crowd.
“I’m out here fighting for justice for him, and I’m really thankful to have a community and a support to stand alongside and to fight for justice. I’m so thankful that we actually did come out, and we voted, and we organized and we are standing in front of the Hall of Injustice, where Jackie Lacey is going to leave because she doesn’t know how to do her job and if she doesn’t know how to do her job then we’re going to teach somebody how to,” Lewis said.
Lacey garnered significantly more voter support than Gascon in the March primary election but fell less than two percentage points short of the majority necessary to avoid a runoff.
That primary preceded the in-custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which sparked nationwide protests and only intensified the opposition to Lacey.
She said Tuesday was happy with the race she ran.
“I’m feeling good, actually. I feel like I did my best to present myself as a candidate I truly am,” Lacey told ABC7. “I did my best to explain a lot of the details of what goes into running the largest D.A.’s office in the nation.”
Gascon also expressed satisfaction with his campaign.
“I’m really at peace. I think that this has been a campaign that has been driven by passion, by an honest commitment to reimagine our criminal justice system, moving away from punishment. … It’s really about redemption,” Gascon told Channel 7.
In response to critics, Lacey has repeatedly said she has had no choice but to follow the law when considering prosecutions, and that she has taken on every shooting and misconduct case she had a chance to win.
“If you look at my record though, I believe that we’ve been on the right side — we’ve prosecuted those cases that we could, and those cases where we didn’t have the evidence, we did not,” Lacey told Fox11 in June.
As of the end of July, Lacey had reviewed 258 fatal officer-involved shootings during her two terms as D.A. and brought charges against just one deputy: Luke Liu, who is facing a voluntary manslaughter count in the 2016 on-duty fatal shooting of 26-year-old Francisco Garcia at a Norwalk gas station.
Lacey has, however, filed criminal charges against more than 200 law enforcement officers for murder, sexual assault, domestic violence and financial fraud, according to her office. Of those, 24 law enforcement officers were charged with excessive use of force — eight were convicted, six were acquitted and nine cases are pending. One was dismissed after the defendant died.
Gascon promised voters he would be more aggressive in filing criminal charges in deadly shootings and said Lacey’s tenure represents a failure.
During an early October debate, he accused the D.A. of being stuck in the past.
“We can look forward,” Gascon was quoted as saying by the Daily News. “We can begin a journey into a 21st century mode of law that is more humane, that is more thoughtful when it comes to race, and that is going to make us safe.”
Gascon, however, did not prosecute any law enforcement shootings during his tenure in the Bay Area, and some of his past comments seem to echo Lacey’s rationale, saying the legal standard was too hard to meet. His campaign points out that none of the shooting deaths during his tenure involved unarmed suspects.
Gascon did lend his support to Assembly Bill 931, which unsuccessfully sought to change the standard for deadly force from “reasonable” to “necessary.” He also co-authored Proposition 47, which Lacey opposed, and which reduced some nonviolent felonies to misdemeanors.
The incumbent Lacey — elected in 2012 as the first woman and first Black prosecutor to hold the post — had the support of many unions, including those representing the police, sheriff’s deputies, firefighters and deputy district attorneys. That backing would ordinarily put her in a position of significant strength. However, at a time when many are calling for rethinking the role of law enforcement, police support may have been a negative signal for some voters.
Lacey also lost some high-profile backers, including Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, and Mayor Eric Garcetti, who withdrew his endorsement earlier this month, tweeting that he was “proud to endorse @GeorgeGascon for L.A. District Attorney.”
In comments to the Associated Press, Lacey said those who had withdrawn their support were attempting to prove their lack of racial bias.
“They have guilt over racial injustice and everybody’s trying to prove that, you know, that they’re not racist,” she said. “Unfortunately, that’s been translated into `Who’s the more progressive candidate? What’s the more progressive stance?’ You can be in favor of public safety and be against racism, and that’s who I am.”
Lacey also had the support of four Los Angeles County supervisors, who praised her work on jail diversion programs for mentally ill individuals and pretrial release.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas broke ranks with the rest of the board to endorse Gascon.
“Our values and priorities are aligned when it comes to ending mass incarceration, investing in diversion, re-entry and real mental health solutions for the homeless,” he said.
In an October debate, Lacey accused Gascon of having left San Francisco in a “mess” and said “he looked the other way” when it came to drug deals in plain sight and car thefts, pointing to a sharp rise in property crimes.
Gascon countered that crime rose at a faster rate in Los Angeles.
He was backed by heavy hitters like Gov. Gavin Newsom and vice presidential candidate and Sen. Kamala Harris, but also has plenty of detractors, even among progressives, including San Francisco Mayor London Breed.
Gascon “has a long history of going whichever way the winds blow, saying whatever suits his political purposes and only looking out for himself,” Breed said in a statement.
The union representing Lacey’s prosecutors says Gascon relied on Lacey’s help to build reform-minded efforts like a conviction-review unit. Lacey’s Los Angeles-based CRU unit comprehensively reviewed 350 cases, leading to a dozen dismissals and the complete exoneration of four wrongly convicted defendants, according to the Association of Deputy District Attorneys.
On the campaign trail, Gascon criticized that group, “while completely ignoring the fact that his version of the CRU screened just seven cases in three years, `reviewed’ only five of them, and didn’t exonerate anyone,” according to the ADDA.
The race drew national attention and big money donors from outside of Los Angeles. Of roughly $14 million in campaign funds reported as of late October, Gascon has a slight edge over Lacey, based on a recent surge in contributions, and much of his support lies with wealthy donors, according to an analysis by the Los Angeles Times. New York billionaire and progressive donor George Soros has contributed $1.5 million, while Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and his philanthropist wife, Patty Quillin, have written checks totaling more than $2 million in an effort to elect Gascon, according to The Times.
The majority of Lacey’s financial support came from law enforcement groups, including checks of $1 million or more from each of the unions representing sheriff’s deputies, Los Angeles police officers and state corrections officers.
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