George Gascon
George Gascon. Campaign photo

With challenger George Gascon maintaining a steady lead since Tuesday’s election, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey Friday conceded defeat.

“I congratulate George Gascon and his team on their expected victory,” said an emotional Lacey, fighting back tears at times. “There are still about 791,000 votes to count, but my consultants tell me that while I may close the gap between the two of us I will not be able to make up enough based on the trending of the ballots to win this election.”

According to updated results released Thursday night, Gascon had 53.7% of the vote to Lacey’s 46.2%. In terms of pure numbers, Gascon had a lead of 229,022 votes, a gain of 6,779 from Wednesday’s result totals.

Lacey — elected in 2012 as the first woman and first Black prosecutor to hold the post since the office was created in 1850 — said, “I am so thankful to God for giving me this incredible opportunity to serve the people of Los Angeles County. Do you know it was exactly eight years today, November 6, 2012, that I was elected? I thank my family for the sacrifices they made in order for me to hold this job.”

She acknowledged that “in fighting to stay in office, we faced a tsunami of money. We were outspent by an unprecedented $5 million. But that is not the full story.”

She said the social-justice movement sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody and other high profile police-involved deaths led to a discussion that’s still in progress about racism, policing and criminal justice reform.

“These incidents were painful and exposed an issue that existed in this country for years — racism,” Lacey said. “Our nation is going through a reckoning and what happened in my election may one day be listed as a consequence of that. It may be said that one day the results of this election is a result of our season of discontent and a demand to see a tsunami of change.”

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.

In a media briefing Friday afternoon, Gascon thanked Lacey for her service, and the sacrifices she and her family have made. He said that while they may have fundamental disagreements, “there can be no doubt that you’re deeply committed to this community.”

“I have been given a tremendous honor by the voters,” Gascon said. “But I recognize, number one, that I work for the people. And number two, I’m only a temporary (office holder). This office is more important me, it’s more important than any of us individually. It’s for our entire community, and I’m very mindful of that.”

Gascon also said he will waste no time implementing the progressive agenda he outlined in his campaign.

“We will stop the death penalty immediately,” he said. “We will begin to unwind current cases that are on the death penalty track. We will immediately stop prosecuting children as adults. … I have committed personally to reopening some cases involving law-enforcement uses of force, and I always made it clear that there may be other cases as well, and I am committed to doing so. We’re going to be taking a very different look at the way that we handle people with mental health problems.”

Doubling-down on his commitment to being aggressive in cases involving law enforcement, saying if they commit crimes, “they’ll be held accountable just like anybody else.”

“I was not elected to be on the police team or the prosecutors team,” he said. “I was elected to be on the people’s team.”

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.

Lacey finished first in the three-candidate field in the March 3 primary with 48.7% of the vote to 28.2% for Gascon. A runoff was needed because no candidate received a majority.

The primary came a day after a group of Black Lives Matter protesters showed up at Lacey’s home, and Lacey’s husband, David, responded by pointing a gun at the group and ordering them off of the couple’s property.

Lacey later apologized on behalf of herself and her husband, but stressed that she has been the target of repeated threats while in office, including death threats, and her husband acted out of fear when the commotion began outside their home at 5:30 a.m.

David Lacey was charged Aug. 3 by the California Attorney General’s Office with three misdemeanor counts of assault with a firearm. He pleaded not guilty Oct. 2, with a pretrial hearing set next month in his case.

In her concession speech, the county’s top prosecutor thanked her family and paid tribute to her husband, whom she called her “hero,” saying he “stood by my side” and was “willing to put his own life in danger in order to protect me.”

She lauded the office’s employees for protecting the community through the “fair and ethical pursuit of justice” and for strongly advocating for victims’ rights.

Lacey said the highlights of her eight-year stint in office included focusing on those who profited by “exploiting” vulnerable victims of sex-trafficking, creating a child abuse unit that “valiantly fought for justice for the children of our county,” establishing a conviction review unit that investigate the claims of those who alleged they were wrongfully convicted and creating a sexual assault task force “to address sex crimes that were perpetrated by the powerful.”

She noted that her office had also been behind a movement that “quickly spread around the United States to get people with mental illness the care that they deserved and to prevent them from languishing unjustly in custody or homeless on the streets,” along with an effort to help people improve their chances of finding housing and employment by dismissing 66,000 cannabis convictions and nearly a million warrants for old cases.

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 had a slight edge over Lacey, based on a recent surge in contributions, and much of his support came from wealthy donors, according to an analysis by the Los Angeles Times.

New York billionaire and progressive donor George Soros contributed $1.5 million, while Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and his philanthropist wife, Patty Quillin, wrote 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.

Lacey noted that the failure to see the humanity in people causes some to wrongly assume that all law enforcement officers are abusive or that a Black man with sagging pants is a gang member.

“It is contrary to our life experience that people are individuals and that you should not prejudge them by their skin color or their chosen occupation,” Lacey said. “And every successful effort at change must start with an agreement on these principles. We must work together to make the system better for everyone without demonizing people.”

She pledged to work with her successor “to ensure that there is “an orderly transition of leadership in my office.”

“It is time for us as a nation to reconcile and to begin the healing process together,” Lacey said.

Los Angeles County Democratic Party chair Mark J. Gonzalez said the election of Gascon “ushers in a new era of prosecution — one centered on “protecting citizens and not protecting those who abuse their power and authority.”

“… Change is coming to America, and now change is coming to our justice system in Los Angeles,” Gonzalez said in a written statement.

Tina McKinnor, civic engagement director of LA Voice Action and co-leader of the Imagine Justice PAC, said, “With the biggest prosecutor office and the biggest jail system, there’s no wonder that this race has been called the most important DA race in the country. Going up against one of the most powerful police unions in the country was no small feat, but we knew that if the people had their say, they would vote for Gascon and usher in a new era of criminal justice reform in Los Angeles that would reverberate across the country.”

The Association of Deputy District Attorneys — which had endorsed Lacey in her re-election bid — is committed along with its members to “ensuring a seamless transition from this administration to the next,” according to a statement issued by the group’s president, Michele Hanisee.

“We are also committed to ensuring that every single deputy district attorney, whether they are members of our association or not, enjoys the robust civil service protections to which they are entitled and the rights and benefits for which we have bargained,” Hanisee said. “Finally, and most importantly, we remain devoted to carrying out our office’s nonpartisan and apolitical public mission: to protect our communities through the fair and ethical pursuit of justice and to safeguard the rights of crime victims.”

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