LA County’s progressive district attorney faces crowded field of 11 challengers in reelection bid

LOS ANGELES — One of the nation’s most progressive prosecutors, who faced two recall attempts within four years, will be tested as he seeks re-election against 11 challengers to remain Los Angeles County’s district attorney.

Tuesday’s nonpartisan primary will pit incumbent George Gascón against opponents who range from prosecutors in his own office to former federal prosecutors and provincial judges.

To win the primary outright, a candidate must receive 50% plus one vote, an unlikely outcome in the largest field ever to seek the position. Anything less will set up a runoff in November between the top two candidates to lead an agency that prosecutes cases in the U.S.’s most populous county.

Although experts believe Gascón will survive the primaries, they are less optimistic about his chances in November.

His first term included a recall attempt within his first 100 days and a second attempt later, both of which failed to appear on the ballot.

Gascón’s challengers are trying to exploit voters’ perceptions of public safety by spotlighting shocking images of a series of brazen robberies at luxury stores. The sense of insecurity is so widespread that even the mayor and police chief of Los Angeles said in January that they were working to improve the city’s image.

But while property crime within the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s jurisdiction increased by nearly 3% from 2022 to 2023, violent crime decreased by nearly 1.5% over the same period.

Yet candidates seeking to dethrone Gascón blame him and his progressive policies for rising property crime and overall security perceptions. Opponents include local prosecutors Jonathan Hatami and Eric Siddall and former federal prosecutors Jeff Chemerinsky and Nathan Hochman, a former attorney general candidate, all of whom have received notable support.

Gascón was elected in 2020 on a criminal justice reform platform in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd.

Gascón immediately imposed his campaign agenda: not to seek the death penalty; not prosecuting juveniles as adults; ending cash bail for misdemeanors and nonviolent crimes; and no longer filing enhancements that trigger harsher penalties for certain elements of crimes, recidivism or gang membership.

He was forced early in his term to reverse some of his biggest reforms, such as initially imposing the elimination of more than a hundred enhancements and raising a hate crime from a misdemeanor to a misdemeanor. The move infuriated victims’ advocates, and Gascón backed down and reinstated the improvements in cases involving children, the elderly, and people because of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or disability.

This year’s challengers still say Gascón is too soft on crime and has pledged to reverse many or nearly all of his most progressive policies, such as his early order to end sentencing enhancements.

The other candidates are David S. Milton, Debra Archuleta, Maria Ramirez, Dan Kapelovitz, Lloyd “Bobcat” Masson, John McKinney and Craig Mitchell.