Incumbent Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón faces formidable competition in an upcoming primary slated for March 5, according to polling.

Left-wing billionaire George Soros has financially backed Gascón and his critics have accused him of contributing to a decrease in public safety in Los Angeles. While currently leading in the race, Gascón faces 11 primary opponents, including five who are polling 13 points or less behind him.

 

Among likely voters, 15% express intent to vote for Gascón, but most of them are undecided, according to a California Elections and Policy Poll. Five of Gascón’s 11 primary opponents garnered support ranging from 2% to 8%.

Gascón’s policies consist of rejecting “gang enhancements” and other ways to lengthen sentences, not charging the majority of juvenile defendants as adults, promoting cashless bail and declining to prosecute many misdemeanors, according to The New York Times. He was sworn in in December 2020 and his term ends in December 2024.

“I have instituted a series of reforms based on data and science that will enhance safety while reducing racial disparities and the misuse of incarceration,” Gascón asserted after his first 100 days in office. “Our efforts to transform a dated approach that creates more crime, victims and inequities are just beginning.”

However, property crime, such as car thefts and burglaries increased significantly under Gascón, according to the NYT.

Gascón’s leading competitor is Jonathan Hatami, who has 8% support in the poll and formerly was his deputy district attorney, according to his campaign website. Hatami was a former child abuse prosecutor.

“We have a society right now in Los Angeles who feels really unsafe,” Jon Hatami said in a January debate, according to local news outlet LAist.

Gascón ordered Hatami to “remove allegations and strike priors in the case of a little girl who was tortured and murdered by her parent” shortly after the district attorney assumed office on Dec. 15, 2020, his website says. Hatami refused and railed against Gascón in an interview with ABC7 the following day, saying, “I just don’t understand why we’re not trying to prosecute child murderers to the fullest extent of the law.”

The top two candidates will proceed to the general election in November unless one candidate gets more than 50% of the vote, according to the NYT.

Nathan Hochman has 4% support and is a prosecutor, according to his campaign website. Hochman was previously a U.S. assistant attorney general who in 2022 lost an election to become California attorney general as the Republican nominee.

“On my first day in office, I will make it clear to the public and to the criminals that the Golden Age for Criminals has ended,” Hochman told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “I will eliminate all of Gascon’s blanket pro-criminal policies and remove the handcuffs Gascon has put on the over 900 prosecutors and put them back on the criminals.”

“I care more about victims than criminals, and every decision I make as District Attorney will be driven by protecting the public, not defending criminals,” he added.

Homelessness has also been an issue in Los Angeles under Gascón’s tenure as 47,000 homeless people currently live there and the city spends over $1 billion each year in an effort to tackle the issue. His office’s only role in the crisis is to prosecute when homeless people commit crimes, he said in a January debate. 

Jeff Chemerinsky is polling at 2% and is an assistant United States attorney who served as chief of the Violent and Organized Crime section of the United States Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles before launching his campaign, according to his campaign website. Chemerinsky has won convictions of over 30 MS-13 gang members and has won convictions in numerous large organized retail theft cases, his website states.

“I’d collaborate with law enforcement and restore the sense of partnership that I think right now is lacking,” Chemerinsky said at the January debate, according to LAist.

Craig Mitchell also has 2% and is a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge and former prosecutor, according to his campaign website.

“Property crimes are way up. The number of violent crimes are unacceptable. Many of these crimes are rooted in people suffering from addiction and/or mental illness … Two of my major life experiences has equipped me to address addiction and mental illness in a manner no other candidate can. My work as a Superior Court judge for the last 18 ½ years, coupled with my work on Skid Row for the past 13 years … If we do not meaningfully address addiction, there will be no appreciable reduction in crime,” Mitchell told the DCNF.

Lastly, Maria Ramirez also has 2% and is deputy district attorney at the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office, according to her campaign website. She oversaw operations for seven crime divisions including “hardcore gang” and “sex crimes” as director of Specialized Prosecutions.

“George Gascon has been a failed leader because he has failed to consider the real consequences of his policies on the safety and well-being of our communities,” Ramirez told the DCNF. “He has systemically failed to consult with his own employees and law enforcement to include them in decision making and the effective implementation of public safety policies. Despite being labeled a ‘reformist,’ Gascon has failed in accomplishing real reform to improve the system.”

Soros contributed $4.7 million to a political action committee boosting Gascón in 2020, according to the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund. Gascón was sworn in in December 2020 and faced a recall effort over his crime policy in 2022, which he survived in August after the petition failed to meet the required number of signatures.

Out of the 715,833 total signatures, 195,783 were invalid, according to a Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk news release. The petition needed 566,857 signatures to be eligible.

Gascón, Hatami and Cheriminsky did not respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.

Jason Cohen on February 11, 2024

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