LOS ANGELES (CNS) — George Gascon appears to have won a closely contested race for Los Angeles County district attorney against two-term incumbent Jackie Lacey.
With initial vote-counting from the Nov. 3 election completed, Gascon had 53.8% of the vote (1,495,894) to Lacey’s 46.2%, (1,284,244) with roughly 200,000 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 DA — 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.
She 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.
But 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 she 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 DA’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 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 DA 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 DA 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 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.