U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris has thrown her support behind George Gascón in his bid to unseat Jackie Lacey as Los Angeles County’s top prosecutor, campaign officials said Tuesday.
Harris — who served as San Francisco district attorney for seven years before Gascón took over the office in 2011 — called Gascón a “proven leader” in the criminal justice reform movement.
“As D.A. of San Francisco, George led fights to reform the Three Strikes Law, decrease the state prison population and get people convicted of nonviolent offenses greater opportunities to get their lives back on track,” Harris said in a statement. “As D.A. of L.A. County, I know George Gascón will work every day to keep our communities safe and demand real accountability from our justice system and real justice for every Angeleno.”
Gascón and former public defender Rachel Rossi are challenging Lacey in a March 3 primary that has grown more heated in recent weeks. All three candidates squared off in a contentious debate last month that featured tense exchanges between Lacey and her opponents as well as several interruptions by protesters.
Lacey has refused to engage in any more public debates after demonstrators caused a ruckus at that event, a decision that has drawn significant criticism.
Lacey still boasts broad support among Los Angeles County law enforcement unions and some of the region’s most powerful elected officials, including Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and four of the five members of the county Board of Supervisors.
But Gascón picked up a pair of significant endorsements in recent weeks, including Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles). The state chapter of the Real Justice political action committee, which has supported several criminal justice reform candidates in district attorney elections throughout the U.S., also issued a joint endorsement of Gascón and Rossi last week.
The race has shaped up as a debate about the role of a modern district attorney as much as a conflict among the candidates themselves. Although Lacey has made strides in the way her office interacts with mentally ill defendants, she still carries the reputation of a traditional tough-on-crime prosecutor.
Gascón and Rossi have both staked out positions to her left, saying they can maintain public safety while reducing the number of people incarcerated in the county’s massive jail system.
Some have pointed to a property crime surge in San Francisco as indicative of what would happen across Southern California if Gascón were to claim victory here.
Unless one of the three candidates earns more than 50% of the vote on March 3, the race will come down to a November runoff between the top two finishers.