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Effort to recall L.A. County D.A. George Gascón fizzles out, but a retry is coming

A woman standing with a small group of people talks at a lectern with a sign reading "Recall George Gascón."
Desiree Andrade, left, whose son was killed in 2018, joins other crime victims and survivors, L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva and former L.A. County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley to launch an effort to recall L.A. County Dist. Atty. George Gascón. The recall committee announced it would relaunch its campaign as its first attempt is expected to fail.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Signaling that its first attempt to boot Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón from office was all but certain to fall short, the campaign seeking the progressive prosecutor’s recall said Thursday it would relaunch its efforts later this year.

The campaign — which struggled to attract financial support or collect signatures after an initial burst of enthusiasm in May — issued a statement Thursday morning announcing it would launch a new recall committee later this year to “restart the petition gathering effort and timeline.”

The group, which needed to collect the signatures of approximately 580,000 L.A. County voters by Oct. 26 to force Gascón into a recall election, had compiled just 200,000 with a little over five weeks before the deadline, according to Tim Lineberger, a campaign spokesman.

In a statement, the committee tried to brand the decision as a strategic maneuver rather than a defeat. Lineberger said the committee did not withdraw its current recall petition, but rather signaled it would be refocusing efforts toward the rebranded recall campaign.

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“The incredible effort by thousands of volunteers gathering hundreds of thousands of signatures during the last few months has been nothing short of amazing and is a sign of what’s to come,” the statement read. “This reset will put all that work to great use, and it is invaluable to the recall effort moving forward. Make no mistake, this is not a white flag — it is a double down on our efforts.”

A group opposed to Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón plans to file a notice of intent to begin the recall process in March.

Michael Sanchez, a spokesman for the L.A. County registrar, said his office had not been contacted about “an intent to abandon the current recall effort.” The earliest a new petition could be submitted by the same group would be Oct. 27, the day after the deadline for the current effort passes.

Gascón ousted incumbent Jackie Lacey from office last November, riding a wave of support for police reform that followed the murder of George Floyd. On his first day in office, Gascón announced plans to do away with the use of the death penalty, sentencing enhancements and the practice of trying juveniles as adults. His policies drew immediate backlash among law enforcement officers, victims’ rights groups and many of Gascón’s own line prosecutors.

Murmurs of an effort to recall Gascón began to bubble up just weeks after he took office. Spearheaded by the widow of a murdered L.A. County sheriff’s deputy and a woman whose son was killed in 2018, the grass-roots campaign launched in May with the support of L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva and former Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley.

But the group had no communications staff and little backing from veteran political operatives until months after it took off, a factor that kept many of the police unions that spent millions opposing Gascón’s candidacy last year from donating to the recall effort, according to people familiar with both the campaign and some of the unions’ thinking. The people spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the matter candidly.

While the unions representing rank-and-file L.A. police officers and sheriff’s deputies spent more than $2 million in support of the incumbent Lacey last year, they did not contribute to this year’s recall effort. By mid-July, recall organizers said they had raised approximately $1 million, but spent nearly half of that on petition circulation alone, campaign finance records show.

Jamarah Hayner, director of Gascón’s anti-recall campaign, said Thursday’s announcement showed recall efforts in L.A. County and across California only represent a small, aggrieved voter base. She likened the news to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s landslide defeat of a statewide effort to remove him from office.

“This week’s resounding defeat of the recall attempt against Gov. Newsom punctuated months of underperformance and disorganization by the interests backing the flailing recall effort against D.A. Gascón,” she said. “I hope we can finally get back to the real work of keeping all Los Angeles’ communities safe and building a more equitable justice system, which is precisely what D.A. Gascón was elected to do by a quarter-million-vote margin.”

Two-thirds of California voters rejected the bid to recall Newsom, which had some overlap with the effort to oust Gascón.

Earlier this month, conservative radio talk show host and gubernatorial hopeful Larry Elder appeared with leaders of the Gascón recall effort in downtown L.A., laying blame on Newsom and prosecutors such as Gascón for rising crime rates. Signs and shirts supporting the effort to recall Newsom could also often be seen at rallies calling for Gascón’s ouster. One of the largest donors to the Gascón recall effort, Susan Groff, was also a major player in financing the bid to oust Newsom, campaign finance records show.

While Thursday’s move will sting for recall boosters, similar tactics have worked in other cities. In San Francisco, the first effort to force progressive Dist. Atty. Chesa Boudin into a recall race failed earlier this year, but a second campaign now seems likely to meet the signature requirements.


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