The son of two anti-war radicals who went to prison for murder has won a tightly contested race for district attorney in San Francisco, after campaigning to overhaul the criminal justice system.

Chesa Boudin’s parents were members of the far-left, anti-Vietnam war Weather Underground, which was active in the 1960s and 70s. His mother, Kathy Boudin, survived an infamous explosion in Greenwich Village, New York City in March 1970, when members of the group accidentally detonated a bomb intended for an army ball in New Jersey.

She and her husband, David Gilbert, were sent to prison when Chase was an infant, for their role in an armed heist in New York in 1981 in which three people were killed by members of the Black Liberation Army. Kathy Boudin was released in 2003. Gilbert remains in jail.

Boudin, 39, has said growing up with incarcerated parents motivated him to study law and reform the criminal justice system. In 2002, the Yale grad and Rhodes scholar told the Guardian: “Growing up in a household where people have a political consciousness, where people think and care deeply about political issues has an impact on you.”

He was raised by two other well-known Weathermen, Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn.

“My parents are all people who have taken a stand for what they believe in over and over again,” he said 17 years ago. “That to me is a fine example – even if I disagreed with some of their choices.”

In a campaign video this year, he said: “Growing up, I had to go through a metal detector and steel gates just to give my parents a hug.”

Kathy Boudin and her husband, members of the Weather Underground, were sent to prison for their role in an armed heist in New York in 1981.

Kathy Boudin and her husband, members of the Weather Underground, were sent to prison for their role in an armed heist in New York in 1981. Photograph: HANDSCHUH/AP

After college, Boudin had a spell working as a translator for Hugo Chávez, the late president of Venezuela.

On Saturday night in San Francisco, he declared victory after four days of ballot-counting determined he was ahead of Suzy Loftus. The latest results from the San Francisco Department of Elections gave Boudin a lead of 8,465 votes. Loftus, the interim district attorney, said she would work to ensure a smooth transition.

Loftus was appointed by Mayor London Breed last month, after George Gascon announced he was resigning and moving to Los Angeles to explore a run for DA there. Loftus was endorsed by the Democratic establishment, including California governor Gavin Newsom and US senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, for whom she worked when Harris was San Francisco DA.

“San Francisco has always been supportive of a progressive approach to criminal justice,” Harris said on Sunday while campaigning in Iowa for the Democratic presidential nomination. “It’s the nature of that town and I congratulate the winner.”

Boudin received high-profile support from Vermont senator Bernie Sanders and the writer and civil rights activist Shaun King. Congratulating Boudin, Sanders tweeted: “Now is the moment to fundamentally transform our racist and broken criminal justice system by ending mass incarceration, the failed war on drugs and the criminalization of poverty.”

Boudin is the latest candidate across the US to win district attorney elections by pushing for sweeping reform of incarceration policies. In a statement on his win, he said he wanted to tackle racial bias in the criminal justice system, overhaul the bail system, protect immigrants from deportation and pursue accountability in police misconduct cases.

“The people of San Francisco have sent a powerful and clear message,” he said. “It’s time for radical change to how we envision justice. I’m humbled to be a part of this movement that is unwavering in its demand for transformation.”



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