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Houston’s District Attorney Concedes in Democratic Primary

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Houston’s District Attorney Concedes in Democratic Primary

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Sean Teare, a former prosecutor and first-time candidate who promised new approaches to handling low-level criminal cases, defeated Kim Ogg, the two-term district attorney in Harris County, Texas, in the Democratic primary on Tuesday.

Ms. Ogg conceded the race on Tuesday night after early voting results showed her trailing by more than 50 percentage points.

“If doing my job cost me my job, then I leave with my head held high,” Ms. Ogg said.

The outcome punctuated years of growing Democratic discontent with Ms. Ogg, the top prosecutor in Houston, that culminated in a steep political fall over the past year. A poll last month by the University of Houston showed Mr. Teare, who started the race as a virtually unknown candidate, leading Ms. Ogg by 38 points.

First elected in 2016, Ms. Ogg was part of a wave of Democrats who promised to make the criminal justice system less punitive. She was the first Democrat in decades to hold the job of district attorney in Harris County.

But she went on to become a lightning rod within her own party.

As voters have become more concerned about crime in urban areas, liberal district attorneys around the country have seen their political fortunes shift. They have occasionally drawn challenges even from moderate Democrats.

Ms. Ogg had seemed to adapt to those shifting political tides by tacking to the center and finding common cause with some conservatives. But in doing so, she opened herself up to attack from her left.

Many voters in the Democratic Party base in Houston saw her as going back on her promises in favor of a stricter law-and-order approach, and they accused her of forging alliances with Republicans against elected Democrats in the county.

Mr. Teare, 44, worked under Ms. Ogg as a division chief for felonies and vehicular crimes. He rode a wave of discontent among Democratic activists in Houston that included a formal admonishment of Ms. Ogg last year by county party insiders who accused her of betraying her party’s values.

Ms. Ogg also angered many Democrats by engaging in what became a public feud with the top elected Democrat in Harris County, Lina Hidalgo, the county judge. Ms. Ogg’s office indicted top aides to Ms. Hidalgo in the run-up to Ms. Hidalgo’s run for re-election in 2022, a move that was seen as an effort by Ms. Ogg to undercut the popular leader. Ms. Hidalgo narrowly won her race.

Ms. Ogg, who defeated primary challenges from her political left in 2020, faced an even tougher contest this time around.

Local organizers, including some from the progressive Working Families Party, rallied support for Mr. Teare, who spoke on the campaign trail about his mother, an actress who became addicted to heroin and left the family when Mr. Teare was a teenager. (She died more than a decade ago.)

He said that seeing her being arrested on a drug possession charge and how it affected her life had helped him to empathize with people who struggle with addiction.

In an interview before Tuesday’s primary, Mr. Teare said that he decided to challenge Ms. Ogg after watching several serious prosecutions fall apart and good prosecutors leave her office in frustration. He said the office “focused on the wrong types of crimes,” like low-level drug offenses and retail theft.

If he wins the general election in November, Mr. Teare said, he would seek to remake the district attorney’s office, aiming to both effectively prosecute violent offenders and to pursue alternatives to incarceration in certain cases of drug possession or theft. Those changes would be in line with a national criminal justice movement that includes district attorneys in places like Philadelphia.

“I see myself as a Texas version of that,” Mr. Teare said, meaning that his approach would be tailored to the state. “I don’t think Harris County is Philadelphia or Chicago.”

Republican politicians in the State Legislature have sought to rein in local district attorneys in Texas’ Democratic cities. A new law passed last year bars district attorneys from refusing to prosecute certain crimes — like abortion-related offenses or low-level marijuana possession — and provides for their removal if they do not comply.

In the general election in November, Mr. Teare will face a Republican, Dan Simons, a former Harris County prosecutor who ran unopposed in his party’s primary and, according to available filings, has not raised any money.

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