On Nov. 8, San Francisco will choose a District Attorney. The four candidates in the race, Brooke Jenkins, Joe Alioto Veronese, John Hamasaki, and Maurice Chenier, participated in a debate hosted by the USF Law School on Oct. 18. Moderated by Justice Ming Chin, a USF alumnus, and the first Chinese American to serve on the California Supreme Court, the lively debate featured the candidates’ stances on drug policing, criminal justice reform, and homelessness. Between the various mic difficulties and audience interjections, San Franciscans got a better look at what awaits them on their November ballots.
This position has caught national attention following the June recall of progressive District Attorney Chesa Boudin. A former public defender, Boudin had instituted controversial approaches to criminal justice. His critics pointed to his failure to procure a single felony conviction for fentanyl dealing as evidence of his failure in office. His supporters saw him as a champion of criminal justice reform.
According to the San Francisco Candidate Guide, the role of a DA is to investigate allegations of law violations, issue arrest warrants, and prosecute criminal cases. The DA’s office sets the tone for all criminal justice policy in the city.
Interim DA Brooke Jenkins’ political hopes
After being appointed by Mayor London Breed earlier this year, interim DA Jenkins is running to keep her position. She has worked as an attorney with several law firms, and started in 2014 as an Assistant DA where she worked until last October.
Jenkins’ campaign position as Chesa Boudin’s antithesis has gained her a forceful crowd of followers. She promises to fix everything that many feel Boudin did wrong: cracking down on drug dealers, prosecuting hate crimes against the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, and increasing consequences for violent and repeat offenders. “We cannot charge things because it is politically cute to do so,” said Jenkis at the debate, where she received overwhelming support.
As she walked into McLaren Conference Center, her constituents rose to their feet, cheering and flashing purple and yellow wristbands, the colors of her campaign. The crowd of Jenkins supporters loudly booed and hissed several times through the night, cutting off candidates who opposed Jenkin’s agenda. Last month, a poll conducted by her campaign named her a decisive front runner in the race, with 49% support.
Jenkins’ ethics have come under question in her short tenure as interim DA. She left the DA’s office last year after accusations of withholding evidence in a case. Her relationship with Mayor Breed hasn’t helped, as Breed has recently come under fire for having city appointees sign undated resignation letters.
Joe Alioto Veronese’s pro-police agenda
Veronese, a San Francisco native and DA candidate, criticized both Jenkins’ and Boudin’s policies. “When it comes to feeling safe, the only safe people are the fentanyl dealers,” Veronese said in an interview with the Foghorn. An alumnus of USF’s Law School, he has worked for the DA’s office, the Police Commission, and the Fire Commission in addition to practicing law at Alioto Law Firm.
Veronese also worked as a police officer for the city of San Francisco. In the debate, Veronese revealed that the footage of the Rodney King incident, a 1991 scandal in which footage of the LAPD beating a black man close to the point of death which ignited riots all over the country, inspired him to enter the Police Academy in hopes of sparking change. His relationship with law enforcement gave him an authoritative stance on reform issues such as the Defund the Police movement. “I will support the good police officers of this city,” he said at the debate.
Veronese’s campaign hinges on the promise to crackdown on common crimes in the city, such as fentanyl dealing and car break ins, as well as promises to expand the Innocence Commission in conjunction with the Public Defender’s Office and the Human Rights Commission. Veronese hopes to restart the Political Corruption Unit in response to the recent indiscretions in City Hall. He told the Foghorn his primary directive as DA will be to restore a better, safer San Francisco for his 13-year-old son.
The audience booed Veronese multiple times during the debate. These likely came from Jenkin’s supporters, who were displeased with his criticism of her policies, as well as his tendency to go over the time limit. Veronese repeatedly accused the current administration of ineffectuality and sloppy work. When asked about San Francisco’s recent Surveillance Ordinance, Veronese criticized the legislation for infringing on privacy, and called the ordinance an easily abused means of collecting evidence. In his words, “Go get a warrant!”
John Hamasaki’s independent stance
Another USF Law School alumnus running for the position of DA is John Hamasaki. Hamasaki spent several years as a trial attorney for the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office before founding Hamasaki Law in 2009, where he has been practicing since. Hamasaki also spent four years on the Police Commision in San Francisco. “I developed a broad expertise in policing,” Hamasaki told the Foghorn. He also spoke about the Police Commission’s “quasi-judicial capacity” in law enforcement. Hamasaki is regarded for his temperance and nonpartisanship on the Police Commission, a disposition he plans to carry into the DA’s office as well.
Hamasaki told the Foghorn his position as an independent candidate presents some initial challenges to the job of DA, distancing him from other city leaders, but he feels that it will protect him from political coercion. Critics of Chesa Boudin worry that if elected, Hamasaki’s policies will be a continuation of Boudin’s term in office. Alvin Lee, a member of Hamasaki’s campaign, told the Foghorn that Hamasaki is completely independent of the former DA.
Police reform distinguished Hamasaki from his counterparts. While all four candidates promise to be tougher on crime in some way, he is the only candidate to not vocally support the police department. “The interim district attorney has restarted the war on drugs, targeting minority communities disproportionately,” said Hamasaki at the debate, in response to a question on over-policing. “This administration has also suggested bringing back life in prison for someone who uses drugs with another person if that person happens to die.”
“Liar!” shouted one audience member. “Answer the question!” shouted another.
Maurice Chenier’s prosecution-heavy ideals
Maurice Chenier, another USF alumnus and DA candidate, has been practicing law for nearly 30 years. “I’ve been the victim of many crimes,” Chenier told the Foghorn. He became involved with the DA’s office in 2005, when his nephew, Max Chenier, was murdered in San Francisco. Chenier felt that then DA Harris did not prosecute the case properly.
Among Chenier’s grievances is a car robbery that forced Chenier to leave tax school when his textbooks were stolen. “I’ve paid the price in blood here,” Chenier told the Foghorn, “I’ve actually bled on these streets.” Chenier’s campaign is heavily centered around “prosecuting crimes to the fullest extent of the law” as his campaign blog states four times in a paragraph. Chenier’s critics worry that his policies will deepen the divides in San Francisco. But Chenier dismisses this idea. Crime hurts the economy, and by fighting crime, Chenier feels that he will boost economic development. “You won’t hear ‘Defund the Police’ out of me,” said Chenier.
A guide to voting logistics
San Francisco is one of 53 U.S. cities that uses ranked-choice voting (RCV) for local elections. On the ballot, each voter lists a first, second, and third choice for DA. In the first round of voting, all first choice votes are counted. If no one candidate has received more than 50% of the votes, the candidate with the least votes is eliminated and all the ballots with that candidate listed as first choice are counted towards their second choice candidate. This is repeated until a candidate receives a majority of votes.
Mathematics Professor Stephen Devlin spoke about the statistical complications that arise with ranked choice voting to better understand the ramifications of this voting style. Devlin explained that it eliminates the pressure to vote for a mediocre candidate who is likely to win over a more qualified candidate. This does away with the idea of a “wasted vote.” “There’s also an idea that RCV can make campaigns less negative since candidates need to court 2nd and 3rd place votes,” said Devlin. But ranked choice voting has its downsides, and the unique vote counting method poses unique challenges.
When asked about the role of USF students specifically, “Vote,” Hamasaki said. “Voting is the foundation of our democracy.”
“You are the next generation, and before you know it you will be world leaders,” responded Chenier. “You have to grab the mantles and lead.”
Students can register to vote at bit.ly/usfvotes. USF will be a polling place on Nov. 8. Students can vote at Koret Health Center’s Swig Gymnasium or room 281 in the Masonic Building. To find out more about the candidates, USFVotes recommends Cal Matters, League of Women’s Voters, and NPR for politically neutral information.
Sophia McCrackin is a second-year politics major with journalism and economics minors. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org