SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) – San Francisco voters may have shocked the nation in the spring by recalling self-styled “progressive prosecutor” Chesa Boudin from the office of district attorney, but longtime city politics observers knew better, as the city’s reputation as a left-wing, Democratic bastion sometimes conceals many shades of blue.
Boudin won his position in 2019, after all, after narrowly beating Suzy Loftus, who was the choice of the city’s regular Democratic Party organization — and was controversially tapped by Mayor London Breed to replace outgoing District Attorney George Gascon (now of LA fame) just weeks before the election.
When Breed named Brooke Jenkins, a former assistant district attorney, as her second appointment to be the City By The Bay’s top prosecutor, it was only till such time as an election could be held. That time is now upon us, and whoever wins Tuesday will serve out the rest of Boudin’s term. Three of the four candidates spoke with KRON4 News in recent days:
Jenkins was not one of those, first accepting than declining an interview request, citing limited media availability due to the attack on Paul Pelosi last week.
Jenkins had been an assistant district attorney, who quit the office in 2021 to work on the effort to recall her then-boss Boudin, who was facing nationwide media scrutiny for alleged mismanagement of the office, and blame for open-air drug dealing and violent crime generally. He publicly disagreed with Breed’s crackdown in the Tenderloin late last year.
Jenkins struck a tough tact upon her appointment, pledging to crack down on drug dealing by revoking misdemeanor plea offers for fentanyl dealers. (The city has seen more people die from drug overdoses this decade, almost 2,000, than from COVID-19.) In 2021, the year before his recall, Boudin won just three drug dealing convictions, according to the San Francisco Standard. Now, Jenkins said she would consider homicide charges for drug dealers linked with overdose deaths.
Her law-and-order message seems to be resonating with San Francisco voters; as KRON4 News reported last month, she is the only political figure in San Francisco who has a net positive approval rating in a recent poll.
But Jenkins’ tenure, as her three opponents will say, has been shaped by concerns her office may have fealty to the mayor’s. The state Attorney General’s office denied Jenkins’ request to take over the case of Breed’s brother, who is appealing a 44-year-prison sentence, after Jenkins fired the prosecutor on the case. The attorney for Breed’s sibling Napoleon Brown has accused Jenkins of bias in the pages of the San Francisco Chronicle.
And none of that touches upon allegations of personal dishonesty. Jenkins said her role with the recall was strictly voluntary, but as it turned out, she was paid more than $100,000 to consult a nonprofit formed by a billionaire who helped bankroll the recall effort. Now, this past month, the 40-year-old is facing allegations she may have broken the law in forwarding files from the DA’s office to colleagues’ personal emails before they were used in the recall, Mission Local reports.
Joe Alioto Veronese
Scion of a San Francisco political dynasty, Alioto Veronese is a former police and fire commissioner. He announced his campaign for DA before Boudin’s recall, and his message this race has combined Jenkins’ concern over public safety with allegations she is beholden to Breed.
“The No. 1 issue is safety,” Alioto Veronese told KRON4 News. “When they [voters] walk down the street, they want to feel safe. They want accountability in the criminal justice system … all the things the DA should be doing that she’s currently not doing.”
When asked why voters shouldn’t give Jenkins more time to implement change in the DA’s office, Alioto Veronese said that if he’s elected, voters won’t have to wait for him to go after other cities and municipalities who send homeless people to San Francisco for city services.
Alioto Veronese said that Jenkins’ discrepancy about being paid vis a vis the recall “speaks to the ethics” of the DA’s office.
“She lied about receiving salary from a nonprofit while working for a political organization,” Alioto Veronese said. “She has a problem with the truth. At a police officer level, we call those people bad cops. We have that at the highest level of our criminal justice system.”
All in all, Alioto Veronese said his goal is to restore “the version of San Francisco I grew up with” where people were less afraid of crime.
“You’re going to have a significant change in attitude in the first 60 days,” he said. “You’re going to have a fighter for San Francisco.”
John Hamasaki, a former police commissioner, is the No. 1 endorsement of the city’s Democratic Party organization for district attorney. (Alioto-Veronese won a No. 2 endorsement at the same time.)
Hamasaki told KRON4 News that the district attorney’s office is often blamed for problems of public safety that actually arose in City Hall.
“Unless they intersect with the criminal justice system, the DA’s only way to address it is to use their platform to raise the issue of City Hall’s lack of action on issues,” Hamasaki said. “The top issues for voters have been homelessness, substance use and mental health. Those may intersect with the criminal justice system but the city needs to do a better job at the front end. A lot of that comes from City Hall, which has not done a good job on those issues.”
Hamasaki said he is “not going to criminalize people with substance abuse issues,” and that police need to focus on “mid-level” and “upper-level” drug dealers to get a handle on the problem.
In terms of property crime, Hamasaki suggested something similar: finding the heads of criminal gangs of auto burglars.
“Taking away the incentive from people sending people to steal goods is a way to disrupt property crime,” he said. “Ultimately, that’s where we need to work with law enforcement partners and other stakeholders. … The easiest way to drive up drug stats is drug busts. Those are fine, but they don’t do anything because they don’t go further up the line.”
Maurice Chenier ran against now-U.S. Vice President, then-SF DA Kamala Harris, in 2007, but dropped out. The attorney got involved in politics after he disapproved of the DA’s office’s conduct in the case prosecuting the alleged killer of his nephew.
Chenier’s nephew was killed when he was 23 in the city’s Oceanview neighborhood. Chenier feels justice was not served after numerous witnesses were not called to testify, he said, leading to a grand jury not indicting the suspect.
Chenier blames Harris and “these progressive/lenient policies in place from 2004 all the way through and including the end of the Boudin administration” for miscarriages of justice.
He said he thinks “Jenkins’ heart and intentions are in the right place,” but that “her current staff structure” of assistant district attorneys will prevent the kind of changes he wants to see in the office.
Chenier said he wants to give people arrested for drugs one opportunity to seek help after an arrest.
“You’re going to get yourself clean and you will have an opportunity not to go to jail,” he said.
But the opportunities for reform won’t be endless. Chenier said he will “ensure compliance” if people take advantage of the system.
“I think that’s fair,” he said. “I plan to be draconian on those [drugs] and seek maximum sentences and maximum enhancements.”
He said citizens should put up cameras so that a system of “citizen imposed surveillance” is created.
“Then all the DA’s office has to do is subpoena,” he said. “I plan to be very aggressive.”
Chenier is the only candidate running who is not a registered Democrat; he has no party preference.
Other stories from Your Local Election HQ:
The San Francisco Standard’s October poll showed a whopping 61% of voters are undecided in the race. Jenkins was No. 1 with 25% saying they’d definitely vote for her.