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San Francisco still needs big change

Candidate endorsements for the November 2022 election
Candidates for San Francisco District Attorney (left to right): Civil rights attorney Joe Alioto Veronese, incumbent DA Brooke Jenkins, private defense attorney John Hamasaki

The fact the Marina Times is still going is proof that god doesn’t exist.
— Tweet by former police commissioner John Hamasaki, who deleted nearly 9,000 tweets just before declaring his candidacy for San Francisco District Attorney

In October 2020 I wrote a column titled “San Francisco needs big change” in which I endorsed a lineup of district candidates running for the Board of Supervisors. Unfortunately, ranked-choice voting (RCV) — that pernicious, confusing alternative to a regular run-off style election — handed victories to several candidates who either didn’t win the most first-place votes or barely won after three rounds. The system is flawed, and the lack of qualified, competent supervisors currently seated is sad proof.

In next month’s election, all San Francisco voters will use RCV to elect the assessor-recorder, district attorney, and public defender, while those residing in even-numbered supervisorial districts (2, 4, 6, 8, and 10) will also elect members of the Board of Supervisors to represent them. According to the city’s Department of Elections, “With ranked-choice voting, voters rank their choices in order of preference — first choice, second choice, third choice . . .” but what they don’t say is more important: If you feel strongly about a single candidate, you don’t have to vote for a second and third choice.

Here are my endorsements (and a few non-endorsements) for candidates running in the Nov. 8, 2022, election:

SAN FRANCISCO DISTRICT ATTORNEY: BROOKE JENKINS

There are four candidates in the race and Jenkins, appointed to the position by Mayor London Breed after the recall of Chesa Boudin, is the only one with experience as a district attorney. Hired under Boudin’s predecessor, progressive lightning rod and now Los Angeles district attorney George Gascón, Jenkins has only been in office since July, but she’s making all the right moves. She assembled a strong team of experienced prosecutors, fired the public defenders Boudin hired to implement his radical agenda, and she’s listening to residents wishes by cracking down on dealers selling deadly fentanyl. Two people per day die of drug overdoses in San Francisco, and Jenkins has vowed to charge their dealers with second degree murder if her office can link a sale to an overdose death. Prosecutors in Riverside and San Bernardino counties are already charging drug dealers with homicide, as are officials in jurisdictions from Las Vegas to Maryland, with others following suit. Jenkins is also focused on making sure the punishment fits the crime and putting victims first — something Boudin didn’t do and was the catalyst for his ouster.

It is telling that Jenkins didn’t get an endorsement from the San Francisco Democratic Party, which is run by the far left-leaning governing body known as the Democratic County Central Committee, or SF DCCC. Many high-ranking Democratic officials have individually endorsed Jenkins, including Senator Scott Wiener, State Treasurer Fiona Ma, Sheriff Paul Miyamoto, Mayor London Breed, and supervisors Matt Dorsey, Rafael Mandelman and Ahsha Safai. The incumbent DA also has the support of the Alice B. Toklas LGBTQ Club, the Bay Area Reporter, the Chinese American Democratic Club, Grow SF, the Edwin M. Lee Asian Pacific Democratic Club, and other respected organizations. The DCCC, chaired by former Matt Haney aide and current District 6 supervisor candidate Honey Mahogany, chose to endorse former police commissioner John Hamasaki (more on that later). It was Mahogany who approved mailers equating recalling Boudin with losing abortion rights, a claim only slightly more ridiculous than endorsing Hamasaki — who is anti-law enforcement and advocates for gang members keeping their illegal firearms for “protection” — as San Francisco’s “top cop.” Clearly, the DCCC doesn’t speak for the majority of the City’s voters, since they also supported three school board members who were recalled in a landslide earlier this year.

THE CHALLENGERS

Maurice Chenier ran against then-incumbent District Attorney Kamala Harris in 2007 but dropped out. Chenier was born in San Francisco but moved to Los Angeles after law school (he returned to care for his ailing father). His experience as an attorney is in the private sector.

Joe Alioto Veronese is San Francisco political royalty, but the Alioto name, which once held so much cachet, isn’t enough anymore. Veronese has zero experience as a criminal prosecutor and currently represents employees against large corporations. He says he proves “racial animus” every day in court and wouldn’t “have a problem” charging hate crimes, but winning money for an employee is not the same as sending someone to prison, which is why the standard is higher. Veronese knows this, but he’s running a negative campaign against Jenkins’s “lack of experience,” despite the fact she’s the only one in the race who has served as both a deputy district attorney and district attorney. Also disingenuous is Veronese prefacing any mention of Jenkins with “interim” or “mayoral appointed” when he sought the same appointment. While I admire his mother Angela Alioto for her years of public service, she hasn’t helped her son. On Twitter, she claimed Veronese had raised the most money, but she was including funds from a separate campaign committee set up for the 2023 DA race. In reality, Veronese lags behind Jenkins and Hamasaki. Rather than tout their platforms during debates, both Veronese and Hamasaki spend their time dissing Jenkins, leaving some observers with the impression two men with only private sector experience believe they can do a better job than a woman with nearly a decade as a public prosecutor under her belt.

Former police commissioner John Hamasaki’s only experience has been as a private defense attorney at his own firm. He resigned from the commission last March because he didn’t have the votes to win reappointment in April, mostly due to his controversial social media posts. He said kids in gangs should be able to keep their firearms after being arrested, labeled Jenkins and this columnist as insurrectionists, and spewed obscenity-laced rants about the evils of law enforcement. In one post Hamasaki said there was no difference between the police department and the district attorney’s office and that both should be defunded.

In fact, Hamasaki deleted nearly 9,000 tweets prior to declaring his candidacy, and when you read them, you’ll understand why (he clearly didn’t understand that the internet is forever — find our searchable database of Hamasaki’s “deleted” tweets by clicking here).

Since declaring his candidacy, Hamasaki has contradicted himself time and again. Candidate Hamasaki said he would “hold fentanyl dealers accountable,” but the real Hamasaki tells a different story, standing firmly behind Boudin’s light touch: “The reason that former DA Boudin didn’t force convictions for ‘fentanyl’ is because that would trigger mandatory deportation,” he said in one tweet. He drops the F-bomb 34 times, including in reference to the now president and vice president of the United States: “Fuck Joe Biden and his racist campaign. Not sure why we expected an old segregationist to change, eh @SenKamalaHarris?”

Also disturbing is Hamasaki’s warped view on gang violence. He uses the term “gang” 126 times, but the majority refer to law enforcement. On June 22, 2022, he tweeted, “Deputy gangs giving you problems? Pesky politicians giving your city’s budget to the cops while defunding social services? We can help! Call Hamasaki + Sergienko at 1-800-COP-GANGS today to learn more!” In another post, he accuses the Los Angeles Police Department of a racially motivated conspiracy: “Are there gangs in LA? Sure, and there is a way to discuss this without racializing it and criminalizing Blackness … LAPD has a long and sordid history of fabricating gang membership for young Black men.” Regarding charging gang enhancements (something Boudin refused to do), Hamasaki says, “Labeling someone a gang member can result in more charges, enhancements, and more inflammatory evidence at trial. And add years to life in prison to a regular charge.” 

‘JUST SOME DOPE AND GUNS’

When someone posted that the release of two drug-trafficking suspects due to COVID leniency was absurd, Hamasaki responded, “Based on the article, I don’t see any history of violence. Just some dope and guns. What is it that concerns you?” Hamasaki was referring to a San Jose Mercury story on the arrests of Gamaliel Duran Avelar and George Washington after police seized seven handguns, an AR-15 rifle, 15 kilograms of cocaine, a pound of meth, and crack cocaine at their San Jose homes. The two were charged with crimes including being a felon in possession of a firearm, possession of cocaine, meth and crack for sale, and drug manufacturing. The district attorney on the case objected to their release, stating, ““Prior investigations by (Los Angeles) DEA into Duran and his network have revealed that he has associated with individuals linked to Mexican drug cartels to engage in drug sales. This exponential leap in criminal sophistication and cooperation with dangerous drug cartels shows that not only does Duran have a disregard for the law but he poses a serious safety risk to this community.” The contrast in opinions between an actual district attorney and a criminal defense lawyer running to be a district attorney couldn’t be starker.

Some of Hamasaki’s most outrageous takes refer to kids and firearms. “Taking a gun from one kid may as likely stop violence as end up in that kid getting killed,” he tweeted after New York City police displayed a stolen handgun recovered from a 17-year-old. “It may feel good to post this photo, but I’ve known too many kids who were killed for being in the wrong neighborhood (often their own) & being unable to protect themselves.” That tweet had many supervisors calling for his resignation, forcing Hamasaki to go on a media apology tour. After a Vice News headline reading “San Francisco Police Commissioner Doesn’t Want to Arm Teens” emerged, Hamaski joked “My guns for toddlers plan has apparently been foiled.” In a series of tweets from March of 2021, Hamasaki said “Many of my clients have been shot or shot at since they were 10-12 years old b/c of their neighborhood … Don’t come at me about gun violence … it’s not a simple stupid slogan like the war of drugs. People in some communities … need to protect themselves … I do not have the right to judge kids and families who protect themselves from being killed.” Clearly Hamasaki sympathizes more with those using illegal firearms than their victims. Unfortunately for Hamasaki, the DA job entails prosecuting those “kids and families,” allowing a jury to reach a verdict, and having a judge potentially send them to prison. (For more on Hamasaki’s deleted tweets, sign up for my free newsletter at https://susanreynolds.substack.com.)

Political consultant Richie Greenberg, an expert on the ranked choice voting system, says if you favor Jenkins keeping the job, there are a variety of ways to mark your ballot: “Option 1 is Brooke alone; option 2 is Veronese first, Brooke second; option 3 is Maurice first, Brooke second.” Most importantly, leave Hamasaki off your ballot completely.

DISTRICT 4: JOEL ENGARDIO

The race for District 4 is a simple choice between common-sense community leader Joel Engardio of Stop Crime S.F., a victim’s rights advocacy group, and unpopular incumbent Gordon Mar, who stood with Boudin and the three school board members while his constituents overwhelmingly voting to recall all four. In a recent debate, Mar mystifyingly lied about working with Boudin, despite numerous photos of them together and Mar’s name prominently displayed as an ally on Boudin’s website. His constituents remain angry about Mar’s support of Boudin and the school board members, especially Collins, who referred to Chinese Americans as “House N-words” in a series of racially charged tweets. Perhaps sensing his job is at risk, Mar has been even cozier than usual with the socialist leadership at the DCCC. It paid off with an endorsement on the Hamasaki ticket, but Mar is too out of touch to realize the DCCC doesn’t represent most of those who vote in his district.

DISTRICT 6: MATT DORSEY

Dorsey was appointed by Mayor Breed after Matt Haney ditched the job, just three lackluster years in, to become a member of the state assembly. Open about his battle with substance abuse, Dorsey is an out gay man living with HIV and has been a longtime public servant in San Francisco, working for years in the City Attorney’s Office and later as a spokesperson for the San Francisco Police Department. He hit the ground running, organizing neighborhood cleanup days, attending town hall meetings to listen to his constituents, and endorsing the recall of Boudin.

His challenger, Honey Mahogany, was an aide to Haney and is running on the same failed platform. Like her former boss, Mahogany supported Boudin, which means she also supported his refusal to go after fentanyl dealers (during his nearly three years in office, Boudin didn’t secure a single fentanyl sales conviction). Mahogany’s credentials are also questionable: during debates she has said she was Haney’s chief aide — something I actually wrote in the print version of this column — but upon further review it appears she was not (according to LinkedIn, Abigail Rivamonte Mesa was Haney’s chief of staff, and has continued in that role with Haney in Sacramento). While I applaud Mahogany’s advocacy for the trans community, that isn’t a qualification for leading the most troubled district in San Francisco. Also concerning is her role as chair of the DCCC, where she received what essentially amounts to a self-endorsement for the D6 supervisor job.

SAN FRANCISCO SCHOOL BOARD: ANN HSU

Hsu has been laser-focused on issues affecting students in a refreshing, no nonsense way. Hsu’s mayoral appointment came when three members of the school board were recalled for making the board a punchline on late-night talk shows after trying to cancel President Abraham Lincoln, a.k.a. “The Great Emancipator,” during an ill-fated attempt to rename the city’s schools by identifying “racists” via Wikipedia. My other endorsements go to Lainie Motamedi and Lisa Weissman-Ward.

SAN FRANCISCO SCHOOL BOARD: HARD PASS — GABRIELA LÓPEZ

López, just 30 at the time, was president of the school board when fed-up parents assembled a grassroots effort to recall her along with colleagues Alison Collins and Faauuga Moliga. Last February, more than 72 percent of the 176,000 voters supported López’s recall, while 76 percent supported the recall of Collins and 69% voted yes to recall Moliga. It takes a lot of arrogance or a lack of self-awareness or both to get back in the ring after such a resounding defeat.

During her previous reign, President López was often defiant and antagonistic (she once tweeted an emoji of the middle finger at parents) and accomplished nothing beyond embarrassing the district. Even comedian Bill Maher did a monologue on his HBO show about the absurdity of a board that spent more time trying to rename schools and paint over historic murals (with a proposed price tag in the tens of millions) than getting kids back to in-person learning. In 2021, the board approved a budget proposal to cut $50 million from schools and $40 million from headquarters staff in an effort to close a $125 million deficit and avoid a state takeover. The vote was 6-1, with López the only dissenter.

She also stood solidly behind her good friend Collins when Collins sued the district and the five board members who voted to remove her as vice president after the racist “Chinese American parents are house N-words” Twitter scandal. Collins later dropped the $87 million lawsuit after a federal judge issued a strongly worded dismissal of the case. The icing on the cake, though, was a New Yorker interview in which reporter Isaac Chotiner (perhaps unintentionally) made López look like an imbecile in an interview about the school renaming debacle. For example, after glancing at Wikipedia, Paul Revere Elementary School was to be renamed because of his role in the Penobscot Expedition of 1779, an assault on a British fort that the committee claimed, incorrectly, was intended to colonize the Penobscot people.

“It seems like we should have some sense of whether what they did was historically correct or not. No?” Chotiner asked to which López responded, “I’m open for that conversation.” Chotiner pushed further: “I just mentioned the Paul Revere thing. I know there was a question about James Russell Lowell and whether he wanted Black people to vote, which he was actually in favor of. The name of this businessman, James Lick, was ordered removed because his foundation funded an installation that didn’t go up until almost two decades after he died.” López replied, “Right, I see what you mean.” Just as López didn’t see a fit for historians on the school renaming committee, I don’t see a fit for López on the school board — especially since voters kicked her out once already. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

SAN FRANCISCO SCHOOL BOARD: HARD PASS — KAREN FLESHMAN

In the months leading up to Chesa Boudin’s removal, Fleshman was caught on video cutting down and stealing pro-recall election materials at the Japantown overpass. She obviously planned the theft, pulling a pair of scissors out to brazenly cut the ties. When confronted, Fleshman, with a banner bundled in her arms, defended her actions in support of Boudin, asking, “Why do you want to recall someone who is such a compassionate and intelligent leader?” A lawyer from New York who moved to the Bay Area in 2012, Fleshman should know better — and San Francisco students certainly deserve a better example. As for her platform, she doesn’t really have one beyond a strong mask mandate for children and a belief that white women must atone for racism (pretty ironic coming from a white woman named “Karen”). On her website, RacyConversations.com Fleshman says, “In 2014 I fixated on Mike Brown and the Ferguson protests. I saw in Mike Brown the many young adults I mentor. Black Lives Matter activists standing up to tear gas inspired me to move out, get divorced, and join the protests.” She describes herself as “an attorney, activist, single soccer mom, and a nationally recognized expert on racism, feminism, workplace fair practices, police brutality, and politics.” Nowhere does she mention an interest in public education or having the skillset to be a member of the board of education.

SAN FRANCISCO COMMUNITY COLLEGE BOARD: MARIE HURRABIEL

Marie Hurabiell was born and raised in San Francisco and still cares deeply for her hometown. She has an extensive track record of solid leadership and independent governance and is the only candidate in the race who has experience overseeing a successful academic institution as a member of the Georgetown University Board of Regents. The GrowSF voter guide, which I consider a good one to follow, says, “On the Presidio Trust, Hurabiell chaired the Finance and Audit Committee where she ensured issues flagged in audits were fixed. We think she would bring that fiscal experience to bear on the City College Board of Trustees. We also appreciate her no-nonsense responses about the issues the new enrollment system has caused.” In 2020, three years after City College of San Francisco emerged from an accreditation crisis that nearly shut it down, accreditors placed the school on “enhanced monitoring” because of its continued dire fiscal status. Hurabiell has the chops to help turn it around.

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Follow Susan Reynolds and the Marina Times on Twitter: @SusanDReynolds and @TheMarinaTimes.

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