Avalos for mayor. Mirkarimi for sheriff. Onek for district attorney. Yes on C, No on D, E, and F ... complete endorsements for the San Francisco election
There are reasons that no police chief in the United States has become a district attorney — certainly not in modern history. The D.A. and the cops have to work together, but they also have to have a certain degree of separation — or there are inevitable, unacceptable, unworkable conflicts of interest. And while Gascon talks about transparency, he's fighting the release of a crucial memo on problems in the crime lab.
So we're looking for a new district attorney, and there are three contenders, each of them with strengths and weaknesses.
Our first choice is David Onek, whose career in nonprofit and academic work leaves him short of the courtroom and management experience we'd like to see in the next D.A. but who has by far the strongest credentials and agenda for reform. He starts off every interview and discussion by saying that the criminal justice system in California is broken — not bent, not sprained, not in need of a little attention, but utterly broken. The entire premise that's driven criminal law in the past several decades — that offenders, including nonviolent and drug offenders, need to be sent to prison for longer and longer terms — has proven a failure. "We're arresting and prosecuting people just fine," he told us. "We need to reform the system." And San Francisco could make a national statement by electing a district attorney who wants to change criminal justice, not just make it work better.
Onek's strong focus on juvenile justice would be a profound policy shift — juvie is typically a secondary thought in the justice system. Onek promised never to charge a youthful offender as an adult without going before a judge first — and would do that only in rare cases. His plan is to get kids out of the justice system before they become hardened criminals. He's also talking about working on employment opportunities for ex-offenders. He has always been opposed to the death penalty, and we think he's taking seriously the need for more aggressive investigation and prosecution of political corruption.
Onek has never tried a case — a major drawback. On the other hand, neither has the incumbent. We acknowledge that putting someone with negligible prosecutorial experience in the top job is a stretch — but the justice system is such a mess that we're willing to gamble on an idealistic reformer.
Two qualified, experienced prosecutors are also in the race. We give a slight edge to Sharmin Bock, who has spent her career in the Alameda County District Attorney's Office. Bock's spent a lot of time working on crimes against women and portrays herself as in independent, which is both good and bad: Good because it would give her an outsiders perspective on the office, bad because, unlike Alameda County's D.A., San Francisco's prosecutor is part of the local political infrastructure. But she does have some background prosecuting bad cops — she was part of the office that went after Oakland's notorious Riders.
Bill Fazio, who was a San Francisco prosecutor and is now a defense lawyer, shares Bock's courtroom experience. And his days on the defense side of the aisle have changed some of his perspectives — the one-time tough-on-crime guy who in 1999 ran for this office as a death-penalty advocate now agrees that executions are a terrible mistake. He's a little shaky on drug crimes ("it's only a problem when it's a problem") and to this day, he says the prosecution of the Fajitagate cops was "ridiculous" (wrong, Bill — there was a systemic cover-up, and it's too bad the top brass got away with it). But we'll give him our final nod.
1. Ross Mirkarimi