David Onek, who has strong political connections and little courtroom experience, sent out a email today announcing that he wants to be San Francisco's next district attorney:
As many of you know, District Attorney Kamala Harris is very likely to become California's next Attorney General. DA Harris is a friend and I would never run against her, but her victory in November will open up the office as early as the end of this year. This means the time to get organized is right now.
He adds his name to the list of people, including former chief homicide prosecutor Jim Hammer, who want the job. But it's going to be an unconventional campaign, to say the least. Because if Harris wins, her successor won't be chosen by the voters of San Francisco.
There are three relevant scenarios here.
1. Harris loses the AG race. Entirely possible; she's got a tough campaign ahead of her. Then all of this talk is moot; Onek clearly isn't going to run against her, although Hammer might.
2. Harris wins the AG race, and Newsom loses his race for lieutenant governor. In that case, Newsom will be mayor of San Francisco when Harris resigns to move up to Sacramento -- and under the City Charter, he will appoint someone to serve out the rest of Harris's term.
3. Harris and Newsom both win -- in which case there's a fascinating legal issue. Do Harris and Newsom leave at the same moment -- in which case the Board of Supervisors appoint the next mayor, who appoints the next DA? Or does Newsom try to fill Harris's job before he resigns himself? In the end, Matt Dorsey, spokesperson for City Attorney Dennis Herrera told me, "that's a question that will be answered by the attorney general. Theoretically, it could get very complicated."
Under the state Constitution, the governor, lt. governor and attorney general all take office the same day, the first monday after Jan. 1st, which in this case is Jan. 3. The constitution doesn't say what time of day that happens. In theory, then, Harris could take the oath of office at 9 am, Newsom could wait until 10 am, and appoint a new DA in between. Then somebody who didn't get appointed (or, frankly, any angry citizen of San Francisco) could sue -- because if Newsom's term technically starts at 12:01 am Jan. 3d, then at that moment, by city law, the president of the Board of Supervisors instantly becomes mayor, meaning David Chiu should be the one making the DA appointment.
Or Harris and Newsom (and whatever other parties wanted to play ball) could cut a deal. Harris could resign a day early, and Newsom could appoint her replacement with no legal consequences at all. That would look sleazy as hell and be a rotten way for the mayor to start his term as lieutentant governor, but he could do it.
Of course, that will all depend on an interpretation from the attorney general on when the AG and lt. gov. terms actually begin -- and the AG at that point will be Jerry Brown, who may have just been elected governor on a ticket with Newsom and Harris.
What a clusterfuck.
At any rate, David Onek now has to build a campaign aimed not really at winning an election, but at convincing either Newsom or Chiu (or, potentially, the next mayor, who would be named by the supervisors) that he ought to be district attorney. Part of that calculation will hinge on whether he can hold onto the job when it comes up for a real election in November.
If it's a simple deal with Newsom, Onek will be relying on his political allies. He notes:
A broad range of leaders in government, in law enforcement and in the broader criminal justice community have already pledged their support - including former San Francisco City Attorney and Police Commission President Louise Renne, former state Treasurer Phil Angelides, Supervisor Carmen Chu, School Board Commissioner Hydra Mendoza, former Mayor Art Agnos, former Police Chief Heather Fong, Berkeley Law School Dean Christopher Edley, Jr., Police Commission President Joe Marshall and former Chief Probation Officer Jeanne Woodford.
Although I'm not sure that Newsom cares much these days what Louise Renne, Art Agnos or Phil Angelides think.
So what Onek -- and anyone else who wants to be the next DA -- needs to do is convince the next mayor that he's not only going to be a good chief prosecutor (already a hurdle for someone with no background as a prosecutor) but that he has the political ability to convince the actual voters that he's qualified. Otherwise he's just another Kim Burton waiting to happen.
I haven't been able to reach Onek yet to discuss all of this, but the minute he calls me I'll post an update.