Challenging Gascón in the D.A.'s race

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Challenging George Gascón in the District Attorney's race isn’t going to be a cake walk, even though he was Newsom’s former police chief and was registered as Republican until Newsom appointed him D.A. a few weeks ago.

Here’s why: 

Gascón has the next ten months to promote himself as San Francisco’s top prosecutor--and he's already working that angle.

He has an ally in Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom who tapped Gascón as his top cop, then used his support to pass sit/lie and oppose community policing.

And he has another powerful ally in former mayor Willie Brown, who helped former D.A. Kamala Harris rise to the top, and periodically uses his column in the Chronicle to promote his latest pet cause. Take Brown’s Jan. 16 column about how Newsom ended up appointing Gascón as D.A.

The way Brown tells it, Newsom narrowed down potential candidates to retired Judge Harry Low and D.A.'s office insider Paul Henderson, then called in Gascón for advice, who started lobbying for Henderson, until Newsom informed Gascón that he was now a candidate for the job.

“And with that, only two details had to be worked out - assessing the odds of Gascón winning re-election and making sure Henderson was taken care of,” Brown claimed. “Both were done by the next morning when we all sat down.”

But Brown’s version of events doesn’t quite seem to square with reality.

Political consultant Jim Stearns, who is running Paul Henderson’s campaign and has been in almost daily communications with his client in the past weeks,  told me that far from “being taken care of,” Henderson appeared to have been left agonizing over his future.

So, maybe Henderson was “taken care of,” but not quite in the way that Brown’s column implies.

Henderson hasn’t been returning calls since Gascón’s appointment, other than to say that Gascón called him with the news and that he is taking time to evaluate his options

But criminal justice reform advocate David Onek clearly still has both feet in the race.

In a Jan. 18 email that was titled "Time to Organize,” Onek reminded his supporters that “our campaign has always been about building the kind of grassroots network that can do more than win a campaign - but can bring tens of thousands of San Franciscans into the movement for a safer city through criminal justice reform.”

Onek, who has already organized 1,100 supporters and raised more than $160,000, told me that he was, “as surprised as everyone else” by Newsom’s decision to appoint Gascón to the D.A. post.

But he refused to speculate about “who is getting in or out of the race.”

"I'm focused on moving forward and building a grassroots campaign," Onek said.

As part of that effort, Onek's campaign recently announced a goal of hosting 500 community-based house parties.

“We already had a bunch of house parties early on,” Onek told me. “We feel great with where we are, and the great thing about San Francisco being a really small city is you can go out and meet the voters and build a robust grassroots network."

Still, Onek, who jumped into the D.A.'s race last summer, suddenly finds himself running against San Francisco’s former police chief. And he didn’t pass up the opportunity to point that out in his Jan. 18 missive to supporters:

“The election ahead will give us the chance to debate a newly appointed incumbent - the city's former police chief,” Onek wrote. “While I have enormous personal respect for the new DA, we have some significant differences and I am confident that our grassroots campaign will prevail."

One of those significant differences is the candidates’ views on the death penalty.
“I’m against the death penalty,” Onek said.

As such, Onek finds himself in the same philosophical camp as all the district attorneys elected in San Francisco in the last ten years. And opposed to Gascón, who told reporters that he is "not philosophically opposed to the death penalty,” shortly after Newsom appointed him as D.A.

And then there is Gascon’s history as a longtime Republican who only came out as a Democrat after he was appointed D.A.

Gascón says his parting of the ways with the Republican Party occurred over differences in opinion on immigration, equal rights for gays, and social services. But despite his potential negatives, his position as the current D.A. gives him a stage that’s hard to fight—unless you work in another D.A.’s office.

Take Alameda County Assistant District Attorney Sharmin Bock. She filed papers in the D.A.’s race the day after Newsom named Gascón as interim D.A., allegedly has the support of the Gettys, and her name was all over the media last week when she helped bust a prostitution ring in the East Bay

“Yesterday's multi-agency operation, stemming from the Hayward Police Department investigation, is a testament to this regional commitment,” stated Bock, who is in charge of Special Operations and Policy Development and head of the Alameda County Human Exploitation and Trafficking (HEAT) Watch Unit.

But lest anyone doubt that Gascón is playing to win, let it be known that he officially filed Jan. 20 in the D.A. Race

And in answer to the Guardian’s questions about possible conflict of interest in cases that he handled as chief, including police misconduct and crime lab issues, Gascón recently released a statement through Assistant District Attorney Seth Steward.

“We are conscious of the possibility of a conflict,” Gascón stated. “ We review everything on a case by case basis.  The Attorney General's Office has agreed to take cases as appropriate.”

So, while a Facebook page has been set up to send Gascón back to Arizona, don’t expect our silver-haired D.A. to heed their advice any time soon.