District Attorney Brooke Jenkins could have a real race on her hands.
John Hamasaki, a criminal defense attorney best known for his vocal criticisms of the police as a member of the civilian Police Commission, pulled papers with the Department of Elections Thursday, signaling his intent to jump into the November contest against Jenkins.
Hamasaki has until 5 p.m. Friday to submit nomination documents and pay a $5,886 fee to formally become a candidate.
Hamasaki said he has been considering throwing his hat into the ring for a long time but decided to run following recent “public ethics and integrity revelations” about Jenkins. On Tuesday, The Standard first reported that Jenkins earned more than $100,000 from a nonprofit closely tied to the Boudin recall—while publicly casting herself as a volunteer for the effort.
“Every act that we’ve seen with the new DA has only added to the corruption, incompetence and mismanagement of the District Attorney’s office,” Hamasaki said. “The District Attorney’s Office needs a leader who is experienced in management, who is experienced in policy who is experienced in working with people on the ground of all types.”
John Hamasaki works at his desk during a portrait session in his law office in San Francisco, Calif., on Thursday, August 11, 2022. Hamasaki filed papers with the Department of Elections on Thursday to run for DA. | Juliana Yamada/The Standard
His potential entrance into the race sets up what stands to become a fierce contest between Hamasaki, who could secure backing from the progressive faction of City Hall politics, and Jenkins, whom Mayor London Breed appointed July 8 to succeed recalled District Attorney Chesa Boudin and who has the endorsements of leading moderates.
But Hamasaki and Jenkins aren’t the only two potential candidates in the running.
Joe Alioto Veronese—another former police commissioner whose lineage in local politics dates back to his grandfather, former Mayor Joe Alioto—intends to run in the center of Jenkins and Hamasaki, while attorney Maurice Chenier has also filed papers.
Boudin, who opted out of challenging Jenkins in November but could run again in the future, has not yet endorsed a candidate. He told The Standard that Hamasaki has not asked for his endorsement but would consider offering his support if asked.
“I’m happy to see candidates in the race who are truly independent of the mayor and would be accountable to the people of San Francisco if elected,” Boudin said.
Jim Ross, a San Francisco political consultant who led the Boudin campaign against the recall, called Hamasaki a “very viable” option.
“He gives voters a real strong option and will be a strong contrast to Brooke Jenkins,” said Ross, who is not involved in the current race. “I think he has real proven integrity.”
Ross also said that the recent report about Jenkins earning a six-figure salary could burden her campaign and make it harder for her to broaden her base.
Hamasaki, who runs his own law practice and served as president of the Bay Area Asian American Bar Association in 2020, has lived in North Beach for 28 years. He was born in Miami, Florida, to a white mother and Japanese-American father.
Hamasaki served on the Police Commission from June 2018 until stepping down at the end of his term this April. He was frequently the most willing member of the oversight body to question SFPD Chief Bill Scott during meetings.
Tensions between him and the chief notably erupted in February when Hamasaki challenged Scott over his threat to pull out of a reform agreement with Boudin on who investigates police shootings.
A fight between SF police & DA Chesa Boudin erupted this week when an agreement on police shooting investigations was broken.
One of the DA’s defenders is police commissioner John Hamasaki, who called out SF's police chief in a finger-pointing, charged confrontation. (1/11) pic.twitter.com/aIwQZSW0wR
— The Paloalto Digest (@sfstandard) February 5, 2022
Hamasaki is also a controversial figure for making his views known on Twitter, where he writes posts that seem intended to get a rise out of his ideological opponents.
One of his posts in particular landed him in hot water last year when Hamasaki tweeted an “uncomfortable truth” about teenagers carrying guns in response to New York police posting about seizing a stolen pistol from a 17-year-old suspect. Hamasaki said he was trying to convey that people live in danger of gun violence and at times need to protect themselves.
The tweet led to calls for his resignation from supervisors on the moderate side of the aisle, Catherine Stefani and Ahsha Safai, as well as criticism from Supervisor Myrna Melgar. Hamasaki fired back at Melgar by citing a tweet about her sister’s connection to the troubled police department in Vallejo. He ultimately apologized for the response.
Commissioner, this sends the absolute wrong message. Shootings have spiked over the course of the past year, killing far too many young people in our city. If you’re not up for the task of keeping all San Franciscans safe, you should step aside. https://t.co/GIiAo8Euhp
— Supervisor Catherine Stefani (@SupStefani) March 2, 2021
Reached by phone Thursday, Melgar said she would not support Hamasaki’s candidacy for district attorney and that he may have faced an uphill battle even securing a second term on the Police Commission following his social media gaffe.
Melgar said there was a double standard for female politicians like Jenkins, who has faced criticism for lacking experience, compared to men like Boudin or Hamasaki.
“This guy now walks in and he has never been a prosecutor, he has been a criminal defense attorney, he has never worked for the government and yet he feels like he can be the top prosecutor for the city,” Melgar said. “I feel like the misogyny in that is really, really ripe”
In response, Hamasaki acknowledged that men and women are held to a different standard in society and that he would work to address the issue as district attorney.
Hamasaki said he doesn’t think his fiery tweets will cause problems for his campaign.
“We’re in a different world,” Hamasaki said. “My 93-year-old dad has Facebook … Has every tweet of mine been on point? No. But I think that in trying to challenge the failures of the criminal justice system and the failures of city politics in San Francisco, I have definitely not held back.”
Despite his controversial tweets, Hamasaki’s potential candidacy could still throw a wrench in Jenkins’ plan to win in November and serve out the remainder of Boudin’s term through 2023.
The city’s ranked-choice voting system rewards candidates who may not be the first choice of voters but are considered more preferable options in second, third, fourth and so on. Hamasaki could secure many of the progressive votes that would have gone Boudin’s way had the recalled district attorney decided to make a go at winning back his job.
Jenkins, whose campaign declined to comment on Hamasaki’s foray into the race, will likely secure many of the votes that were cast for Boudin’s ouster after she volunteered as the spokesperson for the recall. But she has never run a campaign and was not particularly well known in political circles until the recall started gaining steam earlier this year.
As for Alioto Veronese, he told The Standard on Thursday that he is positioning himself as a middle-ground option for progressives and moderates. He called the reform efforts under Boudin “a failed experiment” and Jenkins’ appointment a “coup” orchestrated by recall supporter and billionaire William Oberndorf.
“When it comes down to it, it’s going to be me versus Jenkins and I’m going to be taking votes from the progressives and taking votes from the moderates,” Alioto Veronese said. “I’m not going to be pigeonholed into one constituency.”
Sam Singer, a San Francisco political consultant who is not involved in any of the campaigns, said Hamasaki’s reputation and actions on the Police Commission should invigorate the race.
“He’s a very divisive figure,” Singer said. “He is such a firebrand and so unreasonable, it makes him unqualified to be a public servant of any kind. That being said, I have respect for his views. He will make for a lively candidate and a very good bullseye for anyone who wants to go after the progressive left.”
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