District attorney candidates slug it out

by Jonathan Farrell

The three favored candidates running for the San Francisco district attorney's office spoke to Sunset District residents at a special community meeting hosted by the Sunset Heights Association of Responsible People (SHARP) on July 25.
Sharmin Bock, David Onek and current District Attorney George Gascon made strong and very personable presentations to more than 40 people at the SHARP clubhouse, located on Ninth Avenue, that Monday evening. 
Bock stressed the importance of experience as a prosecutor and said "someone from the trenches" of courtroom trials and the criminal justice system is crucial to the job of district attorney.
Gascon, the incumbent district attorney, was appointed to step in for District Attorney Kamala Harris when she was elected as the California State Attorney General.
Gascon emphasized that as a former chief of police he has lots of experience managing and overseeing many departments. As for the job of DA, he sees it is more than just working with law enforcement and criminal justice groups; it is about collaboration and management. 
David Onek, who served as a city police commissioner, sees his role as that of a reformer. Onek said he views the criminal justice system in San Francisco as "broken." He said his work as an advocate, activist and intervention coordinator has made a positive impact on the lives of many.
Like Gascon, Onek was clear about the need for collaboration between many departments, especially within the larger community working with law enforcement and the justice system to make San Francisco a safer place to live. 
All three candidates stressed the importance of independent leadership, saying leadership must be free of special interests and particular political agendas, which can hurt the morale of the district attorney's office. All three noted that they are committed to the criminal justice system and are here to stay; that their career is one of public service – not self-serving political career climbing. 
Gascon and Onek were critical of one another and of Bock, who only talked about her experience and credentials for the job. Bock has worked as an assistant DA in the Alameda County DA's office for 22 years.
Gascon noted that he has more experience for the job than Onek, who has no experience as a prosecuting attorney but has amassed more than 1,800 endorsements.
Gascon feels his experience is more expansive, broadened and can manage the many aspects of responsibility required.
Bock and Onek disagreed with Gascon and his emphasis on strong management skills. Gascon currently oversees 250 employees in the SF District Attorney's Office.
Bock reiterated several times the importance of having experience as a prosecutor as key to the role. As a district attorney, she must be a leader and set an example for the attorneys in her care.
"A prosecutor knows people's lives are on the line and there is no room for error," Bock said. 
All three said they would be tough on violent crime as well as crimes that victimize the most vulnerable, such as women, children, the elderly, workers and immigrants.
All three are against the death penalty, saying it is costly, time-consuming and is often not fair and balanced. People of color, the poor and those wrongly accused get stuck on death row, they claim.
"Time is better used bringing to trial unsolved cases," Bock said. 
All three candidates understood the importance of crime prevention by intervention and helping youth and those with treatable mental conditions get out of the rut of the cycle of an imbalanced criminal justice system with over-crowded prisons.
The candidates also agreed that homelessness must not be criminalized and that better programs and approaches to the issue must be sought.
Bock said she would work to make it so those with criminal inclinations would not find San Francisco an easy haven for destructive, violent and criminal activities. 
Endorsed by Congresswoman Jackie Speier, Bock emphasized her experience as a prosecuting attorney and leadership in dealing with serious, difficult crimes. 
Onek said he wants to work as a reformer and fix the San Francisco criminal justice system.
Elections will be held in November. For more information, visit the City and County of San Francisco's website at www.sfgov2.org.