District attorney’s race shaping up to be a lively one 

With the circus-like atmosphere surrounding City Hall these days, casual observers may have a few critical questions.

Like, has the city of San Francisco lost its collective mind? And, possibly, if so many people are lining up to run to be the next district attorney, how come it’s been so hard to find a suitable interim replacement?

If I told you that the answer to the first question was directly tied to the second, I doubt you’d be surprised, since San Francisco apparently likes political intrigue and back-stabbing more than it likes sensibility or sunshine.

It also apparently likes crowded political campaigns, so better to appease The City’s myriad constituencies.

Although the race for district attorney will be swayed by whoever gets the interim appointment from Mayor Gavin Newsom before he leaves office, the field is rapidly taking shape and promises to be much more lively than a courtroom audience. The big question is whether it will be decided by competency or politics — two issues that have come up frequently in relation to the office in recent years.

In the latest turn in the campaign, a veteran Alameda County prosecutor is expected to formally announce her entrance into the race tomorrow, a woman who has more trial experience than the rest of her competitors, though she lacks some local name recognition.

Assistant District Attorney Sharmin Eshraghi Bock, who has gained a national reputation for her work in handling human trafficking cases, told me she is entering the race as a “results-oriented” candidate who would bring a regional approach to prosecuting crime.

Bock has been in the highly regarded Alameda County District Attorney’s Office for 21 years and was recently appointed to head the special operations unit that handles “cold case" crimes using DNA research. She also directs the Human Exploitation and Trafficking Unit and last year was honored with the Fay Stender Award from California Women Lawyers for her commitment to disadvantaged people.

“To be successful you need collaborative work with a lot of agencies," Bock said. “But the bottom line is to let people know San Francisco will not be a welcome mat for criminals."

The insider in the group will be Paul Henderson, who is the head of administration in the District Attorney’s Office and is the handpicked successor of Kamala Harris. Henderson has raised his profile in recent years as a frequent legal commentator on nationally syndicated shows, and is generally well-liked at the Hall of Justice.

Still, being inside the office he’s seeking hasn’t always proved a winning formula, though Henderson has assembled a veteran political team.

So far the most aggressive candidate has been David Onek, a senior fellow at the UC Berkeley Center for Criminal Justice and a former San Francisco Police Commissioner, who has already raised $160,000 for the November campaign and last week received the endorsement of the California Police Chiefs Association.

Onek, a Stanford Law School graduate, has long been burning to run for higher office in San Francisco, perhaps a nod to his political background: He’s married to the daughter of former Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis.

Some people may question the fact that Onek has no courtroom experience — but Onek isn’t one of them.

“The job isn’t to be the chief trial attorney for San Francisco," he said. “The job is to manage the office, set policy and have a vision for the department. I feel extremely well-qualified.”

One name that crops up almost daily is that of Jim Hammer, a former homicide prosecutor in the District Attorney’s Office who garnered headlines for getting murder convictions in the infamous Knoller dog-mauling case.

Hammer, now on the Police Commission, told me that he still may enter the race depending on what happens in the coming weeks. “Out of all the work I’ve done, nothing gave me more satisfaction than what I did in the DA’s office," he said. “But I think experience is going to be critical for whoever heads the office."

As we know from the recent crime lab scandal and the exploits of some of its past leaders, satisfaction is not a word often associated with the district attorney.

The next 10 months should help tell us how much of it we can expect.

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Ken Garcia

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