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The district attorney of San Francisco is a rising star in the world of progressive politics.
Kamala Harris, the district attorney of San Francisco, was one of Senator Barack Obama’s elite team of supporters who orchestrated his win in the first Presidential Primary in Iowa. D.A. Harris is a young, energetic, brilliant attorney who is in her second, four-year term as district attorney. When she was sworn in for her second term, Harris said, “Having been in this job for the last four years, I’ve learned a few things. I’ve walked the halls of both our state Capitol and nation’s Capitol as San Francisco’s D.A. and I can tell you firsthand that it’s going to require a firm and courageous commitment to get this crucial work done. We’re all here today because while we achieved a lot over the last four years, there are still a lot of challenges, and a lot to be thankful for.”
Harris spoke to the Sentinel about her future plans and said, “People are asking me to run for attorney general, if Jerry Brown (California’s attorney general and former governor) runs for governor and I am thinking about that possibility, if he decides not to run again. I would not run against Jerry Brown.” However, she was pleasantly hesitant when asked about the possibility of the attorney general’s post in an Obama administration. “We’ll just have to take one thing at a time,” she responded. Her alignment with the historic Obama campaign could position her for that eventuality.
Karen Bass, Speaker of the California State Assembly, who has worked with Harris, thinks it is a good idea. Bass said, “When I first heard she was interested in running for attorney general, I thought California or U.S. attorney general? I could see her in either job.”
Harris was one of the first elected officials in California to endorse Obama for president; she knew the senator prior to his campaign for the presidency when he was running for the U.S. Senate. As a matter of fact, both Harris and Obama have similar racial backgrounds - one White and one Black parent - and it is reported they physically appear to be related. Harris and Obama are both lawyers and activists.
Bass, who co-chairs the state campaign for Obama along with Harris, has described her as, “very, very smart with a commitment to a course of values that are based on social justice. It’s very interesting that she chose to be a district attorney and it’s fascinating to hear her views on the justice system,” Bass said, “ I am very glad she’s a D.A. because she is committed to our community and understands the disproportionate amount of African-Americans that are tied up in the justice system. I have worked together with her on legislation, as a matter of fact, we are doing legislation right now to help people re-enter society after they have been convicted.”
As a delegate at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, she said, “I’m on the platform committee and one of the co-chairs for California. I have been involved with the leadership of the campaign and a long-standing supporter of Barack.” The historical nature of the campaign seemed to have a powerful meaning for Harris as she explained, “I am thrilled and excited. It’s about time; it’s too bad that we are still doing ‘firsts’ in this country. But I think that the Obama candidacy and when he becomes the President of the United States, we are going to see a real shift in this country around very important issues not only domestic but how we are perceived as a country abroad.”
Not only is Harris one of California’s most powerful women in public office, but she also has the support of some of the state’s powerful women in public office, and the Bay Area community in general. Her support includes Congresswomen Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer (D-California), the San Francisco Democratic Party Committee and the San Francisco Chronicle. The paper’s editorial board stated: “Kamala Harris provides a chance to have the best of both visions of a district attorney’s office. She is highly competent, dedicated to law enforcement and a force for innovation.”
Harris brings to the D.A.’s office justice in a different way, with a unique combination of prosecutorial power and a belief in second chances. Reportedly, she is firm but fair. As the first female and African American district attorney to be elected in the state of California, Harris is standing on solid historic grounds and she is considered a rising star in the legal community nationally. “When each of us is able to do what was imagined we couldn’t do before, we create a path for others to come behind us and we must be obviously dedicated to that,” Harris said.
Her legal background is as impressive as her current position. Graduating with a law degree from the University of California, Hastings College of Law in 1990, Harris started as a deputy district attorney in Alameda County before moving to the San Francisco District Attorney’s office. Not only did she receive the prestigious Thurgood Marshall award from the National Black Prosecutors Association, but she was also recognized as one of the top 100 lawyers in California.
As San Francisco’s top law enforcement officer, Harris has had to stand firm on her position against the death penalty in two high profile cases, which demonstrated that she has what it takes to remain steadfast when the road gets bumpy. The first case was the death of a police officer and the second was a multiple murder case. She faced tough opposition in both cases from the powerful law enforcement community and from California’s former attorney general. In the end, Harris won because she stood on solid legal ground.
Despite some rough spots related to those incidents, Harris is optimistic about her work as D.A. “Everything is working quite well; it really is a matter that I am doing everything that’s important to keep the community safe and doing everything that we can for public safety,” she said, “and working together in a coordinated way with law enforcement.”
Like Harris, attorney Shawn Chapman Holley is a legal dynamo. She was a member of Johnnie Cochran’s ‘Dream Team’ in the famous O.J. Simpson trial and has observed Harris’ rise in the legal community. “She first stood out for me during the killing of a police officer in San Francisco,” Chapman Holley explained. “It was one of her first high profile cases as district attorney in which she had to decide whether or not to seek the death penalty. In cases like that there is a lot of pressure from the police union,” she continued, “and she stood up to that pressure and made a decision not to seek the death penalty. In my opinion, irrespective of what you think about that decision, the fact that she was able to follow her own conscience, and did what she thought was the right thing to do, notwithstanding the police union and political pressure towards her as a young district attorney, I think was phenomenal. She demonstrated tremendous courage and backbone.”
In 2007, she ran unopposed and was elected to a second term, the same year Obama announced his candidacy for the presidency.