Incumbents Have Edge in Contra Costa, Santa Clara and Solano District Attorney Races

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A composite image of five headshots next to one another. At the very left is a man in a suit. To his right is a woman in a zip up jacket. To her right is a man in a suit and tie. To his right is a woman in a white button down. To his right is a woman with glasses and a pearl necklace.
From left to right: Sajid Khan is a challenger running to be DA of Santa Clara County. Diana Becton is the DA of Contra Costa County, running for reelection. Terry Wiley is running for Alameda County DA. Tori Verber Salazar is the DA of San Joaquin County, running for reelection. Sharon Henry is a challenger for the Solano County DA position. (Courtesy of candidates)

In a number of primary races for district attorney in counties around the Bay Area, incumbent DAs — both liberal and more conservative — were holding on to their offices. Sitting prosecutors in Contra Costa, Santa Clara and Solano counties had strong leads over their challengers. But in San Joaquin County, the progressive DA was in a tight race with her Republican challenger. In the race for an open seat in Alameda County, a progressive and a more traditional candidate were the top two early vote-getters.

District attorney elections in California have become increasingly heated in recent years, with progressive candidates facing off against more traditional law-and-order prosecutors, in a bid to reduce incarceration and address systemic racism and economic inequality in the criminal justice system. But some of those reformers who were elected are now facing backlash from moderate and conservative voters.

In the most high-profile example, San Francisco’s progressive prosecutor Chesa Boudin — a former public defender elected DA in 2020 — was defeated by a well-funded recall campaign that capitalized on voters’ anxiety about crime. In Los Angeles, meanwhile, opponents of progressive DA George Gascón are gathering signatures to put a recall measure on the November ballot.

At the state level, though, liberal Attorney General Rob Bonta, who was appointed last year by Gov. Gavin Newsom, was well ahead of his more conservative challengers. He will face one of two closely matched Republicans in November.

In local district attorney races around the Bay Area and beyond, similar tensions are at play, as voters debate whether public safety is best achieved through tougher prosecutions and sentencing or an approach that favors rehabilitation.

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"Voters want solutions, and that can mean services and treatment as much as it can mean incarceration," said Cristine Soto DeBerry, director of the progressive Prosecutors Alliance of California. "It's new for us to elect reform-minded candidates into prosecutor's offices. I’m encouraged. Many of them won, and all of them stimulated a conversation."

In some counties, notably Alameda, the results won’t be clear until November.

Under California’s “top two” primary system, if one candidate wins a majority of votes in this election, the race is decided. If no one gets a majority, the two candidates with the greatest number of votes, regardless of political party, will face off in the November general election.

Contra Costa County
Incumbent DA Diana Becton, a former judge first elected district attorney in 2018, held on to her seat in the face of a strong challenge from a fellow Democrat who’s a deputy prosecutor in her office, Mary Knox. Late Tuesday evening, Becton had 57% to Knox’s 43%.

Becton is considered a progressive prosecutor and made headlines last fall when she won a conviction against former Sheriff’s Deputy Andrew Hall in the fatal shooting of Laudemer Arboleda. Becton, along with Boudin and Gascón, was a founding member of the progressive Prosecutors Alliance of California, established in 2020 in the wake of the George Floyd murder. Knox had the backing of many law enforcement groups across the county.

"Contra Costa County voters have spoken clearly to indicate that they really want a criminal justice system that is about safety, but that is always also about fairness and equality for everyone," said Becton. "We've adopted new and innovative approaches that move us beyond a singular reliance on incarceration."

San Joaquin County
Tori Verber Salazar was running narrowly behind fellow Republican Ron Freitas, a prosecutor in her office. She is another incumbent DA who has staked out a progressive stance on fighting crime but was at risk of losing her seat. With votes still being counted, Freitas had 51% to Salazar’s 49%.

In 2020, Salazar quit the California District Attorneys Association, saying it was resisting voter-backed criminal justice reform efforts aimed at reducing incarceration. She became another founding member of the progressive Prosecutors Alliance. In his campaign, Freitas said he would work to lengthen prison sentences. But Freitas came under scrutiny over a federal judge’s finding in 2009 that he had wrongly excluded a Black man from a jury on the basis of his race.

Solano County
District Attorney Krishna Abrams appeared to fend off a challenge from her chief deputy, Sharon Henry, who has called for more independent oversight of law enforcement and an acknowledgement of racial bias in policing. Tuesday night Abrams had 61% to Henry’s 39%.

Abrams had strong backing from police groups. But she was widely criticized when she recused her office from pursuing charges in two fatal Vallejo police shootings, citing a lack of public trust. The state Attorney General’s office said she had abdicated responsibility. Henry, who claims support from liberals, took Abrams to task for the recusal and for the running of the office, which she complained is plagued by favoritism and a lack of diversity.

Santa Clara County
District Attorney Jeff Rosen won reelection without a runoff Tuesday, even though he faced two challengers: Sajid Khan, a deputy public defender running to Rosen’s left, and deputy DA Daniel Chung, who cast himself as a tougher prosecutor. Rosen had 59% of the vote to Chung's 24% and Khan’s 17%, on Tuesday night.

Rosen, who has held the job since 2010, describes himself as a prosecutor who takes a balanced approach, citing endorsements from both police associations and civil rights groups such as the NAACP. Khan campaigned on his opposition to cash bail and gang enhancements, and his support for diversion programs and holding police accountable for misconduct. Chung opposes some progressive voter-approved reforms, including downgrading the penalties for drug possession.

"Santa Clara County leads the way in technology, diversity and the smart and balanced way we strive to handle criminal justice," said Rosen. "Today’s vote once again shows there is a mandate for safety and fairness — not one at the expense of the other, but both."

Alameda County
In November, voters in Alameda County are likely to choose between outspoken progressive Pamela Price, a former public defender and civil rights attorney, and veteran prosecutor Terry Wiley, who favors many progressive approaches but is perhaps the most traditional candidate. In early returns, Price and Wiley were the top two vote-getters in a four-way race to succeed incumbent District Attorney Nancy O’Malley, who is retiring. Price had 40% and Wiley had 31% of the vote late Tuesday.

Wiley, in his three decades in the DA’s office, has overseen investigations of police shootings and touts his work on restorative justice, as well as his years of experience prosecuting criminals. Price has vowed to tackle racial disparities in the enforcement of justice and to scrutinize police shootings.

"I'm very grateful to the people of Alameda County for standing with us on this journey," said Price. "As a community, we are appalled when people find out that African Americans are 20 times more likely to be incarcerated in this county in 2022. So that's what we have to begin to change."

Two other candidates — Jimmie Wilson, another deputy in the DA’s office, and Seth Steward, a former prosecutor in San Francisco who is currently chief of staff to Oakland Councilmember Dan Kalb — were lagging in early returns: Wilson had 21% and Steward 9% of votes.

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