San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins speaks to a crowd of supporters at Harborview Restaurant and Bar in San Francisco on Nov. 8, 2022. Jenkins, who held a considerable lead over John Hamasaki, declared victory early Wednesday afternoon. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)
On Tuesday, nearly a week after San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins declared victory in her bid to remain in office, her main challenger, John Hamasaki, publicly conceded.
"Well, it's been a hell of a ride, but time to call this one," Hamasaki wrote in a tweet. "I am beyond honored to have been supported by such an incredible group of staff, supporters, and voters."
As of Tuesday evening, Jenkins had garnered just over 46.3% of first-round votes, far outpacing Hamasaki, her closest rival, who had 37.2%. Meanwhile, candidate Joe Alioto Veronese remained in a distant third place, with just over 12% of the vote, followed by Maurice Chenier, with about 4%.
And with the elimination of Alioto Veronese and Chenier's early votes, as part of San Francisco's ranked choice voting process, Jenkins on Tuesday maintained an insurmountable lead, with roughly 54% of the vote, to Hamasaki's 46%.
Those totals may change as the count continues throughout the week. Notably, the count of what appeared to be a landslide recall of Boudin ultimately narrowed by the time the race went to Jenkins.
Last week, a day after the election, when Jenkins' had already taken a significant lead, she declared victory.
“I extend my thanks and gratitude to the voters of San Francisco for placing their trust in me to serve as District Attorney,” she said in a statement at the time. “It is an honor of a lifetime to be elected and I pledge that improving and promoting public safety will be my and our office’s top priority.”
At her election night party at San Francisco’s Harborview Restaurant and Bar, a Cantonese-style eatery, Jenkins had sounded a joyous tone in a speech to supporters that emphasized the “rebuilding process” in the district attorney's office.
Attorneys in the DA's office “can now serve the city and county of San Francisco and not be worried that their hands will be tied,” Jenkins said. “They have really weathered this storm in a way that just warms my heart.”
Jenkins' victory reflects an incredible swing in both national and local attitudes toward crime and criminal justice.
Mayor London Breed appointed prosecutor Jenkins to the district attorney role following the high-profile recall of progressive District Attorney Chesa Boudin.
The country, and the Bay Area, saw Boudin elected as a much-hailed progressive prosecutor just before protests for racial justice over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis swept the nation.
But just as quickly came a backlash from Republicans, who seized on what experts say is a largely pandemic-driven change in crime rates to paint cities as rife with danger around every corner.
Those sentiments — alongside a very real and well-cataloged rise in anti-Asian hate incidents — swung San Francisco voters’ desire for criminal justice reform to a desire for safety, polls showed, even if that shift comes at the cost of abandoning some reform-minded policies the electorate previously supported.
This year, unlike in many high-profile San Francisco races, campaign spending didn’t break local records. The effort to recall Boudin topped $10 million, much of that money coming from outside San Francisco. But as reported by The San Francisco Standard, independent campaign committees largely stayed out of the fray this time, potentially because they did not see Jenkins’ opponents as serious challengers.
Jenkins herself raised $256,000 as of the latest campaign finance returns, with Hamasaki and Alioto Veronese each raising about $140,000 each.
That lack of money could be seen in the advertising around the race. Whereas Boudin faced new accusations of failure in television ads with every viral video of a shoplifting, Jenkins’ reputation remained largely unscathed even in the face of persistent local crime — or the fact that Jenkins has preserved certain policies from Boudin's tenure, such as an innocence commission aiming to free those imprisoned on wrongful convictions.
Despite a lower-profile race than that of June’s recall and the power of incumbency, the road was not smooth for Jenkins.
Myriad scandals rocked her brief time in office, from an ethics complaint alleging she lied about past misconduct, to early reporting by The SF Standard showing she took $100,000 from the campaign to recall Boudin despite claiming publicly she was a campaign volunteer.
But one scandal in particular still casts a shadow over the election.
A report by Mission Local found that Jenkins, when she was an assistant district attorney in Boudin’s office, sent a rap sheet in a case of interest to another assistant district attorney in apparent violation of state law. Whether it was a personal email or a professional one doesn’t matter — sending a person’s rap sheet without an expressly work-related reason is a misdemeanor offense, experts told the outlet.
But voting returns show that San Franciscans seem to care more about Jenkins’ policies than any potential ethical lapses.
She announced she would charge some minors as adults in situations that “shock the conscience.” Early, and often, Jenkins courted the local Chinese community, attending events at the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association and on Chinatown streets touting her plans to aggressively prosecute people who commit hate crimes.
And at the center of those policies was Jenkins’ line in the sand against fentanyl dealers.
As voters decried open-air drug use in the Tenderloin, Jenkins famously rescinded diversion-program deals for more than 30 drug dealers Boudin had offered them to. Ultimately, she said, she would end offers of diversion programs for drug dealers entirely, particularly for those trafficking drugs laced with fentanyl, a reversal of her predecessor’s policies.
Jenkins also announced a policy to bring charges against drug users once they receive five citations — effectively “bundling” them — for public drug use. The office would then refer those people with bundled charges to a restorative justice program through the city’s Community Justice Center.
Some of Jenkins’ critics said her policies amounted to a revival of the failed war on drugs launched by President Richard Nixon. At an October press conference, Jenkins embraced that idea.
“People want to talk about, well, ‘The war on drugs this, the war on drugs that,’” Jenkins said, adding, “It is a war on fentanyl. It is.”
An earlier version of this story was originally published Nov. 9.
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