Senator Dianne Feinstein had told Terence Hallinan bluntly after he was elected district attorney in November ’95 that “we” would not let it happen again. He assumed that DiFi’s “we” meant the power elite of San Francisco and/or the Democratic Party. Running for re-election four years later Hallinan was opposed by Bill Fazio (whom he’d edged out in ’95 and then fired along with 13 other assistant DAs soon after he took office) and Deputy Public Defender Matt Gonzalez, who contended that “America’s most progressive district attorney” had been charging cases —including marijuana cases— too harshly. SFDA investigator Ross Mirkarimi, who had managed Hallinan’s campaign in ’95, took a leave of absence to reprise his role (after Kamala Harris, concerned about her boss’s prospects, had urged him to do so). He and Gonzalez were Green Party allies —they had both worked for Ralph Nader in ’96— but Mirkarimi’s primary loyalty was to Terence.
On September 4, 1999, the Hearst-owned San Francisco Chronicle kicked off the so-called campaign season with a massive front-page hit piece focused on Hallinan’s conviction rate, the lowest in the state. Reporter Bill Wallace downplayed the fact that police in other counties screened their arrests before bringing them to the DA for prosecution, whereas SFPD brought all their cases. Evaluating a prosecutor’s proficiency by measuring their won-loss record ignores the important category of saves. Statistically, a DA’s conviction rate turns each save into a loss —an arrest that didn’t result in a conviction. But from Hallinan’s POV, saves were wins, “alternatives to incarceration.” His reforms —drug court, mentor court, community court, prostitution court, batterers school— were all intended to keep people out of jail. He jokingly referred to himself as “Mister Diversion.”
In November Matt Gonzalez had finished third with a respectable 11%. In the December run-off Fazio led in the early returns. As reporters and journalists hovered in the basement of city hall, the elections commission issued periodic updates. At 1:41 a.m. Wednesday morning the race was exactly even. By morning Kayo had 50.4% of the vote and was declared the winner.
By lunchtime San Francisco politicos were abuzz with talk of a recount or, if that failed, a recall. A friend called to report that Fazio (who Kayo liked, personally) was discussing his ascension to District Attorney as though it was a done deal. Kayo was advised by his incoming chief assistant to placate “the Irish Cultural Center crowd and the Gettys” by employing some of their favored young lawyers, notably Kimberly Guilfoyle. She had been hired four years earlier by Kayo’s predecessor, Arlo Smith, as he was leaving office; Kayo had literally disappointed her back then. In 2000 he made her an assistant DA, but the attacks from the corporate media did not abate. My job as his press secretary was to fend them off. “Always stay on your toes,” was his oft-repeated advice.
The basic line of attack, echoed by Mayor Willie Brown, was to blame Hallinan for every manifestation of social breakdown in San Francisco. The campaign would culminate in September with an extraordinary meeting of all city department heads at which grounds for a recall election would be weighed. Kayo sensed that Brown was planning a humiliating ambush and sent me and Paul Cummins to representatives him. We sat around a magnificent oak table in the mayor’s conference room —honchos from the Police and Fire Departments, Emergency Services, the Port, the Public Defender, MUNI, Public Works, Public Health, the airport… even the Public Library and the Zoo. The mayor was late. His aide, Bevan Dufty, went to find him and returned with word that the mayor was talking on the phone with “an important Chinese trade official.” A few minutes later Willie Brown walked in smiling from ear to ear and said almost reverently, “I just got off the phone with Jiang Zemin’s son.” Jiang Zemin was the president of China. In that instant I understood the extent to which China is where it’s at for the corporados whose interests Willie Brown faithfully served.
The meeting began with a screening of a three-part “news feature” produced by KRON-TV that aimed to expose SFDA’s inadequate prosecution of food stamp fraud, welfare fraud and drug cases. To the 20+ assembled bureaucrats, the mayor mused about finding “statutory remedies” to Hallinan’s disastrous leniency, and about asking the state attorney general, Bill Lockyer, to prosecute drug cases in San Francisco. Brown started going around the table asking for input. Public Defender Jeff Brown (no relation to Willie but a cousin of Jerry) led off, blaming Hallinan for the prevalence of drug addicts around 6th Street. Next the department head seated to his right —I can’t remember who— denounced our boss in similar turns. I recently asked Dufty, who said that no minutes of the meeting were kept, which I found disappointing and odd.
After the third department head claimed ‘It’s-all-Hallinan’s-fault’ —they were going around in a circle!— I spoke up: “You think you’re looking at drug addicts, and that’s part of the story. But you’re also looking at mental illness and you’re looking at alcoholism and poverty —unemployment and homelessness and malnutrition— and you’re looking at AIDS and hepatitis C, none of which the district attorney can cure by charging cases more harshly. That’s how Terence Hallinan sees it.”
They all knew it was the truth. Even the mayor seemed receptive to what else I had to say. I then blew it by describing the empty Public Health hospital at the Presidio that had been deemed seismically unsound —falsely, I explained in too much detail, and it was a sin to let a hospital stand empty while people were dying in the streets. I could almost see Willie Brown calculating the feasibility of moving the rabble to a building just off Lake Street on the edge of Presidio Heights. I knew I in that instant I had lost him. But Paul Cummins assured me afterwards that I had broken the momentum for a recall.
When the meeting ended Willie Brown told Vic Lee of KRON that he sensed “a stirring movement” of opposition to District Attorney Hallinan. Kayo provided the info and perspective for a response to KRON, which I addressed to the reporter —who I knew to be honorable and fair— even though it was the producer, Robbie Peele, who had framed the political line.
Note to Vic Lee
Robbie Peele’s piece slamming Hallinan for leniency on “foodstamp fraud” was intellectually dishonest in charging that we, the taxpayers, were being ripped off when in fact the taxpayers’ outlay is identical whether or not the poor drug addicts sell their foodstamps for 75 cents on the dollar and eat at St. Vincent’s. News flash! Drug addicts will sell their foodstamps to get drugs!… Earlier Peele did an intellectually dishonest piece slamming Hallinan for leniency on “welfare fraud,” using the W-L framework to assert that Los Angeles convicts 95% of the cheats and SF convicts only 5% —never mentioning that Hallinan intentionally promotes a diversion program (which requires full financial restitution to the state) rather than make these people felons just when they’ve re-entered the work force, cost them their public housing, etc.
And now San Francisco gets your series on the district attorney’s prosecution of drug cases You went to the trouble of getting his comments on seven specific cases, but you didn’t provide them to your viewers. For openers, you accused Hallinan of mishandling the prosecution of Keisha Garrett —but didn’t run his explanation of how and why this young, crack-addicted mom got out of custody four times in six months. Garrett was charged three of those times and either released on her own recognizance by the judge, or she made bail, which is her constitutional right. She is now doing a year in the county jail, where she participates in a support community for young mothers. She had no prior convictions —all of which Hallinan and Vernon Grigg told you and Robbie Peele.
The three police officers you interviewed stand to collect substantial overtime when cases are tried, because they get paid to stand by to testify. I think you were obligated to ask Martinovich, Laughlin and Miller how much they made last year in OT. When the DA offers diversion or accepts a misdemeanor plea instead of trying a case as a felony, these guys stand to lose money. Hallinan represents a threat to their more-than-$100,000-a-year incomes (1/3 of which might be OT).
All seven of the defendants whose “lenient treatment” you protested were black or latino, and all the narcs were white (and from Novato). The war on drugs is an excuse for the ruling class to keep the police well armed and at the ready and in control of the populace, particularly the poor. The police may have working-class cousins but they themselves are “privileged labor.” In addition to being well paid (relative to the rest of the working class), they are glorified in the culture from morning till night. Their obvious role is to maintain the rich/poor system, which they take to be in their interests. Seventy-five percent of the arrests they make are for violations of the drug laws, and another 10-15% are robberies and burglaries to support drug habits. If we ended the illicit drug trade by ending the prohibition, think of the resources that could be put into making the city secure and livable.
The narcotics officers who have it in for Hallinan frequently repeat a line about individual dealers getting “back out in no time” as a result of the DA’s “leniency.” You failed to inform your viewers that after people get taken to jail in San Francisco, releasing them is the sheriff’s call. Sometimes they’re back out before the case is even presented to the DA for charging. As you know —but never reminded your viewers— jail overcrowding resulted in a federal judge overseeing the SF jails, and levying daily fines on the county for exceeding capacity.
The police make so many drug arrests in San Francisco —“more than any other Bay Area county,” as you put it— because San Francisco is where people come for the conventions, theaters, clubs, hotels, etc., i.e. where the customers are likely to be. And unlike other counties, the police bring all their arrests to the DA for charging, whether or not a case is obviously flawed.
Cops on the beat would solve the problem outside the grocery [lamented in the KRON segment]. How come you never see cops walking the beat in San Francisco?