District Attorney candidates at USF
District Attorney candidates debate at USF on Oct. 18, 2022. From left, Brooke Jenkins, Joe Alioto Veronese, John Hamasaki, and Maurice Chenier. Photo by Eleni Balakrishnan

The candidates running to oust appointed incumbent District Attorney Brooke Jenkins took shots at her ethical and political stances at a debate on Tuesday night at the University of San Francisco. 

Jenkins, who has served as DA since July following the June recall of Chesa Boudin, remained poised and confident as her opponents, particularly John Hamasaki, pointed out her office’s failures. 

“We have a system of checks and balances, and the check on bad cops is good prosecutors,” said Hamasaki, a criminal defense attorney and former police commissioner. 

As the crowd booed, Hamasaki went on to list various “unacceptable” ethical violations allegedly committed by Jenkins, including withholding of evidence, coaching of a child witness, and other prosecutorial misconduct outlined in a recent complaint filed against her with the State Bar of California.

“That is the way that innocent people end up in prison,” Hamasaki said.

Jenkins, however, appeared to have most of the audience’s support — or at least, the loudest supporters. Wearing red stilettos, a striking contrast to the row of blue-gray-suited men, she appeared unbothered by attacks coming her way. 

The debate, moderated by former California Supreme Court Justice Ming Chin and co-hosted by the League of Women Voters and USF School of Law, lent itself to Jenkins’ favor, selecting her to give the first opening and the last closing statements. 

And the format of having candidates answer one-by-one to pre-submitted questions did not allow for much real debate, while allowing boilerplate responses to go unchecked. 

The candidates expressed similar viewpoints on several topics: Support for the Innocence Commission, rehabilitation services and alternatives to incarceration, rolling out the Compassionate Alternative Response Team (CART) as an alternative to police, and transparency at the DA’s office. 

When it came to more controversial topics, the candidates tried to distinguish themselves. 

Jenkins was the only candidate who supported the newly passed surveillance technology rules that open the door for police to live-monitor private surveillance cameras across the city. 

The other candidates vehemently disagreed. “Go do a little legwork, as a police officer, a DA investigator or a DA. Go get a warrant,” said candidate Joe Alioto Veronese, who highlighted his experience as a former police officer. 

Jenkins also expressed her support for charging 16- and 17-year-olds as adults in certain “egregious” cases, aligning with dark horse candidate Maurice Chenier, who insisted that, in the information age, children mature faster. 

Hamasaki pointed to research that youths have developing brains and even if they commit crimes, they should be treated as children and get support. He shared a story of a childhood friend who “accidentally killed” a person as a teen and ended up being charged as an adult and imprisoned. 

There were also times when candidates evaded the posed question, sometimes going on the offensive, and the moderator, Chin, did not step in to rein them in. Instead, he unsuccessfully attempted to quiet the boisterous audience of at least 150.  

When candidates were asked about how they would avoid repeating the over-policing and war on drugs waged disproportionately on minority communities, Hamasaki did not answer directly, and instead criticized Jenkins’ public declarations of taking a stronger stance against drug offenders. 

“Every public health professional will tell you that this prosecutor will cost human lives, people will die because of the ignorance of the policies that have been repudiated across the country,” Hamasaki said, to loud groans from Jenkins’ supporters, who interrupted him and shouted for him to “answer the question.” 

When asked about support for Assembly Bill 2195, the Alternate Plea Act, which allows prosecutors to offer a public nuisance plea in cases of drug possession and sales and avoid risking deportation for those accused, it was Jenkins who skirted the question. 

“We should always be making sure that we have, again, the form of accountability that’s appropriate in each and every situation, but it looks different for different people,” Jenkins said. 

Though Jenkins said her administration would not cooperate with federal immigration authorities, Hamasaki pointed to her professed support for felony charges for those dealing fentanyl, a deportable offense that her recalled predecessor Boudin avoided. “The minute they cross county lines or ICE finds out about them, they’re still getting deported,” Hamasaki said.  

Most of the candidates also expressed strong support for the police department, and attributed its historically low crime clearance rates to low morale, though Hamasaki called it more of a “culture” problem. The issue of prosecuting corrupt or illegal behavior by police officers did not arise. 

“If you take the risk to make a good arrest, I’m going to do the work to make sure there’s accountability in that system,” Veronese said “I will support them by putting consequences back into crime.”

Jenkins echoed Veronese’s view and said she was strengthening her office’s relationship with the police. She blamed Boudin for “demoralized” police officers. 

Chenier, who is outspoken in his unabashed desire to increase policing and prosecutions, compared San Francisco to an “abyss” or a “zombie land.” 

“Go [get] an apple, any criminal,” Chenier said. “Take a bite out of that apple, because that’s the last free bite … you’re going to get if I’m elected the District Attorney.”


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REPORTER. Eleni is our reporter focused on policing in San Francisco. She first moved to the city on a whim nearly 10 years ago, and the Mission has become her home. Follow her on Twitter @miss_elenius.

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  1. Asian Americans support different candidates. In fact there’re different factions within the community supporting different candidates, not different from other communities. Reminds me of the Alameda county DA candidate who made a disrespectful comments about Asian Americans in San Francisco just blindly follow in their voting as if they don’t have any intelligence and no other groups does that.
    Be aware of this dangerous ‘Asians versus black and brown people’ narrative being promoted. I was at the USF debate. There were at least 20 police and sheriffs there and maybe why there was no disruption. And I would be afraid if I was a controversial official such as Jenkins or hamasaki & target of a rowdy crowd. You never know what’s going to happen these days. I probably would have left too with so little security around. I didn’t stay till the end because the debate started really late like 30 minutes late because they had to wait for everyone to arrive. But your other piece about that debate stated that it was to Jenkins’ advantage because she was ‘ selected to give opening and closing statement’ or something like that by the ‘moderator Chin. ‘ ( I personally don’t see any advantage to that. Everyone had ample time to speak. ) Actually Judge Chin’s ground rules were speakers take turn in alphabetical order. And with each question the orders were rotated. In fact he skipped Jenkins once and she had to grab the mic. I doubt there was any conspiracies a suggested by your writers and commentators here.

  2. It appears that he never served as a police officer:
    “Veronese became involved in law enforcement when, upon graduation from UCLA and the San Francisco Police Academy, he was hired by District Attorney Terence Hallinan as the youngest senior criminal investigator in the history of the office. Veronese worked in the fraud bureau and helped develop and enforce a diversion program to prevent the incarceration of poor families. Veronese also led a unit of investigators in the street-level enforcement against food-stamp trafficking for guns and narcotics.

    Veronese was appointed to the San Francisco Police Commission by Mayor Gavin Newsom in 2004. He has worked to reform the Department through increased transparency and accountability to the public and the communities the department serves. Among other important reforms, Veronese brokered a resolution with the police officers association to release misconduct records to the public without violating the rights of police officers. Under his watch, the police commission adopted the first-ever Early Warning System, a multimillion-dollar system of tracking and correcting police misconduct.

  3. Campers,

    The Office of Mayor here has too much power.

    The Class of 2000 changed much of that by giving the BOS appointments on key Commissions and boards but not much has been done since.

    A good idea from Michael Hennessey is to get the Mayor to voluntarily put a Charter Amendment before the voters (she can do this on her own but I believe it would take a super majority of the Board) …

    Let the people choose amongst candidates who present a variety of platforms and planks.

    Then Michael told me at Daly’s Dive a decade or so back:

    “You might get one or two who don’t do what they promised but then you’ll get one that lasts 30 years like me.”

    Michael’s hell of baseball fan.

    I like Hamaskai of course.

    That’s because I worked with Severely Emotionally Disturbed adolescents in every capacity from driving their school bus to coaching their teams to creating Student Security forces everywhere I went.

    I did it at Potrero Hill in SF but that’s another story.

    1 Hamasaki
    2 Alioto
    1 Hamasaki
    2 Alioto

    Trent Williams and that all pro linebacker are bac this week.


  4. For someone who takes child development very, very seriously, I cannot support a candidate who does not understand how crucial it is to consider age in criminal activity.

    Our city government is rotten with politicians who do not have a care about child development. It’s brain science for goodness sake.

    ‘Kids growing up faster these days,’ isn’t a thing.

  5. > “We have a system of checks and balances, and the check on bad cops is good prosecutors,” said criminal defense attorney and former police commissioner Hamasaki

    With no disrespect intended, I will take your reporting as accurate that Hamasaki emphasised the DA’s role in routing out bad cops over the DA’s role in prosecuting criminals. And not that routing out bad cops is not important, but God forbid Hamasaki win, the City will look like we tossed out Harvey Dent’s feckless brother to elect Two Face himself.

    I’m not entirely thrilled with Jenkins, I hope to hear more from ML about Alioto Veronese and Chenier.

    Wish someone had asked all of the candidates what their connections to Antifa have been in the past and are now….

  6. Progressives find this hard to accept, but outside the Mission District, police remain more popular than criminals.

  7. “Jenkins was the only candidate who supported the newly passed surveillance technology rules that open the door for police to live-monitor private surveillance cameras across the city. ”

    This alone will give her a landslide victory. People are fed up enough to give up some privacy for a chance at more enforcement. Not guaranteed to work, but something different needs to be tried. Sucks that she was so shady in not disclosing making money off the recall campaign. I’m holding my nose and voting for her…..