Problems with Kamala Harris

I don't know of any Libertarians planning to vote for her, but just
so you'll be informed when talking with friends/colleagues/etc.,
here's a great article from the Bay Guardian documenting how District
Attorney candidate Kamala Harris has played fast and loose with the
facts. Her involvement with the campaign of former Supervisor Amos
Brown is also worth commenting on. Supervisor Brown was imho the single
worst supervisor I've seen on the Board since living in SF. A black
preacher with a willingness to play the race card, he combined a
socialist approach to economics with a conservative moralistic approach
to social issues.

  This story also mentions a poll that says Fazio is leading the race,
but doesn't say by how much. Has anyone seen any recent polls on this
race or the mayoral race?

              <<< Starchild >>>

October 22, 2003
To tell the truth
Kamala Harris has a perfectly credible record. So why does she have to
exaggerate it?

By Savannah Blackwell

ON JUNE 7 , when members of the Alice B. Toklas Lesbian Gay Bisexual
Transgender Democratic Club sat down with the candidates for district
attorney, club member Bridget Bane had a fairly simple question for
Kamala Harris. She wanted to know exactly how many criminal cases
Harris, who is running as an "experienced prosecutor," had actually
tried in court.

Harris, a former deputy district attorney in Alameda County, didn't
directly answer the question. Instead, she told Bane that trial
experience is key to being a good district attorney and rhapsodized
about how trial lawyers are a lot like fighter pilots: they tend to
"take instructions only from [one of their own] – another fighter
pilot," she said.

Bane – who is also a trial lawyer and who supports another candidate,
Bill Fazio – rephrased her question. And again Harris sidestepped,
smiling as she acknowledged that Fazio "has definitely tried many more

"But that's not the question," Harris said. "It's not about my

Obviously, the race for district attorney isn't a contest for who has
logged the most hours in the courtroom. But trial experience is an
issue in the race – largely because Harris has made it an issue.

And over and over again, she has exaggerated her own experience.

It's an odd pattern, because she really has nothing to hide: Harris's
actual record is perfectly credible. But instead of sticking to the
facts, she has dissembled and ducked, leaving some to wonder why she
can't simply tell the truth.

Harris, who just turned 39, puts out campaign literature describing
herself as a "veteran prosecutor" with "thirteen years of courtroom
experience." In fact, she served as a deputy D.A. in Alameda County for
eight years, from 1990 to 1998, and then spent two more in the office
of San Francisco incumbent D.A. Terence Hallinan – whom she has accused
of "unethical leadership" and of running a "pathetic" and "out of
control office."

Since 2000 she's been doing civil law, in the San Francisco City
Attorney's Office, where until recently she ran the office's Family
Services Unit, which deals with abused and foster children.

Ten years as a prosecutor is a fair record. Why say 13?

That's hardly the only example. One piece of Harris's literature claims
she "has tried hundreds of serious and violent felonies, including
murders, gang rapes and child sexual assault cases."

Bane doubted that, and in the Alice B. Toklas Club meeting, she
continued to pursue the point. After Harris danced around the question
for three and a half minutes and Bane had asked three times, Harris
finally conceded that she's tried "under 30" cases. She said that if
you counted misdemeanors, it was closer to 100.

When Fazio pressed her on the issue on a KGO-FM forum Oct. 21, she said
she had taken about 50 cases to court.

Meanwhile, sources in the Alameda County District Attorney's Office who
are familiar with her work said she actually tried roughly 5 to 10
felonies there. In San Francisco she tried two, including one homicide.

Again, what's the point? Nobody claims Harris is a neophyte, and she's
already way ahead of where Hallinan was nearly eight years ago when he
took office: he had never prosecuted a single case when he first became
the city's top prosecutor.

Perhaps those claims about her record could be dismissed as campaign
puffery. But they aren't the only examples.

Harris still insists to this day that she didn't manage the reelection
runoff campaign of then-supervisor Amos Brown in 2000.

According to several staffers and volunteers on the campaign, as well
as payroll records obtained by the Bay Guardian, Harris was the
number-two person in the campaign, second only to consultant Jack
Davis, who was mostly out of town. Harris was paid $8,000 for five
weeks of work.

Her role in the campaign became an issue when a Hallinan supporter
filed a complaint with the city's Ethics Commission charging that she'd
never registered as a political consultant and never paid the required
fee (see Campaign Watch, 8/13/03).

Neglecting such an administrative requirement is hardly a capital
crime, and generally the voters seem to dismiss these sorts of charges.
She could have simply admitted she forgot to file a piece of paper,
filled out a late report, and paid a modest fine.

Instead, she has repeatedly insisted she was only "answering phones"
and "helping out" in the campaign and has refused to file the
paperwork. "I did not hold a title," she said at a June 3 district
attorney candidates forum hosted by the Harvey Milk Lesbian, Gay,
Bisexual, Transgender Democratic Club.

Harris has built a platform focused on domestic, gang, and youth
violence and problems facing teenage prostitutes. As a district
attorney in Alameda County, she handled numerous sexual assault cases
and is undoubtedly versed in the problems facing youth and women in the
criminal justice system.

But again, she has inflated her accomplishments. One piece of Harris
literature claims she "has secured new services" for child prostitutes.
And in an interview with the Bay Guardian, Harris claimed the city has
put $400,000 toward a nonprofit, the Coalition to End the Exploitation
of Kids, that she helped create.

In fact, that's the amount Harris requested. The Department of Public
Health has earmarked $100,000, and the San Francisco Foundation
$60,000. And no new services for these youth are actually available
yet. Again, no big deal. Why not just tell the truth?

On her Web site Harris says she will "restore professional management"
to the District Attorney's Office, and she's hit Hallinan hard on the
campaign trial for mishaps ranging from domestic violence cases that
shouldn't have slipped through the cracks to sexual harassment charges
against Hallinan staffers. And certainly Hallinan's management skills
are open to question and are fair game for this campaign.

But then, Harris hasn't exactly shown herself to be a great manager
either. According to records obtained from the City Attorney's Office,
Harris wasn't exactly a workaholic when she was running the Family
Services Unit (she's currently on leave). In most cases, the records
show, Harris worked the bare minimum number of hours. (Her average
workday was 8.01 hours). Her predecessor, Katherine Feinstein, worked
an average of 8.33 hours a day and worked overtime more than half the
days of the year.

But when we asked Harris about her management skills, she got short and
said, "The attorneys [on the team] are supporting me."

Getting short and condescending isn't unusual for Harris. Apparently,
it can be tough to work for her on the campaign trail. On the Brown
campaign, one volunteer told us, she was rough on the workers but would
brighten when the politically important stopped by.

"She would swing through the office every couple of days and lean over
our shoulders and demand to know what we were doing. She was very
demanding, a prima donna," one worker, who asked not to be named for
fear of retribution, told us. "Regular folks, she didn't want nothing
to do with. She was all about the important people."

And then there's the campaign finance issue. As we've reported in
detail (see Campaign Watch, 10/08/03), Harris signed a pledge back in
January to abide by the $211,000 spending limit on this race. When it
became clear to her campaign that she wasn't moving fast enough in the
polls and needed to spend more than that to make a runoff, she broke
the pledge.

Again, there was a reasonable explanation: With the gubernatorial
recall sucking media attention away from local candidates, Harris was
unable to get into the newspapers. That was an unforeseen event, and
she could have simply acknowledged the situation, admitted she was
forced to reconsider her pledge, and asked the Ethics Commission to let
her out of the promise and assess her a reasonable fine.

Instead, she and her handlers took no responsibility and came up with a
convoluted explanation that made little sense. And she settled the case
with the Ethics Commission in a late-night closed-session meeting that
stunk of a bad backroom deal.

Even the remedy has become disingenuous. Harris promised to spend
$19,000 on flyers informing the public she violated the limit. But the
money has gone for door-hangers promoting Harris in glorious terms –
and including three lines of tiny type at the top, where they're most
likely to get ripped off anyway, stating that "due to an error by [her]
campaign" she is not abiding by the limit.

Now that she's raising and spending more money, she's getting some
political traction: The latest David Binder poll shows her up four
points, to 16 percent, with Hallinan slipping, from 33 to 23 percent.
Fazio, that poll shows, is in the lead.

And Harris's bid has become the last of the great displays of Mayor
Willie Brown's on-the-ground campaign machine. At her kickoff, the
Young Community Developers, a Bayview-Hunters Point group long
associated with Brown, turned out scores of public housing residents.
Delancey Street has been walking precincts for her.

Campaign manager Rebecca Prozan did not respond to our calls by press

Binder said Harris's problems with the Ethics Commission have probably
been largely lost on voters, who have been consumed with the recall. So
with voters just now tuning into the race, it's unclear whether they
will be turned off by Harris's troubles with the truth.

"My sense is that people are just now beginning to focus on this race,"
Binder told us. "So it's really hard to say how all this has effected
her. She has moved up in the polls. Maybe she would have moved more if
this hadn't happened, but it's hard to say."

E-mail Savannah Blackwell

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