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?

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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 cases."

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

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 time.

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