Pubdate: Sat, 09 Oct 1999
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Copyright: 1999 San Francisco Chronicle
Author: John Wildermuth, SFC Staff Writer


D.A. Rivals Lay Claim To Progressive Mantle 

The five candidates for San Francisco district attorney waved their
progressive credentials yesterday in a debate that focused as much on
politics as on law enforcement.

The target of most of the gibes at the Golden Gate University event
was District Attorney Terence Hallinan, a former supervisor who is
fighting to hold onto the job he won four years ago.

``As I stand here getting bashed, it's hard to believe I'm presiding
over the district attorney's office during the most successful period
of its existence,'' said Hallinan, citing the city's falling crime
rate and the drop in violent crime.

Hallinan, who won the 1995 district attorney's race with the backing
of the city's powerful progressive movement, wasted no time in
painting his best-known opponent as a right-winger.

``The Police Officers Association has endorsed Bill Fazio, . . . and
the Republican Party has endorsed Bill Fazio,'' he said. ``But they do
not determine what is going to happen in San Francisco.''

Hallinan also trumpeted his endorsements from ``the governor, the
attorney general, the sheriff, the mayor, 10 of 11 supervisors, the
entire labor movement'' and numerous community and minority groups.

Fazio, who called himself a lifelong Democrat and a former member of
the pressman's union, said he is supported ``by real people, not those
who live in Sacramento.''

``Since I'm the only candidate . . . to receive the endorsement of the
Republican Party, I guess it's placed upon me as some kind of
disgrace,'' said Fazio, a former prosecutor who lost to Hallinan four
years ago. ``But I received the endorsement of a lot of other
individuals, major makers and shakers in the Democratic Party.''

Hallinan's harshest criticism came from Matt Gonzalez, a public
defender who said Hallinan has failed the progressives who voted for
him in 1995 by not prosecuting any police brutality or political
corruption cases, by taking only one landlord to court for an illegal
eviction, for being too harsh on marijuana users and too close to the
city's power structure.

``Terence Hallinan has no independence,'' Gonzalez said. ``He won't
investigate a case coming out of City Hall, ever. . . . How many times
do you have to watch a fighter take a dive before realizing that the
fight is fixed?''

Steve Castleman, a former deputy district attorney who called himself
``the only candidate who's a progressive law enforcement
professional,'' said his first job would be to get the politics out of
the district attorney's office and professionalism back in.

He also pledged to move nonviolent drug addicts and people with mental
problems out of jail and into treatment programs, freeing up cells for
hardened criminals.

``Mr. Hallinan has talked a very good game (about alternative
sentencing for addicts), but he hasn't come through,'' he said.

The most interesting take on law enforcement came from Mike Schaefer,
a former San Diego city councilman and attorney who admitted he has
been on both sides of the law.

``There are few perfect people in politics and I'm not one of them,''
he said.

When he talked about how useful house arrest and electronic monitoring
can be as a substitute for a jail sentence, he was speaking from
personal experience. He spent 60 days under house arrest in Nevada
last year after an assault-and-battery conviction. Over the years, he
also has been convicted of spousal abuse and had his law license
temporarily suspended.

On Thursday, a Las Vegas judge issued an arrest warrant when Schaefer
failed to appear in court to answer a harassment complaint from a
former tenant at a condominium he owns there.

Schaefer called the warrant a mistake he was dealing with and argued
that his experiences would help him as a district attorney.

``I've been there and done that,'' he said.

Except for the political jabs, few disagreements showed up in
yesterday's debates. All five agreed that the present ``three
strikes'' law needs to be changed so that only violent crimes can send
an offender away for 25 years. They also backed tougher prosecution of
violent offenders, but came out against a proposed law that could make
it easier to charge juveniles as adults.

On another issue, Hallinan criticized an article in yesterday's
Chronicle that reported he had a lower conviction rate on domestic
violence cases than any other district attorney in the state.

Hallinan called the article ``the height of irresponsible and biased

``. . . These serious and complex cases should not be used as fodder
for right-wing political agendas,'' he said.

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