Two candidates are vying for history in Alameda D.A.’s race. Here’s what they’re saying

September 30,2022


Two candidates are vying for history in Alameda D.A.’s race. Here’s what they’re saying

On Thursday night, the pair sparred in a virtual forum over their views on safety and justice ahead of the Nov. 7 runoff. It’s the first time in 80 years that the race for Alameda County district attorney doesn’t feature an incumbent.

Price and Wiley were the top candidates in the June 6 election to replace retiring District Attorney Nancy O’Malley. Price claimed 43% of the vote to Wiley’s 27%, despite Wiley’s sizable fundraising advantage.

During the forum, Wiley, who’s been with the District Attorney’s Office for 33 years, called himself a proven leader who would take a measured approach to reforms while working to make the streets safe. Wiley, who previously ran the Felony Trial Team and the Juvenile Unit, currently directs the agency’s Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

“We have a District Attorney’s Office that is in need of new leadership,” he said. “It is a very large government agency — a $100 million agency — that is very complicated. So you really need someone with experience.”

Price, who started out as a defense attorney for indigent clients and has been a private attorney pursuing various civil rights cases since 1991, cast herself as a leader with decades of experience in seeking justice and righting injustices. She pledged to never charge children as adults, to expand the use of restorative justice programs and to stop using the office’s influence to prevent people from receiving parole.

“I represent the new leadership that Mr. Wiley says we need,” said Price, who unsuccessfully ran against O’Malley in 2018, “and I’ve been in this fight for almost 50 years.”

Like Price, Wiley pledged not to try children as adults, though on other progressive policies, such as resentencing people serving life without parole, he said he’d look at things on a case-by-case basis.

While Wiley touted his long experience helping run the District Attorney’s Office, Price painted him as the status quo, a key leader in an agency that she repeatedly said had ravaged Black and brown communities with harsh practices.

Wiley insisted that he was a change agent, that Price wasn’t experienced enough in management to assume the role of district attorney.

Whoever takes office in January will face immediate tests, as Oakland experiences another year of elevated gun violence, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office deals with fallout over the hiring of at least 47 employees who failed psychological evaluations, and the conditions inside Santa Rita Jail in Dublin remain an ongoing concern for officials and attorneys navigating the settlement to a class-action lawsuit.

On the issue of reducing gun violence, Wiley suggested all crime needs to come down before gun crime can.

“Part of what motivates a lot of people to carry guns, particularly in Oakland, is a lot of people are in fear,” Wiley said. “I think that we have got to drive down the rate of violent crime and serious crime.”

Price said she’d sue manufacturers fueling the ghost gun industry. “No. 2, I will be aggressive in asking law enforcement to identify people who are selling guns and providing guns to young people,” she said.

Both said they were concerned by the scandal over failed psychological examinations by dozens of deputies at the Sheriff’s Office.

Price said she’d investigate any cases handled by the deputies to determine if they were compromised.

Wiley said it was too soon in the Sheriff’s Office’s internal investigation to know if that were the case, but didn’t say he would investigate as district attorney.

A point of contention between the candidates was Santa Rita Jail — specifically on who should be held there before trial and if cash bail should be used.

Price is against cash bail.

“We see the impact of it where people are held in Santa Rita county jail for years, sometimes just because they can’t post bail,” Price said, adding that she’d dramatically reduce pretrial detention. “Even being held in jail for a month, or a day when you haven’t committed a crime and you are presumed innocent is a travesty of justice.”

Wiley said he agreed with the basic concept that someone shouldn’t be held solely on their ability to pay. But Wiley said the issue needed more “pragmatism.”

“Most of the individuals that are in custody in Santa Rita are there for either serious or violent felonies,” he said. “There are very few individuals that are in custody at Santa Rita for nonviolent property crimes.”

Price committed to never seek the death penalty, to work to remove the 41 people from Alameda County cases on death row and to never seek a sentence of life without parole.

Wiley said he wouldn’t seek the death penalty, but wouldn’t seek to remove anyone from death row without the approval of the victim’s family. He suggested he’d limit life without parole sentences.

Asked if he’d commit to never seek life without parole, Wiley paused. “You go into a school and you kill seven people? No, no,” he said.

Both candidates said they were eschewing donations from law enforcement organizations to avoid any conflicts on possible prosecutions of police.

Wiley is again the leading fundraiser, having brought in — and mostly spent — $668,600 through June 30. He’s brought in a slew of five-figure donations, with his biggest benefactor being U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA), whose reelection campaign and political action committee Remedy PAC have donated a combined $80,000.

Wiley has also received $46,500 from various labor groups, $33,900 from real estate, development and investment interests, $30,000 from father-and-son car dealers Inder and Jessie Dosanjh, and $20,000 from the Alameda County Prosecutors Association.

Price has received only one five-figure donation from someone other than herself: $40,000 from Pleasanton retiree John Bauer.

Price has spent more than the nearly $407,500 she raised through June 30. Her largest outside donations have come from businesspeople and labor interests such as $5,000 from the California Nurses Association Political Action Committee and $4,000 from the California Conference Amalgamated Transit Union.

The forum was presented by the ACLU of Northern California’s Alameda County chapter, East Bay Community Law Center, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Faith in Action East Bay, Livermore Indivisible and Urban Peace Movement.

Chronicle editor Raheem Hosseini contributed to this report.

Joshua Sharpe is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @joshuawsharpe