Alameda County will elect its 1st Black district attorney

In the race for Alameda County district attorney, the outcome will be historic no matter who wins. Voters will elect either a Black man or woman to the office for the first time. 

Terry Wiley was leading Pamela Price by 52% to 48% on Wednesday, but hundreds of thousands of ballots still needed to be counted. The final results could take days to be counted to determine the winner.

Still, the race has already made history. 

"It's very significant," said Greg Totten, executive officer for the California District Attorneys Association, representing the state's 58 district attorneys. "Alameda County is an exceedingly diverse jurisdiction and it's good for residents to have people of color in this position. Unfortunately, there are a disproportionate number of African Americans represented in both the offender and victim communities. And having [someone] in this office with a background of that nature will bring a cultural understanding and awareness to the job."

Whoever wins will become the first Black DA in the county and the fourth Black DA in all of California, after Diana Becton in Contra Costa County and Brooke Jenkins of San Francisco, who declared victory Wednesday afternoon. That also includes Vice President Kamala Harris, who was San Francisco DA from 2004 to 2010. 

Longtime Alameda County DA Nancy O'Malley, who decided not to run again after first being elected in 2009, endorsed Wiley, a veteran prosecutor and the more conservative of the two choices on the ballot. 

But Wiley has marketed himself as a strong advocate for criminal justice reform and fighting inequalities in the justice system. In the early 2000s, he prosecuted the historic Oakland Riders case, where four police officers were accused of planting evidence and harming Black residents, which led to federal oversight of the police department, which is still in effect today.  

More recently, he helped form a partnership with the NAACP Expungement Program, which cleared the records of hundreds of people in the county. 

Wiley has said he will focus on prosecuting the 2,000 repeat offenders who commit the majority of crimes in Alameda County, increasing the number of people referred to drug treatment and mental health care programs and expanding job training and union internship programs. 

He said he will also focus on prosecuting those who commit anti-Asian violence, domestic violence, crimes against children, and hate crimes. He said he has a 93% conviction rate as head of the felony trial team.

Wiley is a graduate of UC Berkeley and the University of San Diego's School of Law and was endorsed by Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, Attorney General Rob Bonta and US Rep. Eric Swalwell, among others. 

Price, on the other hand, has no prosecutorial experience. Yet she was close behind Wiley in the voting.

Price is a civil rights attorney who ran unsuccessfully for the same post in 2018. But in June, she received the highest percentage of votes in the primary race, forcing the November election. 

Price paints herself as a progressive who will prosecute police, stop charging children younger than 18 as adults and never seek the death penalty. 

She said her particular passion is suing the California Department of Corrections on behalf of employees, particularly women subjected to sexual harassment.

Price was endorsed by celebrities including John Legend and Danny Glover, activist Angela Davis and Delaine Eastin, a former assemblywoman and California state superintendent of instruction. 

She is a graduate of Yale College, where she joined a suit against the school establishing that sexual harassment in education constitutes sex discrimination. She also holds a degree from UC Berkeley's Law School.

Brendon Woods, Alameda County's public defender and one of two Black public defenders in the state of California, told KTVU that it's good an African-American will become the chief prosecutor.

But that's not enough.

"We also need someone whose values will actually help our community," said Woods, whose job to defend people charged with crimes is directly opposed to the goal of the district attorney. "Will they fight against mass incarceration and over-policing? Will they fix the disproportionate impact the criminal legal system has on Black people?"

Woods pointed to the actions of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who is Black and conservative. 

"He has done more harm than good to communities of color," Woods said.

In addition, Woods said that the new DA must clean up the ethics violations he's witnessed in the top prosecutor's office and be aware of the funding disparity between the prosecution and the defense. 

Last month, California’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office released a report that found that in 2018 alone, the state’s counties spent $2 billion on prosecution — 82% more than what they did on public defenders.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was update to include Kamala Harris as a Black DA in California.