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Politics & Policy

Will Asian American voters support Brooke Jenkins?

San Francisco’s new district attorney, Brooke Jenkins, attends the press conference on Thursday, July 7, 2022, in San Francisco, Calif. | Paul Kuroda for The Standard.

Moments before the official announcement of her becoming San Francisco’s new district attorney, Brooke Jenkins, who’s Black and Latina, got herself an authentic Chinese name: 謝安宜. The christening signaled an attempt to appeal to the city’s powerful Asian American voting bloc.

As a driving force to remove former DA Chesa Boudin from office, the city’s Asian population has cried out about public safety concerns, and reported hate incidents against their community surging in the past few years. And Jenkins—a former hate crimes prosecutor who positioned herself as the voice of the recall campaign—is well aware of that.

“Our Asian American community has been targeted by hate crimes and left feeling vulnerable and scared to go about their daily lives,” Jenkins told The Standard. She promised to listen to people of Asian descent, as well as other diverse communities. She also vowed to respect and listen to victims, and to make promoting and protecting public safety her “number one priority.”

That tough-on-crime tone resonated in her speech at the press conference where Mayor London Breed announced her appointment—and in subsequent conversations with reporters. 

“Hate crimes will no longer be tolerated,” she told The Standard, “and those who commit such crimes will be held accountable.”

Jenkins’ Asian Supporters

As the recall campaign chair, Mary Jung, an Asian American woman and the former local Democratic Party chair, worked closely with Jenkins to oust Boudin. 

Their working relationship makes Jung’s support for Jenkins a no-brainer: Jung has made it clear that she believes Jenkins will make the Asian community safer.

“I know she won’t tolerate any racially driven crime whatsoever,” Jung said, adding that she feels Jenkins “cares deeply about doing everything in her power to stop hate and violence against the API community.”

Julie Soo, a Chinese American commissioner of the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, is also an early supporter of Jenkins.

“In looking at factors for the appointment,” Soo said, “I predicted in March that if the recall effort was successful that Brooke would be a strong candidate for DA.”.

While many of the potential DA candidates are qualified, Soo said, Jenkins stands out because of her reputation, community backing and the timing to have a DA “who knows the experience of living as a Black person in America.”

Nancy Tung’s Next

After the June election in which voters recalled Boudin by a narrow margin, the momentum in the Asian community has mounted to push for the appointment of Nancy Tung, a Alameda County deputy district attorney considered to be another “tough-on-crime” prosecutor. 

Tung lost to Boudin in the 2019 DA’s race, winning about 19% of the first-round votes.

In a phone call with The Standard, Tung said she knew Mayor Breed had a tough decision on this appointment, and that Jenkins may “fit her priority more.”

Tung, a loyal ally of Breed and the city’s moderate politics, is believed to be on the final shortlist of Breed’s potential appointees. In the phone interview, Tung said she’s unsure whether she will run in November to challenge Jenkins or seek opportunities to work for Jenkins in San Francisco’s DA’s Office.

Though Tung may not become the city’s first Chinese American DA, Boudin has long touted his effort in increasing the Chinese American representation in the DA’s Office.

Since he took office, Boudin has hired Kasie Lee, a bilingual Chinese American who works in victim services; Francis Chan, a Chinese American community affairs director who quit months after the job and more Cantonese-speaking victim advocates. He also created the API victim unit and promoted Marshall Khine, a veteran prosecutor of Chinese descent, as chief assistant DA. 

It’s unclear whether Jenkins will make any changes to those staff or positions.

A Question of Electability

Dennis Wu, a longtime community leader and a Tung supporter, said he understands Mayor Breed had a difficult decision to make: she had to pick someone she thought would have a chance at winning the fall election to serve the rest of Boudin’s term. 

Wu told The Standard that he and Breed had a discussion shortly before the announcement, in which she acknowledged that “electability” played a critical role in picking an appointee. Wu referred to the 2019 DA’s race when Breed appointed Suzy Loftus to be the top prosecutor, but Loftus eventually lost to Boudin in the subsequent election.

Soo agreed with the mayor’s reasoning. While Jenkins may have lesser name recognition among Chinese residents, she said she seems to have a “strong appeal to all communities.”

The Mayor’s Office couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.

Wu—the former leader at the Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs and now the founder of his own nonprofit—said he hopes Jenkins can bring back “accountability” to the city, and urged the community to hold her accountable, too, “if she’s not doing her job.”

Leanna Louie, one of the most outspoken recall supporters and protesters from the Asian community against Boudin, said her first choice remains Tung but would support Jenkins, too.

“The Chinese community will be a little bit upset (if it’s not Nancy Tung) but we will support other choices,” Louie said, adding that it would be great for Jenkins and Tung to work together in the DA’s office.

She suggested that the mayor and Jenkins would recognize the “blood and sweat” that the Asian community put into the recall and pay more attention to Chinese victims.

The Standard has reached out to several former Asian American elected officials who opposed the recall and supported Boudin but haven’t heard back.