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Politics & Policy

Brooke Jenkins campaign poll shows appointed DA as frontrunner in race, but opponents remain hopeful

A composite photo (from left) of San Francisco District Attorney candidates Joe Alioto Veronese, Brooke Jenkins and John Hamasaki. | The Standard

A newly released poll puts top prosecutor Brooke Jenkins, who was appointed by Mayor London Breed this summer, ahead of the pack in San Francisco’s fast-moving district attorney’s race, but her two biggest competitors are still optimistic about their chances of winning.

The poll, commissioned by Jenkins’ campaign and conducted by EMC Research, shows Jenkins emerging as frontrunner in the race against criminal defense attorney John Hamasaki and civil rights lawyer Joe Alioto Veronese, who each served stints on the Police Commission.

The poll found that 49% of respondents would choose Jenkins as their first choice, while Hamasaki and Alioto Veronese trailed behind with 26% and 15% of first-choice votes, respectively. A fourth candidate, Maurice Chenier, would garner 5% of first-choice votes, and 6% of respondents were undecided.

The findings offer an early indication of how the candidates might stack up come Nov. 8 in a hyper condensed political contest that was spurred by the recall of District Attorney Chesa Boudin in June.

Under San Francisco’s complicated ranked-choice electoral system, voters can list multiple candidates on their ballot in order of preference. After ballots are in, candidates are eliminated round-by-round and votes are redistributed until one contender has a majority of the remaining votes and wins.

The poll, which has a +/- 4.9% margin of error, was conducted among 400 likely voters by phone and over the internet. The survey was offered in English and Chinese between Aug. 28 and Sept. 1.

Among its other findings was that respondents viewed Jenkins most favorably out of the bunch. Some 49% of respondents had a favorable view of Jenkins compared to 20% each for Hamasaki and Veronese. At the same time, 35% of respondents had an unfavorable opinion of the interim district attorney compared to 21% for Hamasaki and 23% for Alioto Veronese.

Jenkins, who released the poll results Wednesday, said she was not getting ahead of herself. 

“We are not taking anything for granted and will keep spreading our message of restoring accountability and safety back to San Francisco to voters in every neighborhood,” she said in a statement.

Jenkins was a political unknown until she quit her job late last year as a line attorney for Boudin to become a public face for an aggressive and nationally watched campaign to boot him from office. She emerged from the recall as his successor when Breed named her interim top cop on July 7.

Jenkins has since positioned herself as a tough-on-crime prosecutor focused on curtailing drug dealing and pulling back on Boudin-era policies

Her brief tenure in office has not been without controversy.

Last month, ethics records showed Jenkins earned a six-figure salary from three nonprofits linked to the recall while the campaign cast her as a volunteer, raising questions about whether she misled the public. Jenkins has said her nonprofit income was separate from her volunteer work.

Jenkins’ political opponents thought little of her poll’s findings.

Hamasaki said he was “thrilled” with the 26% of first-choice votes going his way in the poll, given the amount of time left in the short race.

“I think that’s a pretty strong showing for a first-time candidate and I don’t see any problem closing that gap by November,” he said.

By comparison, Hamasaki thought the support for Jenkins reflected in the poll seemed “modest,” since she had a head start in the race.

Alioto Veronese put no stock in the numbers at all.

He said publicizing the results seemed to be part of a strategy to dissuade donors and voters from supporting other candidates.

“This is all nonsense,” Alioto Veronese said. “It’s just a political play three weeks before ballots are dropping in San Francisco.”

Jim Ross, a local political consultant who ran Boudin’s campaign against the recall, was not surprised by the results. But 49% of first-choice votes for the incumbent seemed a “little softer” than anticipated, he said.

“She is in a strong position because people have heard of her, because she is the DA,” said Ross, who is not working for any candidate in the race.

Ross said the contest will turn on whether Hamasaki or Alioto Veronese will have the resources or ability to drive up their name recognition.

He said one path to victory for either of them is for the two underdogs to run an “anybody but Jenkins” strategy, informally or otherwise.

Hamasaki said he has no plans to work together with his competitor. 

Alioto Veronese, however, did not take cooperation off the table: “You’ll know when and if that happens.”