Growing up in a family with prominent elected officials and attorneys, Joe Alioto Veronese knew the right steps to follow.
His grandfather, Joseph Alioto, was the 35th mayor of San Francisco, and his mom, Angela Alioto, served as president of the Board of Supervisors. Michela Alioto-Pier, Veronese’s cousin and the most recent Alioto family member to hold an elected office in the city, was also twice elected supervisor.
After serving on several powerful appointed positions—including the police and fire commissions—Veronese, an attorney and City Hall veteran, decided to challenge incumbent District Attorney Brooke Jenkins.
As DA, Alioto Veronese says he would wield a “21st-century criminal justice system” to “rescue” San Francisco. He’s also critical of the ties between Breed and Jenkins, and says he has a unique idea for holding SFPD accountable.
The Standard interviewed Veronese and this is part of a series of DA candidate profile features, which you can read here. Below is a transcript of the conversation, edited for clarity and length.
You were among the first to throw your hat in the ring, five months before Boudin’s recall. How has your campaign shaped up since then?
It’s going great. The thing about campaigns is that you want to peak at the right time, and that right time is when the ballots go out and the voters actually vote.
We’ve been raising money since February for the 2023 election. So now we're raising money for the election this year. It resets the limits for my donors, and that actually played to my benefit. However, even the limit is $500; rich people who want to donate to campaigns just do independent expenditures. That’s what I’m fighting in this election: the independent expenditures that were behind the Boudin recall.
It seems like you also wanted to run for DA in 2019 but didn’t end up doing it. What happened?
I actually filed to run in 2019, and within weeks I was notified of a piece of legislation that the Board of Supervisors was putting up. They had done some polls and they didn’t like the way I was polling. So they did a piece of legislation that prohibited any sitting commissioner from running, and it only applied to one person—that was me. So they forced me off the ballot back then.
But this time around they can’t do it because I’m no longer a sitting commissioner, and I’m in this to rescue San Francisco.
You are from a political dynasty. Did you grow up thinking about becoming a politician?
No, I’ve never thought of myself as a politician.
I’m very proud of the work that my family has done. We are public servants. At the end of the day, if you get wealthy in public service, there’s something very wrong about you, very corrupt about you.
I did run for the state Senate in 2008. I don’t do this for myself, I don’t do this for any selfish reasons.
Do you think your name will help you in this campaign?
There is some name recognition, absolutely.
But I’m a different version of my mother, Angela Alioto, who cared very much for this city. We’d be in a different city today if she’d been elected mayor. I’m a different version of my grandfather.
But certainly, I have some of the qualities, some of the compassion that she had, and I’d learned a lot tremendously from my grandfather as well. The bottom line is, I’m Joe Alioto Veronese, and I’m here to serve the people of San Francisco and to change San Francisco in a way that serves us all.
In your application for your candidacy, you said you are a civil rights attorney. Can you highlight some of the cases you’ve handled?
I’ve been practicing for about 22 years, and I represent employees against large corporations, some of them billion-dollar corporations.
We do whistleblower complaints, discrimination complaints. We prove racial animus every day in the courts. So for 22 years I’ve been going up against billion-dollar corporations fighting for individuals, fighting for employees. And that’s very unlike appointed DA Brooke Jenkins, who was working for corporations. That’s who I’m running against.
We have a choice here. We can accept the way San Francisco is going, down that path of despair and doom. Or we can make a change today. We can elect someone with real leadership that’s not afraid of the mayor.
You said you know how to prosecute hate crimes, while both Boudin and Jenkins have said it’s hard to pursue such charges. What’s your solution?
I’ve been doing it for 22 years. I prove racial animus in cases where people allege that they had been discriminated against where you don’t have the racial slurs evidence.
Mrs. Ren’s case, as well as Commissioner Greg Chew’s case, are both hate crimes. And this district attorney does not have the experience or the ability to do that.
Proving racial animus, which is the element that everybody is saying hard to do in hate crimes. I don’t have a problem charging hate crimes. I am going to use every lever I have at my disposal as the chief prosecutor of the city and county of San Francisco to make sure San Francisco is safe again. And I will use hate crimes if I have to.
You supported the Boudin recall and you appear to be positioning yourself as an ally with SFPD. Where do you fall on the spectrum of reformist to tough-on-crime compared to your opponents?
I did not support the Boudin recall campaign. I voted in favor of the recall, but I did not support the campaign. That campaign was being run by very wealthy Republicans.
I am not left, I am not right. I don’t believe in left and right. I think that on every issue people have their opinions. And in some issues I am more progressive, and in other issues I’m not.
SF is in the throes of a drug crisis. On KTVU, you mentioned you will mass-arrest dealers on your first day as DA, which seems like more SFPD’s job. What did you mean by that statement?
Well, I disagree with you.
The criminal justice infrastructure of San Francisco is made up of several parts. One of my first moves as district attorney will be to place a ballot measure that puts the appointment authority of the chief of police under the district attorney. Under my administration, the police and the police chief will report to me.
I think that the mayor plays politics with the chief of police. She does her press conferences with the chief, and she plays tough there. But at the end of the day, nothing changes for San Francisco.
You’ve been questioning Jenkins’ independence from the mayor. I believe after the recall you also sought the DA appointment, right? What would be the main difference between you and Jenkins as DA?
Yes, that’s right. And there’s a huge difference between me and her. The DA currently has a significant problem with the truth. And frankly, it’s unacceptable.
I’m from San Francisco, but I didn’t move here [recently]. I’ve never been hired by three nonprofits to work on a campaign to overthrow my old boss. I’d never quit a job saying that I actually quit, when in fact I was under review for withholding exculpatory evidence in a murder trial.
You can go right down to the petty things, like her Instagram handle, BrookeJenkinsSF, she’s Union City Brooke Jenkins. She’s not from San Francisco.
What’s your sense of the state of crime in San Francisco today—do you feel safe?
I’m a former police officer, I feel safe, but that's me.
My child, most people I know [and] the Chinese community do not feel safe walking in their community. On day one I will send strong messages that we're not going to tolerate that. If you come to San Francisco to prey on our people, we will come after you. We were going to bring justice to you. And if you are a child, we’re going to go after the parents as well.
My son was assaulted by two homeless people. He was chased out of a park one time by a homeless person wielding a [knife]. [And he was] chased down the street with his mom one time by a homeless man with a white chair.
We start with public safety and then we work with the legislature, the Police Commission, the chief of police. We are going to deliver a 21st-century criminal justice system that the people of San Francisco deserve.
Watch our interview with candidate Maurice Chenier.