Public Defender Adachi Joins Crowded S.F. Mayoral Race

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Jeff Adachi speaks to reporters after filing at the Department of Elections. (Photo by David Elliott Lewis)

By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer

Just when it seemed that San Francisco’s mayoral race could not get more crowded — or crazy — Jeff Adachi, head of the Public Defender’s Office, has thrown his hat into the ring.

Adachi, who has placed a controversial pension reform measure on the November ballot, filed as a candidate on Friday afternoon, just before the deadline. For months he has publicly stated that he was not planning to run, but one insider said that it has been rumored for the past two weeks that Adachi was getting ready to jump in.

He is the 16th mayoral hopeful, joining several past and present elected officials. Adachi is the only Nikkei in the race and one of six Asian Americans.

During a press conference outside the Department of Elections, Adachi said that he felt compelled to enter the race after finding that the most pressing issues facing the city were not addressed at the last two mayoral debates.

“I am running to restore fiscal accountability and integrity to City Hall,” Adachi told the Rafu Shimpo in an email. “As public defender, I’ve fought for the rights of everyday San Franciscans in the courts. For the last two years, I’ve tackled one of the most difficult issues — pension reform — and placed two initiatives on the ballot.”

Asked about his chances against opponents who have been campaigning for months, Adachi said, “In terms of my campaign strategy, it’s gambare all the way. As a third-generation Japanese American, I’ve always believed in the need to support our communities from within and that’s what I’ll do as mayor. I hope the Japanese American community will support my bid.”

Last November, Adachi was the main proponent of Proposition B, which would have required city workers to contribute more to their own pension and health insurance costs. It was defeated by about 57 percent to 43 percent. He argued that the city will go bankrupt if the current retirement system is not changed, but unions said his measure went too far and was drafted without their input.

Adachi said at the time that going against the unions was “the last thing” a mayoral candidate would want to do. None of the city’s other elected officials backed Proposition B and many spoke out against it.

In May, Mayor Ed Lee announced a new pension reform measure that resulted from months of negotiations between the city and labor leaders. Adachi said that the measure, though a step in the right direction, did not go far enough, and he continued efforts to get his own measure qualified for the ballot. SF Weekly reports that Adachi’s plan would save $279 million to $364 million more than the City Hall plan over 10 years.

The animosity toward Adachi among city employees’ unions was evident in June when he attended a funeral for two firefighters who had died in the line of duty and was asked to leave. The brother of one of the firefighters had criticized Adachi in a letter to the San Francisco Chronicle a few days earlier.

Adachi’s chances as a candidate may depend on how much support his ballot measure gets from the general public.

Adachi was first elected public defender in 2002, defeating the appointed incumbent, Kimiko Burton. At the time, he had worked in the Public Defender’s Office for 15 years. He was re-elected without opposition in 2006 and 2010.

Adachi was the subject of a 2002 PBS documentary about public defenders, “Presumed Guilty.” He is himself a filmmaker, having produced two documentaries about Hollywood’s portrayals of Asians, “The Slanted Screen” and “You Don’t Know Jack: The Jack Soo Story.”

He has been recognized by, among others, the California State Bar Association for public service, the Asian American Bar Association of the Greater Bay Area for legal advocacy, the Mayor’s Fiscal Advisory Committee for managerial excellence, the California Public Defender Association for program of the year, and the American Bar Association for public defense. In 2007, he received the CLAY (California Lawyer Attorney of the Year) award for his work in prisoner re-entry.

Born in 1959 in Sacramento, Adachi lives with his wife, Mutsuko (a former Nisei Week Queen), and their daughter, Lauren.

Two Bombshells in One Week

Adachi’s announcement came during the same week that Mayor Lee declared his candidacy after months of stating that he wasn’t interested in running.

Lee, the city’s first Asian American mayor, was appointed by the Board of Supervisors to serve the last year of Gavin Newsom’s term when Newsom was elected lieutenant governor. At the time, Lee told the 11 supervisors — two of whom are running for mayor — that he had no intention of seeking a full four-year term and wanted to go back to his job as city administrator next year.

Those pleased with Lee’s record as mayor launched “Run, Ed, Run” campaigns to persuade him. Although he has the advantage of incumbency and a reputation for being willing to compromise, his opponents are charging that he broke his promise not to run and that his backers — including former Mayor Willie Brown and Chinatown community leader Rose Pak — will be pulling the strings.

Former Supervisor Michael Yaki wrote in a recent blog, “In the end, the public cares about performance. And Ed Lee has performed at the highest level since assuming office … He has brought back the virtue of working for the average San Franciscan back to the second floor of City Hall.”

In addition to Adachi and Lee, nine other candidates are considered serious contenders:

• Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, whose district includes Chinatown, and Supervisor John Avalos;

• Former Supervisors Michela Alioto-Pier, Bevan Dufty, who would be the city’s first gay mayor if elected, and Tony Hall, who said in an Aug. 8 candidates’ debate that Adachi’s reform plan was better than City Hall’s plan (although he has not endorsed either);

• City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who has blasted Adachi’s measure, and City Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting;

• State Sen. Leland Yee, who has also served in the State Assembly and on the Board of Supervisors and Board of Education;

• Joanna Rees, a venture capitalist who has never run for public office.

Also in the running are Cesar Ascarrunz, Terry Baum, Paul Currier, Emil Laurence and Wilma Pang.

The field of 16 is less than half of the original list of potential candidates.

For the first time, ranked-choice voting — in which voters list their first, second and third choices — will be used in the mayor’s race to avoid a costly runoff election. This will affect campaign strategies since the candidate who gets the most first-choice votes may not win after some candidates are eliminated and their supporters’ alternate choices are counted. It was through this process that Jean Quan was elected mayor of Oakland last year.

The San Francisco Bay Guardian summed up the latest development with this headline: “Adachi Jumps in and the Slugfest Begins.”

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