By David M. Greenwald
Oakland, CA – After watching the Alameda District Attorney Candidates Forum last week, one thing we know for sure—Alameda County will have its first ever Black District Attorney.
On the surface, all four of the candidates sounded like reformers. However, pretty quickly that veneer fades when it comes to Terry Wiley—who is backed by outgoing incumbent Nancy O’Malley.
Terry Wiley said that “we have a district attorney’s office that needs new leadership.”
But, while he claims the support of Civil Rights Attorneys John Burris and Benjamin Crump, and all 17 police chiefs in Alameda County—as Pamela Price, who ran in 2018 against O’Malley pointed out to the Vanguard—he never mentioned he was backed by O’Malley.
Price compared him to NY Mayor Eric Adams.
“He talks about all the endorsements from the Civil Rights community and never once does he mention it, O’Malley endorsed him first,” Price said.
“Recently he’s adopted the strategy from the Mayor of New York. Was a former police officer. But he was able to persuade people that he was also a social reformer. When I see the presentation now from Terry (Wiley), I realize he is completely modeling after the Mayor of New York.”
While he mentioned the need for the office to change, Price points out “he is of that office. He is their champion. He talks out of both side of his mouth. On the one hand, yes, there are all these problems, but on the other hand, we’ve been doing so well.
“So it’s confusing,” she said. “That’s the troubling part, is that his dialogue and his presentation is going to be confusing to voters. And as a trial lawyer, if the people are confused that means you lose.”
Both Seth Steward and Jimmy Wilson have adopted a more proactive progressive approach.
Seth Steward noted, “We will be electing our first Black DA here in Alameda County.” (All four candidates are Black). “That said,” he continued “we can continue with the status quo or we can do something different.
“We need to get out of the status quo silo and we need to invest in changes,” he said. “For example, ending the death penalty, creating a resentencing unit prosecuting officers who violate the law, and reforming the juvenile justice system. These are all things that I have in my platform.”
Jimmy Wilson explained, “In January of 2020, I walked into Nancy O’Malley’s office and I told her I was running for district attorney. I am not her choice for for this job. I’m running because many lives have been destroyed under the failed policies of the current leadership.”
He said, “I’m here to reverse the devastation that our community has suffered to bring back a sense of hope and to lead us towards a brighter future, a future where everyone in the community can feel safe and respected.”
Price describes him less as a reformer and more as a disgruntled employee.
“He really is saying it needs to reform, but I think he at this point is coming off more as a disgruntled employee,” she said. “He wants to tinker around the edges of what has to happen. His heart is not a progressive spirit.”
She noted, “He’s at great risk of being captured by the police associations because that’s who they’re endorsing him and raising money for him. So he can’t be a reformer, not with who he’s going to be beholden to.”
Seth Steward, on the other hand, has literally said “he is part of the progressive wave, the wave of progressive prosecutors.”
Part of the reason all three sang the progressive tune was the venue of the event sponsored by the Justice Reinvestment Coalition of Alameda County and Urban Peace.
On the other hand, at the Castro Valley Democratic Club, she said, Terry Wiley talked about “working with the court system to increase the bail.”
One interesting factor from Pamela Price’s perspective—everyone running is Black and she is the only woman. During the candidates’ forum, it seemed the men were fighting among themselves.
Terry Wiley, after the candidates were warned to “keep it fair and cordial,” responded to Seth Steward. He said, “His comments that he just made shows his inexperience.”
He said in 2013, juvenile hall was averaging 300 juveniles in custody. “We’re now down to the juveniles that have only committed the most serious offenses,” he said. “Now, does that mean that because the kid is African American or Hispanic, and they’ve committed they’re charged with murder, we should let them out so that we don’t have black kids in custody? We’ve only got the most serious kids in custody in juvenile.”
He pointed out that Seth Steward said he wants to create a new unit “that considers previous convictions.” Wiley responded, “Well, we have a unit, we have three of our top attorneys in the DA’s office that make up our post-conviction unit, that analyzes all of the cases that have been previously that have previously come through the system.”
He added, “It does not matter whether the DA agrees or not for those cases to be considered, it’s the law of California. So you have no choice, but to have lawyers looking at those cases and considering those cases. And we have lawyers every day who are agreeing resentencing, on some of those cases that would be a more fair disposition, on the case.”
Wiley stated, “You have to understand that in the DA’s office, Alameda County is not perfect. We do need new leadership. We need to reset our priorities, but we’ve also been an office that has tried to be a leader in many areas.”
The fact that there are no white candidates in the race could be interesting.
“I think it’s interesting because we do have a fair contingent of racist, overt racists in Alameda County,” Price told the Vanguard. “I’m sure the Republicans in South County are not happy.”
At last week’s San Francisco recall forum, Don Du Bain, the former Solano County prosecutor, made the comment: “I’ve known plenty of progressive DAs in my time—Nancy O’Malley over in Alameda County, Jeff Reisig in Yolo County.
Pamela Price was not familiar with Du Bain, but she noted, “Because it’s California and we’re overwhelmingly Democratic, and the Democratic Party is a big tent party, we people in our criminal justice system that have been so much part of the problem, but want to have been able to pretend that they are progressive, they take the label, that’s all it is.”
She said, “They take the label because they want the branding, but in practice, Nancy O’Malley has not been a progressive reformer at all for Alameda County.
“Our county is so far behind in terms of wrongful convictions and accountability for district attorneys and police accountability. I mean, by every measure, youth justice, we are horrible in terms of the racial disparities in this county. And that has been acceptable under Nancy O’Malley’s regime.”
She added, “Nancy O’Malley was bred and brought to us in the same line of district attorneys that we have been living under since the 1960s.”
Price added, “She has been able to effectively essentially deceive the public into believing that she’s progressive by adopting—when the term became popular, they adopted it. It means nothing when you’re looking at who they really are.
“That’s what you have to look at—the policies,” she said. “Anybody can say they’re progressive, but what have been their policies and what have been their practices and anybody that looks at Nancy O’Malley’s practices knows that she has not been a progressive performer in that office.”