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District attorney candidates gave an early indication Wednesday of how they’ll be pitching themselves — and attacking their opponents — as the election season heats up in San Francisco. Incumbent Terence Hallinan is putting corruption fighting at the forefront of his platform. Criminal defense solo Bill Fazio is trying to shed his conservative label. And Deputy City Attorney Kamala Harris, while portraying herself as ideologically similar to Hallinan, is attempting to distinguish herself by saying she is more qualified, competent and in touch with the community. The three appeared together at a Sanchez Street church to participate in a forum sponsored by the Noe Valley Democratic Club. It was one of their first appearances together. Hallinan almost immediately set out to put a positive spin on the Fajitagate case. Earlier this year, a grand jury charged seven police brass with conspiring to obstruct justice, and the DA pursued the charges against five of them. Though he didn’t get convictions, the DA offered the case as an example of his commitment to take on difficult cases and fight corruption, saying that his actions have led to some attempts at reform. But the DA couldn’t deflect criticism on the issue altogether. Though Hallinan dropped charges against two of the brass for lack of evidence, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Kay Tsenin said he should have done that with all seven and dismissed the charges against the other five before they could get to trial. Both Fazio and Harris echoed the judge’s criticism, saying Hallinan had an ethical responsibility to look at the evidence before acting and charge only what he could prove. “You did nothing other than damage good people,” said Fazio, who defended one of the cops. Fazio also blasted Hallinan’s courtroom record, saying the DA’s office had a lower budget and a higher conviction rate before Hallinan took office. Hallinan said his pledge when elected was to be tough on violent crime and to look at other ways to deal with nonviolent crimes. If a diversion program works, he added, “It’s not a statistic I get, it’s not a conviction, but in my mind, it’s a win.” His success should be judged not on conviction rates but on crime statistics and how safe people feel in San Francisco, he added. Fazio was put on the defensive when it came to ideology. Event moderator Rafael Mandelman, a lawyer and the president of the Democratic Club, observed that Fazio frequently is viewed as conservative. Fazio responded that he thinks people have a misconception that he’s conservative until they meet him. He noted that he’s changed his position on the death penalty — he now pledges not to pursue it at all — and went so far as to assert that he’s been a more liberal lawyer than his opponents in some ways. Throughout the forum, Fazio also made an effort to cast himself as a quintessential San Franciscan. He noted he’s the only candidate who has lived in San Francisco his entire life and that his father wasn’t famous like Hallinan’s, nor as highly educated as Harris’ parents. “My dad was kind of a simple guy,” Fazio said. “We didn’t have a lot of money, but we had a lot of love.” Hallinan took the contrast in stride. “Bill was born in the Children’s Hospital, and I was kissed by Eleanor Roosevelt in the Chinese playground,” Hallinan quipped, to some laughter. Harris praised Fazio’s legal abilities and harshly criticized Hallinan’s. She contrasted herself with Fazio by saying the DA needs to be responsive to citizens in all parts of the community, and should be able to bring businesses, neighborhoods and nonprofit organizations together to address problems — as she’s done on a task force to address teenage prostitution, she said. But she tried to paint Fazio back into a conservative corner, pointedly asking him in front of the Democratic audience if he would accept the Republican Party’s endorsement this year as he has in the past. Fazio said he didn’t know yet. Though both her opponents praised her lawyering, Harris didn’t escape criticism. Fazio, quoting from a newspaper clipping in which Harris said she didn’t disagree with Hallinan’s platform, asked her why she was running at all. “Platform means his stated goals and intentions,” Harris said, adding that while she agrees with the “spirit” of what Hallinan has said he will do, he has failed to do it. “I am running because we also need a DA who can be competent and effective.” Noting that San Francisco politics are flavored by whether politicians are with Mayor Willie Brown or against him, the moderator suggested that Harris’ opponents may suggest running against her is like running against Brown. The mayor is endorsing Harris and is advertised as one of at least seven hosts for her campaign kick-off. Her opponents have made an issue of the personal relationship she had with the mayor more than eight years ago, Harris responded. But she says that it’s her experience, competence, ethics and integrity that have won her the support of many people, including several lawyers. Then she reminded the audience of mudslinging between Hallinan and Fazio in previous elections — with specifics. When the two men ran against each other before, Fazio brought up a 1993 sexual harassment suit that had been brought against Hallinan and settled, Harris said. And Hallinan, she said, brought up a 1998 incident in which Fazio was found in a massage parlor during a police raid. (Fazio said he was there interviewing a witness for a case, fully clothed and with a briefcase, according to newspaper reports.) “I’m not going to engage in negative campaigning like they’ve done to me,” she said. The audience burst into laughter, hooting and clapping.

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