Sheriff and DA Challenged

Progressive Black women seek to unseat Alameda County's Ahern and O'Malley

For years, Alameda County progressives sought candidates to unseat long-time Sheriff Gregory Ahern. In every case they failed to find a challenger. But a pair of progressive Black women on Wednesday announced campaigns to unseat not only Ahern, but also Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley, in 2022.

JoAnn Walker, a member of the San Francisco Police Department and an Alameda County resident, announced her candidacy for Alameda County sheriff on Wednesday. In addition, Oakland civil rights attorney Pamela Price announced she will mount a second campaign to unseat O’Malley at the Alameda County District Attorney’s office. They call their collective effort the “Justice Done Right” slate.

One of the enduring problems progressives face in finding a suitable challenger to Ahern is a prerequisite that any candidate must have a background in law enforcement. In Alameda County, the intersection between progressive values and law enforcement officers has proven difficult for producing suitable candidates.

Walker has 25 years of service, along with certification for Police Officers Standards Training (POST). Walker also taught at the police academy for seven years, she said.

“I am dismayed at the state of policing in Alameda County,” Walker said. “Instead of investing in meaningful and effective mental health services, de-escalation, bias training and restorative justice, Alameda County has moved in the opposite direction with a militarized police force. It is time for change and for county law enforcement to focus on truly protecting and serving residents in order to keep communities safe.”

Ahern’s handling of numerous cases of misconduct within the sheriff’s department, along with a number of deaths at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, has increasingly angered police accountability activists and the public in recent years. Yet, Ahern has never faced a re-election challenger during his 14 years as sheriff.

Price, meanwhile, is well-known in Alameda County politics. After unsuccessful runs for the state assembly, Price ran an aggressive campaign in 2018 against O’Malley. Like Ahern in 2022, O’Malley’s re-election had never before been challenged. Although Price lost the head-to-head D.A.’s race by 20 points, her effort revealed cracks in O’Malley’s support among Alameda County Democratic Party insiders.

O’Malley also undermined establishment support two years ago when she chose to endorse Ahern and then-Tri-Valley Republican Assemblymember Catharine Baker shortly after receiving the Alameda County Democratic Party’s endorsement.

Price’s 2018 platform for reforming the district attorney’s office appears unchanged for her latest run.

“The events of 2020 pulled back the curtain on the broken system of criminal justice, exposing the racial, socioeconomic and gender disparities within the nation’s criminal justice system,” Price said. “It is time to restore the public trust in how justice plays out in Alameda County. Today, I announce my run for Alameda County District Attorney because I want to lead the district attorney’s office with compassion, free of police union alliances and with public safety being top of mind.”

Rumors about an unnamed candidate readying a run for sheriff had circulated for several weeks. Price’s interest in running again for district attorney had also been apparent recently.

Last fall, Assemblymember Rob Bonta also expressed interest in running for district attorney in 2022, but his next political move appears elsewhere. Following state Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s nomination as U.S. Health and Human Services secretary, Bonta is on the short-list for appointment to become state attorney general.

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