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Home > News > PTI

After Bobby, community hopes ride on Kamala Harris

Meenakshi Ganjoo in Silicon Valley | December 09, 2003 04:14 IST

After Bobby Jindal's unsuccessful bid for Louisiana Governorship, another Indian  American is fighting to become San Francisco's District Attorney in a nationalised watched election set for December 9.

Kamala Harris, 39, a lawyer by profession is likely to become the first Indian American woman in the US to land a top prosecutor's job.

A recent poll for CBS 5-TV showed Harris maintaining a slight edge. Among 505 certain voters surveyed last week, 52 per cent said they supported Harris to Terrence Hallinan's 47 per cent. Hallinan's camp said the incumbent has never polled well but has a strong ecord on election day.

Harris, daughter of an Indian mother and a Jamaican father, had been a relative unknown at the outset of the campaign and published polling numbers never showed her above 19 per cent.

However, she surprised many when she got 33 per cent of votes at the Nov 4 election coming second to incumbent Hallinan and edging out Bill Fazio by about 5,000 votes.

Harris has run her campaign on a platform critical of Hallinan's low conviction rate, and promised an aggressive prosecution of violent crimes, especially sexual exploitation and domestic violence against women and children.

"We see her as a member of the South Asian community and are proud to endorse her. It's absolutely historic as far as we're concerned that a South Asian might obtain such a high office," says Paul Grewal, president of the South Asian Bar Association of Northern California.

Grewal told North Gate News that many of San Francisco's South Asians saw Harris as strong on issues that were important to them.

"One issue that we're sensitive to is hate crimes. Post 9/11, many South Asians have been victims of hate crimes and the District Attorney's office has been less than responsive to our interest in seeing those crimes prosecuted," Grewal says.

"Kamala contacted us very early and worked to build bridges and make introductions into the South Asian community as a whole and was eager to see us represented on campaign."

Harris has also the support of the African American community, with SF Bay View, a national Black newspaper throwing its weight behind her.

For the first time ever, a woman of African descent has a real chance of becoming San Francisco's district attorney, the paper said in an editorial urging black voters to vote for her.

Harris has acknowledged her own unique position as a woman of colour poised to take over the DA's office. In an interview with legal publication The Recorder, she discussed her ability to relate to many of San Francisco's diverse communities.

"I can walk very comfortably in the Bayview, as comfortably as I do downtown, as comfortably as I do in different sectors of the city that quite frankly don't really, necessarily see each other or speak with each other, talk with each other," she said.

Kamala was a respected prosecutor in Alameda County for eight years before leading Hallinan's career criminal unit in San Francisco between 1998 and 2000. She is on leave from the San Francisco city attorney's office.

Kamala is currently a deputy city attorney. She was born in Oakland and brought up in Berkeley, where her mother Dr Shyamala Harris was active in the civil rights movement. Living in Berkeley, she had met her Jamaican husband.

Kamala and her sister Maya Lakshmi are perceived to be closer to their Indian roots -- they are as comfortable in saris as in business suits and they visited their grandparents in Chennai till some years back.

Earlier this year, she told the San Francisco Examiner: "I grew up with a strong Indian culture, and I was raised in a black community."

"All my friends were black and we got together and cooked Indian food and painted 'henna' on our hands, and I never felt uncomfortable with my cultural background."

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