In his last act as mayor, Gavin Newsom today tapped police chief George Gascon as San Francisco’s district attorney.
“I have taken this decision very very seriously and very personally,” Newsom said at a press conference packed with public officials at City Hall.
Gascon said he will run to keep his new job as district attorney in the fall. Newsom also announced that assistant police chief Jeff Godown will step in for Gascon as acting police chief.
There’s been intense speculation for weeks on who might get the nod from Newsom. Among the names still swirling in the past week was Harris’s administrative chief, Paul Henderson. David Chiu, a former prosecutor and president of the board of supervisors, was considered a frontrunner, but he told the mayor on Thursday he didn’t want the job after all.
Newsom acknowleged that Gascon was a surprise. “You didn’t know this, many of you, but our police chief is a lawyer,” Newsom said.
The idea of appointing Gascon came to Newsom yesterday, he said, while he was asking him for specific names and general advice on what to look for in a new DA: “As I was listening to him, it became clear to me that he was the choice.”
Newsom said he and Gascon talked in detail about “building real partnerships” between the police department and the district attorney’s office, as well as the judicial branch.
“I said ‘What about you?’” Newsom said, “and he kind of kept talking over me and then said ‘wait, are you serious?’”
Newsom said he had consulted with Attorney General Kamala Harris on who she thought should replace her as DA.
While Newsom had earlier said he would defer to Harris on her successor, today he said “ultimately the decision was mine.”
Gascon intimated he would follow in Harris’ footsteps, calling her “one of the best district attorneys around.” Gascon stood by Harris last month at a news conference in which she announced a team of policy experts advising her during her transition to the attorney general’s office.
The two also held joint news conferences over the now-shuttered SFPD drug lab when the fiasco broke last spring.
“I took this job because I really believe that we can take and build on the hard work that now Attorney General Harris has done,” Gascon said.
He also said he could bring a unique perspective to the role of San Francisco’s DA, given his years in law enforcement.
“I’m not aware of any other county in this country where you have the former police chief become the district attorney,” Gascon said.
But Gascon also said new tactics are needed for the difficult budget times ahead.
“The models that we have used in the past are no longer going to work,” he said. “We’re going to have to figure out ways to bring the criminal justice system together in ways we haven’t in the past.”
And, perhaps in a departure from Harris’s contentious relationship with Public Defender Jeff Adachi, Gascon also made an effort to start out on a harmonious note, saying he looked forward to working with Adachi.
“I do believe that the role of public defender is a very important role, and while I understand that in our system of crminal justice often we are called upon to be in an adversarial role … I think there is also a lot of things that we can do together,” he said.
A year ago, Gascon told The San Francisco Chronicle that he had no ambitions politically and that he had the best job in the city.
Gascon, who got his law degree from Western State University College of Law and was admitted to the state bar in 1996, said he practiced civil law for two years while he was still a cop in Los Angeles.