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Tim Talk: Critical June elections for Alameda County sheriff and district attorney

Alameda County voters face two crucial decisions concerning law enforcement in the June 7 primary.
2022 Alameda County sheriff, DA candidates
Top: Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern (left) is being challenged by Alameda County Sheriff's Commander Yesenia Sanchez (center) and San Francisco police Officer JoAnn Walker (right) in the June 7 primary. Bottom: Candidates for Alameda County District Attorney are (left to right) Pamela Price, Seth Steward, Terry Wiley and Jimmie Wilson.

Alameda County voters face two crucial decisions concerning law enforcement in the June 7 primary. You likely already have received your ballot because they were mailed to every registered voter.

For the first time in decades, there will be no incumbent District Attorney on the ballot. Nancy O’Malley, who was appointed to replace her boss Tom Orloff in 2009, won re-election three times and decided not to stand for another four-year term. Orloff held the job for 15 years of his 40 in the district attorney’s office and recommended O’Malley for his replacement.

Two veteran prosecutors, including O’Malley’s top assistant Terry Willey, are vying to replace her as are progressive Pamela Price and Seth Steward, a former San Francisco prosecutor. Jimmie Wilson is the other current prosecutor in the race. Price challenged O’Malley in 2018 and received 42% of the vote.

She’s running in tandem with San Francisco police officer JoAnn Walker who is challenging Sheriff Greg Ahern. Ahern is facing a re-election campaign for the first time in his 18 years in the top post. Sheriff’s Commander Yesenia Sanchez also is challenging Ahern. Ahern has served 42 years in the department. He took over when the legendary Charlie Plummer retired in 2004 after cleaning up the department and making it a professional agency. Ahern built on Plummer’s important work. 

If county voters choose the progressive duo you can expect more chaos on the streets like you see in San Francisco and Los Angeles with their progressive prosecutors who are not charging people for non-violent offenses. Couple that with the bail reform that voters passed at former Gov. Jerry Brown’s bidding and it’s not a pretty picture in areas of California. Alameda County has enough challenges with professionally managed and efficient DA’s and sheriff’s offices, let alone what they could become with newbies with dramatically different philosophies.

It’s notable that Walker is still a rank-and-file officer without management experience and has her hat in the ring for a department of more than 1,000 sworn officers and a $550 million budget. 

Another normally sleepy June primary race that has drawn attention is for the local seat on the county school board. The incumbent didn’t stand for re-election. Former Pleasanton City Councilwoman and retired teacher Cheryl Cook-Kallio is running against Eric Dillie, principal of the former Livermore Valley charter school, and Kate Dao, who founded Acton Academy, a small, student-centered private school. Dillie had the endorsement of the East Bay Times, but that was withdrawn and tepidly given to Cook-Kallio after a reporter dug out an early news story his no contest plea to a misdemeanor charge of failing to report suspected child abuse. 

Dao’s campaign materials are well suited to run for the local school board, not the county seat. Cook-Kallio, who ran for mayor and then the assembly after being termed out in Pleasanton, was an excellent council member. She knows education and has recommendations from labor and the state school chief—given the sway that unions hold in schools that’s not favorable. 

Editor's note: "Tim Talk" is a blog written by Tim Hunt, a native of Alameda County. Hunt spent 39 years in the daily newspaper business and wrote a column for more than 25 years in addition to writing editorials for more than 15 years.