“The reason I made a very conscious decision to become a prosecutor is because I am the child of people who, like those today, were marching and shouting on the streets for justice,” she said in the recent interview. “When I made the decision to become a prosecutor, it was a very conscious decision. And the decision I made was, I’m going to try and go inside the system, where I don’t have to ask permission to change what needs to be changed.”
Initially, this was not glamorous work. In the 1990s, she joined prosecutors’ offices in Alameda County and, later, San Francisco, where she oversaw the career criminal unit. Her boss there was an old-guard liberal, Terence Hallinan, whose hold on the job grew precarious as Ms. Harris considered her own political future.
Urged to challenge Mr. Hallinan by peers who said the office was poorly managed, Ms. Harris found herself effectively running to his right, telling voters in their 2003 contest that there was nothing progressive about being “soft on crime.”
But Ms. Harris’s bid was trailed by insinuations that she was beholden to a much older ex-boyfriend, Willie Brown, who also happened to be the mayor of San Francisco (and a prominent endorser featured on her campaign literature).
To defuse such attacks, Ms. Harris resolved to strike back twice as hard, airing her rival’s own sensational baggage and at one point appearing to suggest that she would not hesitate to investigate him for public corruption after replacing him.
“San Francisco is the bluest of blue. It’s almost like a civil war,” Tony West, her brother-in-law and longtime informal adviser, said in an interview last year. “And so it’s like a family fight. And those are often the worst.”
In the years since, Ms. Harris has proved a difficult target to hit for opponents, graduating to state attorney general and, in 2017, United States senator in the crucible of a California political environment prone to “blood sport,” in her telling.
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