Editorial: Hirokawa for sheriff

After Laurie Smith's 20 years as sheriff, a strong challenge is overdue

In spite of being opposed by four challengers, Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith could squeak out the necessary 50 percent plus one vote on June 5 to avoid a run-off in the November election.

That would be a shame in our opinion, as we think her longevity in the office and her shaky performance deserves a head-to-head campaign with the only other qualified candidate in the race, former Undersheriff John Hirokawa.

Smith has presided over a department that has been operating under a cloud of controversy for a long time. The most recent has been her oversight of the county jails and the 2015 murder of an inmate, Michael Tyree, by three deputy sheriffs. She has attempted in this campaign to deflect responsibility for all that is wrong at the jails to Hirokawa, who as undersheriff was the No. 2 in the department and, among a host of other operational responsibilities, oversaw the assistant sheriff who was directly running the jail.

The finger-pointing about who should be held accountable for serious deficiencies in the Sheriff's department and jail aside, the other three challengers do not have close to the law-enforcement management experience needed to oversee the 1,800-person, $350 million agency. Between Smith, 66, who is asking for a sixth, four-year term, and Hirokawa, who like Smith went up through the ranks over his more than 35 years with the department until retiring in 2016 at age 61, we think Hirokawa is the better choice.

Significantly, Hirokawa is supported by 11 former police chiefs, including recently retired Palo Alto Chief Dennis Burns, and retired San Jose Independent Police Auditor and former Superior Court judge LaDoris Cordell, who also chaired a blue-ribbon committee appointed after the jail murder of Tyree. He is also endorsed by the Deputy Sheriffs' Association. (Smith was endorsed by the other four county supervisors.)

In addition to overseeing the jails since 2010, the Sheriff's department is responsible for law enforcement in the county's unincorporated areas and provides police services to several smaller cities, including Los Altos Hills and to the VTA. It also provides security at all county courthouses and grants Stanford University police its deputized law-enforcement status even though Stanford officers are university employees and supervised by a police chief hired by Stanford.

Smith has retained her seat over the last 20 years by being an astute politician who has nurtured all the right relationships and made sure the communities contracting with the Sheriff's Office for police services are happy. That's commendable, but we believe the troubled department needs stronger leadership. A run-off election campaign will help confirm whether John Hirokawa is the person to bring it.

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Correction: The initial version of this editorial incorrectly stated that county Supervisor Joe Simitian has endorsed a candidate in this race. He has not. The Weekly regrets the error.

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6 people like this
Posted by Javier Sanchez
a resident of Mountain View
on May 25, 2018 at 8:53 am

John Hirokawa for Sheriff!

8 people like this
Posted by Michael
a resident of Downtown North
on May 25, 2018 at 12:47 pm

John is a thoughtful, competent administrator and leader. He has a clear vision for the Sheriff's office. Having the support of his former deputies and the surrounding chiefs of police make this decision a No-Brainer. 20 years is way too long. I support John.

6 people like this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on May 26, 2018 at 8:22 am

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

The endorsements of LaDoris Cordell and Dennis Burns mean a lot to me. Plus I met John Hirokawa at his campaign event at Cupertino Memorial Park last weekend and was very impressed.

I suggested to him that he run on his own merits and what he learned in 40 years of civil service and not run a negative campaign about the faults of the incumbent his former boss.

He’s a third generation Japanese-American who went to Lowell High in SF then San Jose State before joining the County.

Good luck, John and thank you for your service.

15 people like this
Posted by Palo Altan
a resident of Downtown North
on May 26, 2018 at 8:26 am

The endorsement of LaDoris Cordell makes me less likely to vote for Hirokawa. I have seen her make numerous dishonest and hysterical statements against the recall. I certainly would not trust anything she says about the sheriff election.

4 people like this
Posted by Rick Handel
a resident of Downtown North
on May 26, 2018 at 10:18 am

The problem with Laurie Smith blaming John Hirokowa for the problems in the jails was recently exposed when the GRAND JURY issued their findings and report. They CLEARLY IDENTITY Laurie Smith as the APPOINTING AUTHORITY and the person who controlled the day to day opperation of the Jails. John Hirokowa was essentially a BUDGETARY officers who reported to the Board of Supervisors on three things in the Jail: Kitchen, Laundry, and Clothing. Although he had an impressive sounding title, he had little power in the day to day going on in the jail and absolutely no oversight. That all fell directly to Laurie Smith. She is the one who failed the County.

Like this comment
Posted by Kirk Wood
a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 26, 2018 at 11:18 am

The majority of the residents in Santa Clara County don't care about how much a police administrator is not liked. They care about what happens when they call 911. As long as calls for service are answered residents are happy. If internal politics and issues mattered, no police administrator would last more than a year. She will more than likely win the election and sadly nothing will change.

5 people like this
Posted by Winnie
a resident of Downtown North
on May 27, 2018 at 8:09 am

I might have voted for John if he weren't endorsed by people like retired judge Ladoris Cordell who has shown herself to be on the side of the old boys judicial network by siding with Persky. If you think that her endorsement is going to help you, think again. Hundreds of thousands of people voting for the Persky recall knows what she stands for.

2 people like this
Posted by Jeffrey
a resident of another community
on May 29, 2018 at 7:41 am

Some of the comments here show a lot of short sightedness. As an example; painting John Hirokowa with a negative brush, due to an endorsement from La Doris Cordell, is mind boggling to me. She is not one of my favorites, to be sure. There is much that annoys me. However, I do have to give her credit for serving as a judge and as such, she knows a thing or two about the job. In my book, that gives her a lot of credibility in her opinion in the Persky Recall. Secondly, none of the other candidates for Sheriff are even really in the running! After all that has gone on, do you really think La Doris Cordell would actually endorse Laurie Smith? Hirokowa is clearly the best candidate. I've always tried to be fair with my vote and disregarded the D or R BS and considered the substance and character of the candidate.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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