Mayoral Candidate Profile: Jeff Adachi

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On a Friday morning in early October, the Jeff Adachi for Mayor campaign office was gearing up for another busy day. Even a closed door couldn’t mask the chatter emanating from the noisy conference room.

Eventually, Adachi emerged from the conference room with his eyes glued to a Blackberry. Without glancing up, he motioned to his campaign manager Ryan Chan and said, “Where’s the reporter for my next thing?” Chan indicated a waiting University of San Francisco student reporter, one of many appointments on the candidate’s busy schedule.

In addition to running for mayor of San Francisco, Adachi is serving his third term as head of San Francisco’s Public Defender’s Office. According to Adachi’s campaign website, there are about 90 lawyers in the office who annually serve approximately 25,000 people who cannot afford representation.

Adachi, 52, boasts an extensive background in legal affairs. He graduated from the University of California at Berkeley and earned his law degree at UC Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco.

Part of Adachi’s interest in politics and law stems from his grandparents and parents’ pasts. He looked down at his black leather shoes as he explained their experiences in California during World War II. “They were Japanese immigrants and went through internment for a number of years,” Adachi said. According to his campaign website, his family, which had been in California since the 1890’s, lost their home and livelihood and were confined to an internment camp for four years. They were among thousands of Japanese-Americans sent to internment camps while the United States was at war with Japan. “That really changed my view on the justice system.” Adachi said. “Just listening to everything they had to go through. That really gave me a sense of what happens when you don’t have someone to speak out for you.”

Adachi’s passion was apparent when he talked about his family’s experience. That observation – that there are many people who need help to achieve justice — is why Adachi feels emotionally involved in his work. When he was a student at UC Berkeley, he began working on criminal justice issues. “I got involved with various cases where people were wrongfully accused and convicted,” Adachi said. “One case in particular was with a Korean-American man who was on Death Row. I was raising money and trying to get attention for the case. After that experience was over, I decided that I wanted to become not only a lawyer, but a lawyer for the people.” The man, Choi Soo Lee, was exonerated of murder charges and freed from prison.

When he graduated from law school, Adachi went to work at the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office. “I started at the bottom and worked my way to the top,” he said, running a manicured hand through his slicked back black hair. Adachi has handled
more than 3,000 criminal cases and tried more than 100 jury trials for the Public Defender’s Office.

“One thing I’ve learned through that process, particularly in the justice system, is how important it is that you have a strong defender…somebody who’s gonna really fight,” he said. “If you don’t fight for the best possible outcome, your client is the one who suffers. One of the thing that’s hurting our society is not re-trying cases. And if elected, I plan to change that. I’ll be an honest, effective problem solver, one who’s going to make decisions based on merits.”

In addition to reforming the city’s pension plan, Adachi said he wanted to support community involvement and small businesses.

“I see a lot of politicians making decisions that solely benefit the politician…not the people,” he said. “Personally, I really believe in small businesses, so I plan to create several micro-loans to benefit those businesses and give them a chance.”

Adachi has plans to serve youth in San Francisco. “I’m a rock solid progressive,” Adachi said. “I stood up against police misconduct. I feel very strongly about youth rights and ensuring that young people have the resources they need. “

He recently started an initiative in the Western Addition called the MAGIC Program. MAGIC stands for Mobilization for Adolescent Growth in our Communities. He said, “I feel very strongly about youth rights and ensuring that young people have the resources they need.” The MAGIC Program gives clothing and supplies to underprivileged kids. Adachi’s goal is to get students more engaged in their communities. “I’m very much a believer in getting people involved with the issues that affect them. And I think that students play a large role in that.”

Adachi, who attended public high school in his native Sacramento, said schooling taught him the importance of teamwork “The genesis of who I am came from my experience as a student,” he said. “When I was a student, one of the things I learned was that there is power in numbers. You can really accomplish great things when you work together. If you strongly believe in something, and you’ve researched it, you can change things.”

As an advocate for education, Adachi believes that the public school system needs a lot of work. “I’d make sure that we prioritize city funding,” he said. “Public education for one thing.”

When asked if his daughter Lauren, 11, attends a San Francisco public school, Adachi replied, “No; she doesn’t. She goes to a gifted children’s school. It’s a private school.”

When talking about his daughter, Adachi became sentimental.

“There’s a certain strain that the election puts on our family,” he said. “You know, I don’t always get to spend as much time with her. This keeps me pretty busy.”

Although running for mayor is demanding, he indicated that the work can also be fun. “One of the things I love most is just talking and engaging with people. San Francisco citizens are pretty passionate about what matters to them. It’s just interesting to meet and talk with so many people who are focused on different issues and hear their different perspectives. I truly want to restore faith in the government.”

Cued by the vibration of his Blackberry, Adachi was distracted by a text message and trailed off. As the candidate scanned the screen, campaign manager Ryan Chan’s voice echoed from across the room: “We have to move your next meeting to later this evening.” Adachi nodded absentmindedly, and then refocused his attention on the interview. “Back to business,” he said, continuing a discussion of what he loves about San Francisco.

“The thing I love most about the city is that it’s a great place for emerging artists. We have the art schools, the museums and other outlets to show for it. It really draws people from all over the world.”

Adachi doesn’t just appreciate creative work, he is also a filmmaker. The candidate, who majored in Asian American Studies at Berkeley, has made two documentaries about Asians in popular culture. In 2006, he wrote, produced, and directed “The Slanted Screen,” a film about American movie stereotypes of Asian men. Adachi also directed “You Don’t Know Jack: The Jack Soo Story,” a film about a Japanese American actor who took a Chinese name.

When asked what sets him apart from the rest of the field, Adachi said, “I’m the only candidate who has turned down public financing. Even though I believe in it, I think that it’s wrong for me to take that money at a time like his. So I would definitely distinguish myself as someone who stands up for what’s right.”

Jeff Adachi’s campaign website: http://www.adachi2011.com/

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