OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- With the national debate focused on criminal justice reform, the two district attorney races in the East Bay could prove to be historic.
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley is retiring. Voters will choose her successor.
"The district attorneys have so much influence and power that many members of the public may be unaware of," says Terrance Evans, a partner at the global law firm Duane Morris, where he is co-leader of the international banking and financial services practice.
He is also the current president of the Charles Houston Bar Association, the oldest Black bar association in California. All four candidates in the Alameda County District Attorney's race are also members.
The four candidates include Pamela Price, a civil rights attorney who challenged O'Malley in the 2018 election.
Another is Seth Steward. He is Chief of Staff for Oakland city council member Dan Kalb and has a background as a prosecutor.
Then there is Terry Wiley, a 32-year veteran of the Alameda County District Attorney's office. He is a chief deputy district attorney and the department's third highest-ranking member.
Finally, there is Jimmie Wilson, who has 18 years of legal experience. He has conducted cultural diversity and bias training with local police agencies.
"People are really recognizing that local DA positions are very important," says Melinda Jackson, Professor of Political Science at San Jose State University.
She says given the national debate around criminal justice reform, voters are realizing the important role local prosecutors play.
"In the past, it may have been, 'I support labor.' So, if the police union is supporting a candidate, that's going to send a signal to me as a labor supporter. People may be rethinking some of those endorsements," says Jackson.
And whoever wins in Alameda County, will become the county's first-ever Black district attorney - a county where African Americans 20 times more likely to be incarcerated than white people.
The candidate has to win with more than 50 percent of the vote, or face a run-off in the November election between the two top candidates.
In Contra Costa County, incumbent District Attorney Diana Becton is currently the only Black district attorney in all of California. Her supporters praise her for challenging the status quo. Her office prosecuted a sheriff's deputy in a 2018 fatal on-duty shooting.
Her challenger and colleague, is Deputy District Attorney, Mary Knox. She has strong backing from law enforcement.
Evans says, for voters, it comes down to who they believe can best safeguard the community.
"If they want someone who is going push some of these reforms that have already been started over the past term, or someone who would go back to more of the status quo. It really depends on what the voters of Contra Costa are looking for," says Evans.
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