In January, she'll make history when she becomes the first Black and first woman attorney generalBy Sam RichardContributing EditorSan Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris declared victory Nov. 30 in the state's tight race for attorney general and called attention to issues she plans to address as California's top law officer.Speaking before dozens at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in downtown L.A., Harris thanked supporters and talked about several topics, including reforming California's criminal justice system, as well as dealing with mortgage fraud and environmental issues.Her speech came nearly a week after L.A. County District Attorney Steve Cooley conceded in the race, in which votes were counted for more than three weeks before Harris emerged as the winner; (the candidates had been passing each other up in vote counts by only thousands of votes.)Harris--who will make history when she becomes California's first African-American, Indian American and female attorney general in January--defeated her opponent by ultimately getting 46.1 percent of votes compared to Cooley's 45.3 percent, according to the Secretary of State's figures as of Nov. 30.Besides making a mark in history because of her race and gender, Harris also participated in what was reportedly one of the closest elections in California history.Cooley conceded Nov. 24. "While the margin is extremely narrow and ballots are still being counted, my campaign believes that we cannot make up the current gap in the vote count for Attorney General," Cooley said in a statement last week. "Therefore, I am formally conceding the race and congratulate Ms. Harris on becoming California's next Attorney General."She also prevailed over Cooley in L.A. County, which has been viewed by some as Cooley's stronghold."I stand before you today humbled to be chosen to be the next attorney general," she said, drawing cheers and applause from supporters in the hotel's Emerald Room.Harris pledged "to work hard every day to make sure that the law of this state is on the side of the people" of California.In an interview with the Los Angeles Sentinel and L.A. Watts Times later that day, Harris said the first issue to address is her transition into office. At the press conference, she announced that she has been having many conversations with Governor-elect Jerry Brown, the current attorney general, and has put together "a very stellar" bipartisan group of leaders. That group includes former LAPD Police Chief Bill Bratton, former Secretary of State Warren Christopher and others. And they will be working, as they have been, to lead a transition into the attorney general's office, she said.Later that day, Harris told the Sentinel and Watts Times her team will help look at issues her office needs to address. She called some of those issues statewide "problems."One of those problems is mortgage fraud, which Harris said has been committed against many Californians. "There are predators that have been coming in, in the form of ... financial institutions," she told the crowd. "There must be (consequences) and it can and should be the next attorney general of this great state that takes that on."She also said the attorney general's office can and should have a role in reforming the criminal justice system in California, which Harris said has the highest recidivism rate in the nation. What must also be taken seriously, she said, are issues that impact the state's environment because they impact all Californians, who she said need to be able to drink clean water and breathe clean air.Harris, 46, started her career as a prosecutor in Alameda County. The Berkeley native eventually became San Francisco's district attorney, a post she'll leave to become attorney general.Several politicians, community figures and others attended the press conference, including L.A. City Councilwoman Jan Perry, California Assemblymember Mike Davis and community activist Willis Edwards.John Van de Kamp, a former attorney general of California, told the L.A. Watts Times he supports Harris because he felt she was the best choice of all the attorney general candidates he interviewed."My conclusion was, at the end of the day, that she had a broader gauge that was a better fit for the office," he said. Some issues he said she will have to confront include mortgage fraud, issues that have come up due to the scandals in the City of Bell, and water problems in the City of Barstow. After the press conference, Black community figures characterized Harris as "enlightened" and a "visionary.""I think she's an enlightened prosecutor; I think she (distinguishes) herself as such," said L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, later citing that "the emphasis of her work is on prevention rather than focusing on what happens on the back end of the problem." He said he hopes to see her address what he calls scam artists in the foreclosure industry and said he thinks she'll make sure that ballot titles are "solid and fair."Edwards, who is on the board for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said, "I think she's a visionary. She thinks outside the box about solving a problem. And, in this day and time, we need someone who's a real visionary who thinks outside of the box and thinks that we can do better." Between Harris and Cooley, California State Assemblymember Steven Bradford said he thinks Harris was the best choice.One thing he hopes to see Harris do as attorney general is give a more comprehensive look at some of the environmental justice issues that he says primarily fall on poor and minority communities. "A lot of times people have turned their back on that ... thinking that's not (an) issue of great concern but it really is," Bradford said. "It impacts kids, be it childhood asthma, increased cancer rates, things of that nature. "And the attorney general will have to be the hammer to work with some of these corporations to make sure that they're not polluting, and if they have polluted, that they clean up the mess they've made." When a member of the media asked what the significance of her race and gender were for Harris, she said, "We'll see," drawing cheers and applause.
Later that day, she told the Sentinel and Watts Times: "There's a lot of work that I plan to do and to begin what will hopefully be work that will impact people ... over a period of time."