San Jose’s daily paper of record may dismiss sheriff hopeful John Hirokawa’s response to a slew of racist, sexist and transphobic texts exchanged by a clique of deputies as a “waning scandal,” but it’s an issue that keeps coming back to bite the retired jails chief.
At a San Jose-Silicon Valley NAACP forum last week, five-term Sheriff Laurie Smith reminded attendees of Hirokawa’s alliance with two union presidents involved in the texting ring—Lance Scimeca, who was fired and Don Morrissey, who resigned as head of the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association (DSA) but remains on patrol. That following Monday, the supposedly “waning scandal” cost Hirokawa an endorsement from the Santa Clara County Democratic Club.
“I had reason to believe that he lied at the NAACP forum,” said an openly gay Democrat who felt personally offended by some of the texts and asked to withhold his name for fear of online harassment from Hirokawa’s DSA loyalists.
When club president Rob Means asked if anyone at Monday’s meeting wanted to speak against the endorsement, the concerned committee member reluctantly raised his hand and explained his contention.
In arbitration records, Hirokawa asserted that deputies had a First Amendment right to text whatever they want off-duty on personal devices, and that he refused to even read them as undersheriff over concerns of violating their right to privacy. Once more of his testimony became public, Hirokawa changed his tune; only then did he condemn Morrissey for espousing comments about a “shemale,” sexual assault in jail and how it’s hard to see black people on the freeway at night.
The committee member then proceeded to recite some of the texts authored by Morrissey while Hirokawa sat at the front of the room—face red, eyes cast down.
“I think hearing that had a fairly significant impact on the audience,” committee head Fred Rehhausser observed.
Just like in the primary, Hirokawa failed to muster enough votes for an endorsement. “The audience was very split, very fractious,” Rehhausser said. “This was the second time they brought him before the board for an endorsement and the second time he failed to get a two-thirds vote.”
Not that it matters. The local Democratic Central Committee—the state party’s official body in the South Bay and the one whose endorsements carry the most weight—reaffirmed its support for Hirokawa in the fall runoff.