The Santa Clara County Sheriffs’ Association lost its bid to unseat Sheriff Laurie Smith, who Tefloned her way through jail deaths, ethical challenges and budget overruns to trounce her inarticulate and texting scandal-tainted opponent, John Hirokawa.
While Smith popped champagne 40 minutes away at a swanky New Almaden restaurant with spotty cellular reception Tuesday night, Hirokawa’s family, friends and supporters dined at the Italianate Villa Ragusa in downtown Campbell.
Purple, white and gold balloons lined the ballroom where guests mingled over a spread of cheeses, seafood and lemonade. Hirokawa posed for photos and chatted with supporters as pop music blasted over the speakers.
“This is my first time ever seeking elected office, so I kind of knew it was going to be an uphill battle and I was the underdog in the whole thing,” Hirokawa said.
Still, the retired undersheriff and ex-jails chief forced his former boss into the first runoff since Smith was elected to the position in 1998.
With all precincts reporting and 52 percent of the ballots counted as of Wednesday afternoon, Smith held a 13-point lead over her one-time second-in-command, who retired in 2016 as the jails were under unprecedented scrutiny and still reeling from the murder of inmate Michael Tyree by three jail deputies.
Serving another four years would make Smith one of the longest-serving sheriffs in California, according to the Mercury News, a record held by former San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey, who lasted 32 years in office.
Throughout the campaign, Hirokawa criticized Smith as vindictive and opposed to reforms, calling Tyree’s death a symptom of dysfunction tolerated under her command. Smith, in turn, called Hirokawa an ineffectual, passive leader.
Both campaigns engaged in mudslinging. The deputies union backing Hirokawa revived decades-old sexual harassment claims against the sheriff early in the race. Shortly after the June primary, Smith’s side seized on a newly public arbitration ruling that implicated one of Hirokawa’s key political allies, DSA President Don Morrissey, in a racist-sexist texting scandal and lost him some important endorsements.
In her sixth term, Smith will continue to grapple with reforms, including one that creates a new civilian oversight body to monitor the embattled custody division, as well as ongoing litigation and construction of a new Main Jail.