Names have started dropping into the 2022 race for Santa Clara County Sheriff as six-termer Laurie Smith seemingly edges closer to the exit door of her scandal-tarnished administration.
Smith has endured a rocky 47-year tenure. Controversies surrounding concealed weapons permitting and continued abuses at the county jail came to a head in recent days, as the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted “no confidence” in her ability to lead. Smith has refused all calls to step down.
At first glance, 19-year Sheriff’s Office veteran Christine Nagaye looks cut from a different cloth than other candidates—a fresh face running for elected office for the first time, answering calls for reform in the county’s jails, law enforcement operations and runaway budgets.
With experience working in corrections and six years as a supervising sergeant, Nagaye pledged in an announcement Thursday to change the culture of the Sheriff’s Department by “bring[ing] honesty, transparency and integrity back.” She ducked conversations, however, saying she wanted to wait for a staged announcement, which suggests she may be more managed than transparent.
The 50-year-old San Jose resident believes she’s the best woman for the job, citing experience as a U.S. Army veteran, mom, active community resident, ally of LGBTQ folks and wife of a man of color.
While Fly’s spies couldn’t find any LGBTQ community leaders who actually knew Nagaye, proclaiming queer acceptance may still prove useful—it distances herself from fellow candidate Kevin Jensen, a retired captain who’s gunning to wear the Sheriff’s badge once more, after an unsuccessful 2014 campaign.
Jensen, a former assistant chief of corrections with supervisory experience in the coroner’s office and a local anti-terrorism arm of the Department of Homeland Security, was previously a close ally of deposed Deputy Sheriffs’ Association head Don Morrissey, who actively engaged in thousands of group texts rife with racist, homophobic and misogynist slurs.
We’re still digging to see if Nagaye’s campaign kickoff will be rehearsed or authentic, but she’s already looking like a fresher candidate than one aligned with the good ole boys club of the DSA who have fielded candidates against Smith every four years.