SAN JOSE — In her first runoff debate in 20 years, Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith repeatedly and methodically revived a racist texting scandal in an effort to rattle her upstart challenger, retired Undersheriff John Hirokawa.
It turned the Wednesday night candidate forum at Evergreen Valley College into a public rehashing of the waning controversy with Smith, the five-term incumbent, and Hirokawa, her former second-in-command, exchanging barbs and blame for the recent shameful chapter of the Sheriff’s Office’s history.
“This is something my opponent doesn’t want to talk about,” Smith said in her opening remarks, before portraying Hirokawa as meekly backing the perpetrators of the scandal.
Smith continually referenced the illicit texting, which led to the firing or resignation of the previous presidents of her agency’s two labor unions.
Smith pounced on the lengthy exchanges of vile messages denigrating people of color — first reported by this news organization and further reported by Metro — on nearly every turn, even when asked about the notion equipping jail deputies with Tasers.
Hirokawa, at first, gamely adhered to the debate format moderated by San Jose State University associate professor William Armaline, pushing his mantra of bringing “trust, transparency and reform” to the Sheriff’s Office, where he spent his career spanning four decades. As Smith flexed her political savvy, he sought to convey his novice status as a strength.
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