Candidates for elected office like to talk about the importance of open government. This is particularly true in San Francisco, a city that has established an entire agency — the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force — that ensures compliance with laws regulating public records and open meetings. But even in San Francisco, it's a rare politician whose professed dedication to the ideals of open government is bolstered by the moral and financial support of a renowned investigative journalist.
In San Francisco, that politician is David Onek.
Onek, a lecturer at UC Berkeley law school and scion of Washington, D.C., society, is running for district attorney, and he already has a few big names in his corner. Among them is 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis, who is his father-in-law. Another is New Yorker writer Seymour Hersh, who, according to city campaign-finance records donated $500 to Onek's campaign in July 2010. Hersh's wife, Elizabeth, contributed the same amount.
Hersh is arguably the most famous investigative reporter in America. His trail of scoops leads from the disclosure of the My Lai massacre in 1969 to the exposure of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in 2004 and, more recently, his 2009 report on secret assassination teams that operated overseas and reported directly to former Vice President Dick Cheney. Hersh could not be reached for comment for this story, but Onek says he is a family friend from his youth in D.C. "I'm very, very close with Sy," Onek says, using Hersh's nickname. "I think I've known him my entire life. His wife and my mom are prominent psychiatrists in Washington. He and my dad are tennis partners in the summer."
One of Onek's campaign promises is to bring the D.A.'s office into fuller compliance with public-records laws, including San Francisco's Sunshine Ordinance. Also, former D.A. (now state Attorney General) Kamala Harris had a troubling record of failing to disclose information that might harm criminal prosecutions — particularly evidence of incompetence and dishonesty at the San Francisco Police Department crime lab. Onek will run in the November election against current D.A. and former S.F.P.D. Chief George Gascón, Harris' successor.
Does Hersh's support signal that Onek might just follow through on his vows to let some more sunshine in at 850 Bryant?
"I'll let you be the judge of that," he says. "All I can say is that I have tremendous respect for Sy Hersh, as a person and as a journalist."