Santa Clara County Sheriff, Former Undersheriff Face Off in November Election

Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith and her former Undersheriff John Hirokawa will butt heads in a runoff election in November after neither candidate was able to secure the majority vote in June.

In a pool of five candidates, Smith ended election night with 135,981 votes or 42.99 percent of the total while Hirokawa secured 102,645 votes or 32.45 percent of the total.

Smith is running for her sixth 4-year term in a 20-year career.

Despite multiple controversies, the incumbent sheriff has received endorsements from all but one county supervisor and has the backing of almost every mayor in the county.

Her platform focuses on protecting schools, addressing mental health issues and homelessness and advocating for victims of sexual assault and maintaining accountability within her department.

The death of inmate Michael Tyree in August 2016, followed by the conviction of three jail guards for Tyree's murder, has been a dark cloud over her tenure.

The sheriff's office also faced an inmate strike at county jails that lasted almost two weeks after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were allowed into the main jail in San Jose.

The sheriff's office said they were "mistakenly admitted."

Hirokawa has made it clear these controversies will be the center of his strategy.

His first listed priority is to keep the sheriff's office accountable, as well as creating safe conditions for inmates and deputies, reviewing use of force guidelines and reaching out to community advocates, people of color and other marginalized groups.

He has been endorsed by three newspapers and area deputy sheriff's associations.

During a candidate forum hosted by the League of Women Voters on Oct. 8, Hirokawa said his campaign is built on transparency, but Smith raised the issue of racist text messages shared between deputies over several years, first revealed by local news outlets.

She said Hirokawa believed the penalties on the officers were too severe.

He denied her claim and doubled down on his goal of independent oversight for the sheriff's office, and said Smith was able to fire the officers involved because of his commitment to due process and transparency.

"The Sheriff just said she gives her department an 'A'," Hirokawa said. "That indicates to me that there's no room for improvement. There's a lot of room for improvement ... and that's what John Hirokawa wants to do."

The two candidates have clashed when discussing controversies within the department, and Hirokawa has acknowledged the uphill battle to defeat an established incumbent.

Santa Clara County residents will place their votes in the contentious race during the November 6 election.

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