SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — San Francisco’s district attorney did not attend Wednesday’s debate—the last before the Nov. 8 election—and his opponents took the absence as an opportunity to say why they are the best candidate to take over the office.

Since January, the district attorney’s office has been headed by George Gascon, who was San Francisco’s police chief before being appointed to the spot by then-Mayor Gavin Newsom after Kamala Harris was elected as the state’s attorney general.

Now Gascon is running for election to the office, facing opposition from Alameda County prosecutor Sharmin Bock, defense attorney Bill Fazio, former police commissioner and criminal justice scholar David Onek and State Bar Criminal Law Advisory Commissioner Vu Trinh.

The four contenders attended Wednesday’s debate held at University of California Hastings College of the Law in the city’s Civic Center neighborhood. Gascon could not attend because of a previous engagement, his campaign spokeswoman Maggie Muir said.

Bock fired several shots at Gascon during the debate, calling him “a political appointee” who is “putting politics first at every turn.”

She said Gascon has never prosecuted a case in the courtroom and his time as the city’s police chief leads to “one conflict of interest after the next.”

Fazio, who worked for the district attorney’s office for 20 years before becoming a private defense attorney, said he would not be voting for either Gascon or Onek.

Fazio said neither “have any hands-on experience” as prosecutors, while he has experience on both sides of the criminal justice system.

Onek, who has also served in the mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice and is the founding executive director of the Berkeley Center for Criminal Justice, said his focus as district attorney would be on “working collaboratively with the community.”

Trinh, who has served as a deputy public defender in Orange County, downplayed the importance of courtroom experience to be a district attorney, saying he’s seen “some great trial attorneys … be terrible managers.”

Gascon, who served as assistant police chief in Los Angeles and chief in Mesa, Arizona before being named San Francisco’s top cop in 2009.

As district attorney, Gascon has introduced programs such as a neighborhood courts program to handle certain low-level, nonviolent crimes, and a school program to battle truancy.

Gascon has been endorsed by Harris, Newsom, Sen. Dianne Feinstein and five San Francisco supervisors.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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