California Politics: Covering the attack on Paul Pelosi
Nearly nine months ago, I loaded up a U-Haul and left Sacramento for my favorite California city: San Francisco.
Being a Capitol reporter, I still travel to Sacramento often for bill hearings and work meetings, protests and legislative deadlines.
But living in San Francisco also affords me the opportunity to cover Bay Area political events, such as when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s home is broken into and her husband, Paul, is beaten with a hammer in the middle of the night.
Police had already closed off Pelosi’s mansion-adorned street by the time I arrived at the scene shortly after 10 a.m. on Oct. 28, where a scrum of TV reporters, photographers and other journalists was milling about on each side of the hilly Pacific Heights block.
It’s always a bit chaotic at the start of breaking news assignments. Details quickly evolve, stories need constant updating. In Los Angeles, a whole team of my colleagues was calling sources, digging through social media accounts and court records and reaching out to family members to provide a greater glimpse into the crime and its suspect, 42-year-old David DePape.
I quickly set about sending the team a thread from the scene and reaction from neighbors.
The view from Sacramento
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‘Democracy might fail’
It was a nice day in San Francisco, with blue skies and wispy clouds overhead. From the top of Pelosi’s street, I caught a clear view of downtown’s Transamerica Pyramid and Salesforce Tower.
Much of the neighborhood seemed oblivious to what was happening only one or two streets over. I could hear kids laughing in their classroom while walking past a nearby school. Moms and nannies pushed strollers or watched their children play on the nearby Alta Plaza Park playground.
That’s where I found John Braun, a 50-year resident of San Francisco, out walking his dog in the park.
“Nobody should be attacked in their homes,” he told me as helicopters buzzed overhead. “Nobody should be attacked anywhere.”
A couple I stopped on my walk back toward Pelosi’s street said they weren’t surprised by the alleged crime, citing concerns over break-ins in San Francisco. But they were shocked by the nature of it. It seemed personal, they said, and a sign of how heated politics in America have become.
Deborah Karel echoed that point when I met her walking downhill away from Pelosi’s house and toward her own. She’s lived in the neighborhood for three decades, and said the attack made her “very worried about democracy.”
“I’m 72, and I’ve never been this worried. It never occurred to me that democracy might fail,” she said. “But now it does. And this seems related.”
I was thinking about that last point as I sat down on the curb to send a feed to my editor at the same time a San Francisco Police Department Bomb Squad truck drove past me.
Facts vs. fiction
We’ve unfortunately grown accustomed to the name calling, the shot slinging, the one upping in such a politically polarized climate. But it’s frightening when that simmering tension boils over into egregious violence.
What’s also concerning is how quickly an incident that could otherwise have brought national leaders together instead devolved into a toxic stew of unfounded conspiracy theories and political finger pointing.
My colleagues across the newsroom have done an excellent job detailing the facts, which is that DePape had been drifting further into the world of far-right conspiracies, antisemitism and hate in the months before police accused him of attacking Paul Pelosi with a hammer and fracturing his skull, according to a Times review of his online accounts.
DePape allegedly carried a backpack containing zip ties, a rope and a hammer when he smashed through the glass patio door of the Pelosis’ home. He asked for Speaker Pelosi, according to officials and court records, before confronting her husband. Prosecutors alleged that DePape aimed to hold Speaker Pelosi hostage, interrogate the lawmaker and break her kneecaps.
The Department of Justice filed federal kidnapping and assault charges against DePape, while San Francisco Dist. Atty. Brooke Jenkins charged him with attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon, among other crimes. DePape appeared briefly in court this week and pleaded not guilty.
Paul Pelosi, 82, was released from the hospital Thursday, but faces a “long recovery process.” Speaker Pelosi told her congressional colleagues that she and her family were “heartbroken and traumatized” by the incident.
The intruder’s motive is still under investigation. But lawmakers and other political insiders say this is the latest example of how hyperpartisanship has given rise to political violence in recent years. The most extreme example includes the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. But there are many others.
What’s more — a new UC Davis study showed that roughly 5 million Americans would be willing to kill someone to achieve a political purpose.
“And to think, most of us grew up proudly believing that one great thing about America was that we settled our political disputes at the ballot box — not with bombs or guns or a hammer,” veteran Times columnist George Skelton wrote about the survey.
Eventually, it was time to leave Pac Heights and head home. After I left, someone laid a bouquet of flowers outside the Pelosis’ home.
“Feel better soon,” the note said. “♥️ San Francisco.”
One final poll
The latest UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll of likely voters co-sponsored by The Times shows Gov. Gavin Newsom in an easy lead against Brian Dahle, 58% to 37%, partially due to the Republican lawmaker’s limited name ID.
A ballot measure to enshrine reproductive rights in the California Constitution, Proposition 1, is expected to pass, with 64% of likely voters saying they supported it compared with 27% in opposition. Proposition 31, which would ban the sale of certain flavored tobacco products, is similarly well positioned, 58% to 32%.
The two sports wagering initiatives, Propositions 26 and 27, are expected to go down in flames on election night, while a ballot measure to raise taxes on multimillionaires to subsidize zero-emission vehicle programs is narrowly favored by voters but remains in jeopardy.
The race for mayor of Los Angeles enters its final week tightening rapidly, with Rick Caruso cutting deeply into Rep. Karen Bass’ lead, putting him within striking distance in the contest to run the nation’s second-largest city.
The procrastinator’s voter guide
We have the rundown on Gavin Newsom vs. Brian Dahle in the governor’s race, what’s happening in the lieutenant governor election and why the bid for controller is one to watch. We also have information on secretary of state candidates, what Rob Bonta and Nathan Hochman would do as attorney general and Democratic state Treasurer Fiona Ma’s reelection bid against a Republican.
Other guides include those for the California U.S. Senate election: Alex Padilla vs. Mark P. Meuser and the Congressional District 49 race: Mike Levin vs. Brian Maryott. And, of course, Bass vs. Caruso: Your guide to the Los Angeles mayor’s race.
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California politics lightning round
— Interim San Francisco Dist. Atty. Brooke Jenkins is a political newcomer who surged to celebrity in July as Mayor London Breed’s pick to replace recalled progressive Dist. Atty. Chesa Boudin. But much like her predecessor, Jenkins has become one of the city’s most controversial political figures.
— “It’s a crisis. Act like it. Everybody step up.” Newsom is rejecting every local homeless action plan in the state because he doesn’t believe they go far enough, fast enough, writes Times columnist Anita Chabria.
— A new generation of lawmakers is testing the boundaries of a major campaign finance reform law by going around their party and pooling their own campaign donations to spur a change in the Assembly speakership, editorial writer Laurel Rosenhall explains. Assembly members are split over whether it’s time to replace Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) or Assemblyman Robert Rivas from rural San Benito County.
— The state launched a website on Tuesday that allows victims of sexual assault to track the status of the results of their medical exams — an effort to address widespread complaints about wait times due to backlogged cases at local police departments.
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