An interview with David Onek '91
How has your political outlook changed since Brown?
I grew up in Washington, DC with a father who worked in the Carter Administration, so when I went to Brown I thought all politics was national politics. At Brown, Jim Morone’s City Politics class opened my eyes to the importance and complexities of local politics. I moved to San Francisco right after graduation and have become very involved in local politics and policymaking here.
Through my work at the Mayor’s Office and at non-profits, I have learned the importance of having government and community groups work together to solve pressing social issues. The problems of urban America are complex, and neither government nor the community can solve them on its own. In college I thought of problems as more one-dimensional, with good guys forcing bad guys to do the right thing. In the real world, the problems are much more nuanced, and it is crucial to bring all relevant stakeholders to the table to build consensus on meaningful solutions. This is one of the reasons Obama’s candidacy was so appealing to me from day one – consensus-building is central to his governing philosophy.
What advice would you give to current Brown graduates going into politics, law and/or public policy?
I would stress that there is important work to be done and exciting opportunities available at both the national and local levels, especially on issues such as criminal justice and education.
I would also recommend moving between the government and non-profit worlds so that you get a view of things from both the inside and the outside – wherever you end up, you will be more effective for having seen things from both sides.
David Onek ’91 is the Founding Executive Director of the Berkeley Center for Criminal Justice at UC Berkeley’s Boalt Law School. The Center brings law enforcement and community together to build partnerships in support of innovative, research-based criminal justice policy approaches. Onek is also a Commissioner on the San Francisco Police Commission, appointed by Mayor Gavin Newsom to a four-year term in 2008. The Police Commission sets policy for the Police Department and conducts disciplinary hearings on charges of police misconduct.
Previously, Onek served as Deputy Director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice in San Francisco, where he led numerous criminal justice policy initiatives for Mayor Newsom. Prior to that, Onek served as a Senior Program Associate at the W. Haywood Burns Institute for Juvenile Justice Fairness and Equity, where he worked to reduce racial disparities in the juvenile justice system in ten sites throughout the country. Following graduation from Stanford Law School, Onek received a Skadden Fellowship to work as a Staff Attorney at Legal Services for Children in San Francisco. Before attending law school, Onek was a Research Associate at the National Council on Crime and Delinquency (NCCD), where he researched and developed model juvenile justice programs and systems nationwide.
Onek was an early and active supporter of Barack Obama for President and he and wife Kara Dukakis ’91 have hosted several fundraisers for Obama. Onek and Dukakis live in San Francisco’s Bernal Heights neighborhood with daughters Olivia and Nora.