But what really wowed her was Harris’s focus on restorative justice, which Alsobrooks began talking about on the campaign trail in Prince George’s. When Alsobrooks defeated her opponents in a landslide, one of the first calls she received was from Harris. “I am here for you,” she recalls Harris saying. “Anything you need.”
Now, after more than a decade of mentorship, friendship and both women forging political firsts, it is Alsobrooks vowing to do anything she can for Harris, a U.S. senator whose vice-presidential bid makes her the first Black woman and first Asian American to join a major-party ticket.
During a breakfast hosted by Maryland Democrats as part of the virtual Democratic National Convention, Alsobrooks hailed presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden for selecting Harris — saying the choice amounts to recognition that Black women have long been “the backbone and the moral compass of the Democratic Party.”
Alsobrooks, who in 2018 became the first Black woman elected county executive of Prince George’s, spoke in starkly personal terms about the racial reckoning underway across the country in the wake of George Floyd’s death in the custody of Minneapolis police.
She told the story of her great-grandfather, an unarmed Black man shot by a White sheriff’s deputy in South Carolina in the 1950s. The sheriff’s deputy instructed her great-grandfather to “dance,” Alsobrooks said, and used a racial slur before shooting him the three times in the legs, and then the abdomen.
The killing, which prompted Alsobrooks’s family to flee to Prince George’s, helped shape her desire to become a prosecutor. She says she sees the job as fundamentally about seeking justice — and believes Harris has always seen it that way as well.
Back during that 2009 campaign, Alsobrooks bought and read Harris’s book, “Smart on Crime,” which she said made clear that Harris felt a responsibility not just to put people in prison, but to prevent them from getting there.
In San Francisco, she had implemented the programs to make it happen in a way Alsobrooks had not seen anyone else do.
On the campaign trail, Alsobrooks began promising to implement initiatives like Harris’s “Back on Track,” which allowed first-time, nonviolent felony drug offenders to join a program that provided education and job training instead of jail time.
Harris eventually heard about the Maryland candidate who kept citing her initiatives. When Harris called to congratulate her, Alsobrooks told Harris she wanted to come to California to learn about programs like “Back on Track.”
Harris welcomed her, Alsobrooks said. Over the course of several days, she set up meetings for Alsobrooks with the judge, prosecutors and participants in the program — and she checked in regularly over the years to see how the effort was going in Prince George’s.
“She is the quintessential big sister,” Alsobrooks, 49, said of Harris, 55.
Alsobrooks said Harris gave her advice, passed down from her mother, that has stuck with her over the years: “It’s not as important to be the first at something as it is to perform the job with such excellence that you shall not be the last.”
Alsobrooks returned to California in 2016 to campaign with Harris in her bid for U.S. Senate, riding around on a bus with Harris, her husband, Douglas Emhoff, and Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.).
Two years later, when Alsobrooks was considering a run to become the county’s first female political leader, she called Harris for advice. The county prosecutor and the U.S. senator met at a Mexican restaurant on Capitol Hill. Alsobrooks said Harris arrived with pen and paper and spent about two hours helping talk through strategy with her.
When Harris endorsed Alsobrooks before the 2018 Democratic primary, she praised her as “one of the bright, bright stars in our country.”
Alsobrooks, who is seen by some Maryland Democrats as a potential gubernatorial candidate in 2022, said she has been surprised by attacks by some liberal activists on Harris’s record as a prosecutor.
They have criticized Harris for preserving local authority when it came to investigating police shootings and officers wearing body cameras, and attacked Harris’s policy on truancy, which she tried to combat by threatening fines or jail time for the parents of children whose children missed too many school days.
Harris has said she regrets how the policy, launched when she was district attorney of San Francisco and expanded statewide when she was attorney general, was implemented.
Alsobrooks, too, sometimes faced questions about her time as prosecutor during her run for county executive.
As state’s attorney, Alsobrooks also focused on truancy but took a different approach, sending prosecutors into middle schools with high rates of absenteeism to meet weekly with students. The classes that improved their attendance received rewards, including pizza parties; Alsobrooks said attendance rates dramatically improved.
She said she believes Harris has always been focused on the root causes of crime and wishes critics would focus on pioneering programs like “Back on Track” instead of other parts of her record.
“I know the person they are describing is not the person I know and admire,” Alsobrooks said.