This, it seems, is where some of the tensions began. Fred Gardner, an office spokesman at the time, said that Mr. Hallinan became concerned as Ms. Harris assumed a public-facing role in the ballot debate, growing suspicious that Ms. Harris might run against him. (Mr. Hallinan’s son, Brendan, said his father, now 82, was not able to give an interview.)
In Ms. Harris’s telling, the office, which Mr. Hallinan had steered since 1996, was tumbling into disarray — epitomized one afternoon, she said, by a mass firing of lawyers who returned from lunch to find pink slips on their chairs. “The place was falling apart,” Ms. Harris said in the interview. “People were urging me to run.”
She left in 2000 for the city attorney’s office. Mr. Hallinan did not attend the send-off. Some other lawyers stayed away, too, Mr. Gardner said, fearing that they would “get reported back to the boss as disloyal.” He estimated that half the office attended anyway.
No longer under Mr. Hallinan’s purview, Ms. Harris began considering a campaign to replace him in earnest. She produced a low-tech bio page, pressing a photograph of herself against the sheet and making multiple copies. “I think we went to, like, Kinko’s,” Ms. Harris said. “Very high-level, professional operation.”
Mr. Stearns, her consultant, cautioned that Ms. Harris was occupying a dangerous political space: the center — wedged between Mr. Hallinan and a more conservative challenger named Bill Fazio.
“He kind of scratched his head and said, ‘O.K., this is going to be difficult because you’re running up the middle,’” Ms. Harris said. “I have this saying, which is: ‘No good public policy ends with an exclamation point.’”
Ms. Harris, who has strained at times as a presidential candidate to convince progressives of her convictions, was asked if this tension felt familiar lately. “There probably are some parallels,” she said. “There’s an appetite for statements that end with an exclamation point. And it’s really challenging.”