Kamala Harris' political star rose from Bay Area background

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) takes a question during a town hall meeting at Canyon Springs HS on March 1, 2019 in North Las Vegas, Nevada. Harris is campaigning for the 2020 Democratic nomination for president. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Long before she was a household name and Joe Biden's pick to be the 2020 Democratic Vice Presidential nominee, Kamala Harris was building a career and a legacy from roots that began right here in the Bay Area. 

Harris was born in Oakland in 1964 and raised in Berkeley by a family of educated and ambitious academics. Her Indian mother, Shyamala Gopalan, was a breast-cancer researcher with a doctorate in endocrinology from UC Berkeley. And her father, Donald Harris, emigrated from Jamaica in the 60's to study economics and eventually become a professor at Stanford University.

If elected, Harris would be the first Black or South Asian-American to hold the nation's second highest office. And of course, the first woman. After Harris was announced as the VP pick for Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden on Tuesday, congratulations from Bay Area politicians poured out on Twitter.

Libby Schaaf, the mayor of Oakland, where Harris was born, offered her best wishes to the senator saying she was "hella proud."

Harris cut her teeth as a prosecutor in Alameda County in the early 90s where she earned a reputation as a rising star. She was eventually recruited to the offices of San Francisco District Attorney and later the City Attorney as her Bay Area career flourished.

In 2003, Harris unseated an incumbant to become San Francisco's District Attorney, where she enacted her "smart on crime" philosophy - which is also the title of her first book. She became a household name in the Bay Area and beyond, with sights set on higher officers and bigger stages.

On Tuesday, San Francisco Mayor London Breed tweeted that she's "excited and ready" to see Harris in the White House. 

The road to Washington may have seemed inevitable to some watching Harris's star continue to rise through the ranks of California politics. She won a 2010 election to become the state's Attorney General  and was re-elected in 2014.

In 2017, she made history when she was sworn into office in Washington, becoming only the second African-American woman and first South Asian-American senator in the nation.

But some spots still marr Harris's history. She was heavily criticized for her relationship with former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, while running for DA in San Francisco, and simliar attacks are already recirculating on social media after Tuesday's announcement.

Harris has also heard criticism from progressive Democrats who think her philosophy as a prosecutor and her criminal justice record are out of date and contributed to mass incarceration of Black and brown communities. 

On Tuesday, Berkeley mayor Jesse Arreguin tweeted that Harris represents "Berkeley and Democratic values," a compliment that could also be spun to attack Harris's left-leaning positions. 

But voters who aren't familiar with her from decades in the Bay Area may not be able to predict Harris's political blueprint going forward simply by looking back. Besides adapting to the expectation that she'll be a loyal supporter of Biden's strategy now, Harris had also been known to play it down the middle with controversial issues when she was early in her political career.

In 2004, when San Francisco police Officer Isaac Espinoza was shot and killed, Harris angered police across the city when she refused to pursue the death penalty against the gunman. But as California's Attorney General, Harris insisted on keeping the death penalty available as an option, angering activists on both sides of the debate.  

With Harris now joining the Biden ticket, attention in California politics may eventually shift to who Governor Gavin Newsom will pick as her replacement in the U.S. Senate. That appointee would serve the remainder of Harris’ term in the Senate, which ends in January 2023.

Harris lives in Los Angeles now with her husband Doug Emhoff and stepchildren Ella and Cole Emhoff.