It was a busy day for Kamala Harris; her Vineyard vacation was drawing to a close and she was pressed for time. Stopping for a television interview on her way to catch a flight to New York city, the San Francisco district attorney, who is running for California Attorney General in 2010, arrived hurried but not flustered. The lights snapped on, a cameraman mimed a countdown, and she was on; speaking with precision about crime rates, recidivism, and the California budget crisis.

Ten minutes later the cameras switched off, hands were shaken, and Ms. Harris dashed out the door for the airport, escorted by longtime friend Reggie Hudlin, the former president of entertainment for BET. Upon arrival she learned that the July fog had caused a delay. “Good for you, but not good for me,” she told a reporter with dry humor, walking toward the airport’s outdoor picnic bench to sit for a brief interview. She wore a crisp white shirt, tailored jeans and new Converse chucks,

At 44, Ms. Harris is the first African American woman to hold the office of district attorney in California, and is a rising star among progressive Democrats. An early supporter of Barack Obama, she spent the days between Christmas and New Year’s knocking on doors in Iowa for his presidential campaign. Nearly every summer she comes to the Vineyard to visit with family; this year her vacation included a private fund-raiser for her 2010 campaign.

Though the Island is a long way from San Francisco, Ms. Harris said she believes there is a kinship between California and Massachusetts. “They are both training grounds for Democratic Party leadership,” she said.

Gay marriage is one area in which Massachusetts has proved to be more progressive than California. Proposition 8, which passed in November of 2008, amended the California state constitution to define marriage as valid only between a man and a woman. A May 2009 ruling by the California Supreme Court upheld the voter initiative. Massachusetts, on the other hand, became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage in 2004. It continues to stay in the forefront on the issue; Attorney General Martha Coakley (also a seasonal resident of West Tisbury) filed a federal lawsuit on July 8, challenging the constitutionality of Congress’s 1996 Defense of Marriage Act.

Ms. Harris, who called Ms. Coakley “wonderful,” said the Massachusetts Attorney General is “right on to pursue the goal of equality and fairness through the court system.”

A child of parents who were active in Berkley in the 1960s (her parents met while doing graduate work at the University of California at Berkeley), she said she recognized early on that the success of the civil rights campaign was shaped by lawyers, whose work in courtrooms across the country and ultimately the Supreme Court was crucial to the cause, and the steady work of community leaders who focused on coalition building. She said all their work created the belief that, “when any one of us is the subject of discrimination or prejudice, it is an ill that faces all of us. It is a problem that all of us share.”

As the same-sex marriage issue continues to divide Californians along racial and religious lines, Ms. Harris said coalition building will be vital to any change in thinking.

“Prop 8 should be repealed,” she said, her eyes scanning the sky, which despite all forecasts remained cloudy. “It is fundamentally un-American to take a right away from people, and that’s what they did.”