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Money flying for D.A. candidates, but not in Richmond

on June 3, 2010

The candidates vying to fill Bob Kochly’s seat as Contra Costa County District Attorney have been fundraising like crazy, new campaign finance reports show, but virtually none of that money is coming from Richmond.

As of May 22, the most recent filing date, Dan O’Malley, a former county Superior Court Judge in Martinez and the presumptive front-runner in the race to take over the D.A. seat that was rocked by a lurid sex scandal last fall, had raised over $100,000 – more than triple what Kochly raised over the same time period in 2006, when he won re-election to the seat.

But while both O’Malley and his rival for the post, Mark Peterson, a deputy District Attorney and Concord city councilman, have been able to attract some large campaign contributions, it appears Richmond’s voters have largely kept their wallets in their pockets. Only $1,350 of O’Malley’s $103,848 in contribution money has come from Richmond – and most of that came from just two donations, one from the Richmond Police Officers’ Association and one from the Richmond Sanitary Service.

Peterson has also had luck fundraising, garnering $73,795 since the beginning of the year. But only two checks, totaling less than $1,000, have come from Richmond. Up-to-date finance records from the third candidate, Elle Falahat, a former deputy D.A. in Ventura County who now lives in the San Ramon Valley, were not yet available.

The primary is June 8.

While residents of Richmond clearly have a stake in this race — over 32 percent of the violent crimes committed in Contra Costa County that land on the D.A.’s desk happen in Richmond — it remains unclear how much mutual interest there is between voters supporting the candidates’ campaigns, and candidates spending time wooing West County’s voters.

According to John Gioia, the county supervisor for District 1, which includes most of West County, Richmond often stays on the sidelines during the political campaign season.

“Unfortunately, in a county-wide race, it’s not uncommon for relatively little money to come from West County,” Gioia said. “That’s not atypical. But where you get your campaign money really shouldn’t affect the policies of the D.A.’s office. Whoever’s elected needs to be responsive to West County.”

Gioia pointed out that his supervisorial district, which includes Richmond, El Sobrante, San Pablo, El Cerrito and Kensington, has fewer residents than any other district, and fewer still who vote — a trend exacerbated in Richmond, where only two in five residents are registered to vote. In fact, Kensington and El Cerrito combined have over 50 percent the number of actual voters as Richmond, despite only about a third of the population. It all amounts to less political capital for residents in West County, and less reason for countywide candidates to campaign out west.

“The biggest factor here is that there are just less votes,” Gioia said. “That’s a bigger factor than the money.”

Campaign records show that Peterson has raised the bulk of his money in his hometown of Concord, collecting 31 checks totaling $29,950. O’Malley, a former superior court county judge in Martinez, has raised more money in the county seat, $13,850, than almost anywhere else — although he has also been able to raise money in some of Central County’s moneyed suburbs like Walnut Creek, Lafayette and Danville. Both candidates also raised significant money from outside the county. (Peterson has raised over $16,000 outside the county, with half of that from outside the Bay Area. O’Malley, meanwhile, has collected $24,900 outside Contra Costa, with the largest share coming from Alameda County, where his sister Nancy O’Malley is the county D.A.)

Bill Gram-Reefer, editor of the popular political blog Halfway to Concord, dismissed the notion that people in West County are less likely to donate to political causes, pointing to the money spent on the proposed Indian Casino at Point Molate and the city’s ongoing battle over facility upgrades at the Richmond Chevron refinery. Instead, he said, donors in Richmond seem more interested in getting involved with Political Action Committees that focus on highly localized issues.

“I think that people [in Richmond] are more concerned about the bread and butter issues in their own backyards than in county politics,” Gram-Reefer said. “I think they see that the court system’s going to be the court system no matter who’s there. The sheriff is going to be the man no matter who’s there. … So I’d say there is an arms-length kind of attitude toward law enforcement and the court system.”

John Ziesenhenne, a former Richmond city councilman and a member of the Richmond Political-Action Committee (RichPAC), disagreed that West County residents hold a somewhat blasé attitude toward county politics, although he acknowledged that many of the city’s most popular PACs — including RichPAC, BayPAC and the Black Men and Women PAC — are more geared toward localized races than county-wide ones.

“If like-minded people can pool their money together, they can perhaps get a more direct message across than by just giving to one candidate’s campaign,” Ziesenhenne said. “But then another idea could be that people in West County could be unhappy with the District Attorney’s office and the perceived lack of time they spend on West County crimes. So there’s a lack of money, perhaps, but also a lack of interest on West County’s part.

“Those PACs are set up pretty much for local city elections,” he went on. “They involve themselves with city issues and really don’t go any farther than the city boundaries in regards to helping out. Those are interested folks in Richmond that want their money to stay involved with Richmond issues.”

Should none of the candidates receive more than 50 percent of Tuesday’s vote, the top two vote getters will compete in a run-off election November 4. That means the eventual winner will likely have to campaign hard in West County once the field’s been narrowed, Gioia said.

“I think Peterson and O’Malley are obviously the two strongest candidates,” he said. “So there could well be a run-off. So there’s a good likelihood that if this doesn’t get decided in June, there’s a chance for West County to hear more specifically where the candidates stand on issues here in West County. I know I’ll be pushing both of them to come out here.”


  1. […] The issues: Beyond the office’s scandals, the issue at play in the D.A.’s race appears to be how the new D.A. will deal with a possible surge of newly paroled inmates, should the state follow through on expected reforms to the prison system, and how to do it on the cheap. The D.A.’s office has been dealing with severe budget cuts since Kochly took over seven years ago. Nearly one-third of violent crimes in the county comes from the city of Richmond, so voters here clearly have a stake in choosing the person who ultimately chooses who to prosecute. (For more information on the D.A. race, click here.) […]

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