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DA Bonnie Dumanis’ endorsement is golden, but how and when she’s used it has caused complications.
Part two of a five-part series.
At the Deputy District Attorneys Association’s annual board meeting in January, top prosecutor Bonnie Dumanis made a brazen request: Don’t endorse in the 2010 sheriff’s race.
Stay neutral, she urged, because our office has regular dealings with the sheriff.
Never mind that Dumanis herself has already endorsed Bill Gore for sheriff, despite her 2007 pledge to stop endorsing candidates to protect the integrity of her office.
Dumanis wants Gore to replace her closest political ally and mentor, retired Sheriff Bill Kolender. And if her deputies aren’t going to endorse Gore, she wants them to stay out of a hotly contested race that is shaping up to be a test of her political prowess and how far she will go for a candidate.
It remains to be seen what the association will do with its endorsement.
But Dumanis’ zeal for Gore has irked some deputy district attorneys because it puts them in the awkward position of having to choose between their boss and fellow law enforcement unions, such as the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association, backing Gore’s opponent, Jim Duffy.
“There is a schism developing within the association,” one deputy district attorney said.
“There’s a sizeable group of people who are in favor of backing Jim Duffy, based mostly on the fact the DSA has endorsed Jim Duffy and we should back our fellow labor representatives and present a united front in law enforcement,” said the attorney, who was granted anonymity to speak freely on the issue. “She has backed Gore, who came from the outside, was a fed, was here for maybe a year as chief of our investigators, and all of a sudden he’s the acting sheriff.”
Dumanis made the pledge to stop endorsing at a 2007 press conference in which she announced the creation of a public integrity unit that would take on political corruption. She made an exception for judicial and public safety-related races, a category so broad she even included San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, since he makes police-related budget decisions.
“I will not allow our office to be used as a pawn during political campaigns,” she said.
But it’s a joke now among insiders because her political activity has hardly slowed down. Dumanis is a kingmaker with statewide political clout, and since her declaration she’s made numerous endorsements.
The sheriff’s race is a battle between the county’s elite politicians, like Dumanis and Sanders, who back Gore, and the rank-and-file cops who support Duffy.
Gore, the former special agent in charge of the San Diego FBI office, was Kolender’s undersheriff and handpicked successor, and also briefly served as Dumanis’ chief of investigations. Gore’s father worked with Kolender when Kolender was San Diego police chief.
Duffy, a career deputy and son of the late Sheriff John Duffy, has the support of every major law enforcement union, including the largest and most influential, the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association and the San Diego Police Officers Association.
The DSA endorsement is considered particularly important because the organization is able to make independent expenditures on behalf of Duffy’s campaign, which are not subject to the same $500 limits as individual campaign donors.
The DSA could end up spending tens of thousands of dollars for Duffy on radio and television ads and yard signs.
Some deputy district attorneys said Dumanis asked them to remain neutral, and others remembered it differently, saying she first urged their union’s board members at the January meeting to support Gore for sheriff, and if they couldn’t do that, to remain neutral.
District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and Sheriff Bill Gore announce charges against medical marijuana facilities in September. Photo: Sam Hodgson
During a recent interview, Dumanis told a reporter she only suggested the unions remain “neutral.”
Reporter: Have you made a suggestion or a request of any of the associations to support Gore?
Dumanis: No I haven’t. I did once say I urge you to probably be neutral because that’s an office we deal with regularly but I would never tell them who they should support.
Reporter: You asked them to be neutral even though you’re endorsing?
Dumanis: No, I said if you were going to consider endorsing anybody, I’d like you to consider staying neutral.
Reporter: You don’t want them to endorse Gore?
Dumanis: Well, I said, if they, I still think, it’s you know, unless they want to get involved, I don’t see any reason why they need to get involved.
Reporter: Don’t they typically endorse in most law enforcement situations? I mean, they’re endorsing you right?
Dumanis: Right. I don’t know. I don’t really discuss a whole lot of endorsements with them. Most of what I discuss with them is budget, and other issues in the office.
The president of the San Diego Deputy District Attorneys Association at first said Dumanis has made no attempt to influence the association on the sheriff’s race.
“She hasn’t said a peep to us about the sheriff’s race,” said David Hendren, the association’s president.
When a reporter told him later that Dumanis acknowledged asking the association to remain neutral, he said he’d forgotten about her comments. “Now that you say that, I do think she made a comment to that effect on a meeting on something else. That was my mistake then.”
Hendren is listed as an endorser on the “Duffy For Sheriff” website.
In addition to Dumanis’ endorsement power, she is a member of a local committee advising Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on judicial appointments. She is on the board of directors of the National District Attorneys Association and is immediate past president of the California District Attorneys Association, two powerful lobbying groups.
Of more than a dozen endorsements made by Dumanis in the last two elections, she recalled only one loss — one of her deputies lost a judicial race to a former deputy. There was one more loss she didn’t remember — a candidate for Imperial Beach mayor.
In 2006, Dumanis backed winners in races for county treasurer/tax collector, county clerk, sheriff and a handful of judicial candidates, including Dave Rubin and Rod Shelton.
Since she made the pledge in 2007 she endorsed another handful of candidates for judge, mostly her own deputy district attorneys, including Garry Haehnle, Evan Kirvin and Blaine Bowman in 2008.
She also endorsed city attorney candidate Jan Goldsmith and Sanders.
For 2010, besides Gore, Dumanis has endorsed Republican entrepreneur Meg Whitman for governor. According to San Diego Jewish World, she was scheduled to be an honorary chair for a Whitman fundraiser Dec. 2 at a Rancho Santa Fe residence.
Coming Tuesday | The DA’s Power to Disappoint: As she has risen to be the county’s most powerful politician, Bonnie Dumanis used her clout in questionable ways, handing out political retribution and pursuing cases that later proved disastrous.
(Correction: The original version of this story included Dan Goldstein as one of the people Dumanis endorsed in 2006. While she did endorse him in an earlier election, Dumanis didn’t endorse Goldstein in 2006. We regret the error.)
Please contact Kelly Thornton directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.