A fatal shooting and protests in the streets; a District Attorney’s big break and police unions’ cash; Real Justice and George Soros; DNA and a deputy DA’s disputed secret deal - and that chain-link fence.
The race for Sacramento County District Attorney has been the most rough-and-tumble fight for the office in a generation, shaken by seismic events that have exposed the fractures in the community.
Donations poured into the coffers of both campaigns with both candidates seeing a blizzard of cash in the final two months of the race.
Incumbent Anne Marie Schubert received nearly $665,000 this calendar year as of May 19, the latest date records are available. But donors contributed more than $266,000 of that since late April, campaign records show. And Schubert has more than enough for a final push. Her campaign is sitting on a $307,000 nest egg heading to the finish line.
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But challenger Noah Phillips managed to out raise - and outspend - his boss and rival, taking in more than $987,000 from January to May 19 - a cool $654,000 since April 22, the campaign disclosure documents show. But Phillips' coffers show he's running close to empty heading into the race's final laps. His campaign's cash balance as of May 19: $7,519.99.
Career prosecutors turned bitter rivals faced off: the incumbent Schubert seeking reelection, conservative, law-and-order, a cold case expert with heavy backing from law enforcement, the region’s political leaders and local business.
The challenger Phillips, a deputy DA with a reformist agenda to fix what he called a “broken system” by focusing on police accountability and aggressive investigation of officer-involved shootings.
The deadly shooting of Stephon Clark in the backyard of his grandparents’ Meadowview home by Sacramento police injected a bitter dose of reality into the rhetoric turning the race into a referendum on what the future of Sacramento – and Sacramento law enforcement - should look like.
Protestors took to the streets and to the front steps of the District Attorney’s Office. Stephon Clark became a national watchword and Schubert defended herself and her office against claims of inaction and worse. An infusion of campaign cash from a pair of local law enforcement unions in the days after Clark’s March 18 death only reinforced critics’ claims that Schubert was too close to law enforcement.
Little more than a month later, an out-of-the-blue tip broke one of California’s most notorious cases wide open and dramatically changed the momentum of the race. The suspected East Area Rapist, a former cop and warehouseman named Joseph James DeAngelo, was plucked by authorities from his quiet Citrus Heights home after decades of work by detectives in Sacramento and across the state, reviving Schubert’s reputation as a tech-savvy crime fighter focused on victims’ rights.
With mere months to go before June 5, Election Day, money – hundreds of thousands of dollars of it – began to flow into the race. Schubert’s donors included the law enforcement groups that had so faithfully backed her in the past from the California Statewide Law Enforcement Association to the powerful California Correctional Peace Officers’ Association; to contributions from local donors.
Phillips had tapped into the support of social justice heavyweights Real Justice PAC and the California Justice & Safety PAC, bankrolled by Los Angeles billionaire Soros who has put his wealth behind progressive district attorney candidates across the country in an effort to reform the criminal justice system and reduce incarceration rates.
Then came the ads. Phillips tied Schubert to Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones and President Donald Trump’s “failed leadership” while sharply criticizing her handling of the Stephon Clark case and other officer-related shootings.
Schubert touted DeAngelo’s arrest using DNA technology that she championed as DA as proof that as her ad suggested, she was “keeping Sacramento safe.”
The attacks grew sharper as Schubert pounced on defense attorneys’ allegations in April of prosecutorial misconduct against Phillips. The DA challenger was accused of engineering an alleged “secret deal” with a murder defendant by the name of Tiwan Greenwade at trial to trade a promise of a manslaughter deal for perjured testimony against co-defendants in an August 2016 murder trial.
Phillips blasted the allegations as a political power play by Schubert to derail his campaign and has called on a Sacramento Superior Court judge to throw the DA’s office off the case for politicizing it ahead of Election Day.
The judge will rule June 8 whether the case should be declared a mistrial, but the case has already become fodder for an attack ad branding Phillips as “unethical” and “dangerous.”
Then there was the email.
The leak of a racist and sexist 2016 email sent by Phillips’ septuagenarian uncle and dug out of his workplace server as part of a DA’s investigation into the alleged “secret deal” was seen by Phillips and critics as late-inning campaign dirty tricks.
An embarrassed Phillips last week said he took “full responsibility” for the February 2016 email which trafficked in ugly racist and sexist stereotypes of women of a variety of races and nationalities and his response to it.
But the revelation of the email and Phillips’ response to his uncle that it was “work appropriate anywhere,” sent Phillips’ campaign into damage control less than two weeks before election day and had veteran political consultants speculating whether the offending message was a death knell.
“The election could hinge on an email sent by a 70-year-old man,” said veteran political consultant Steve Maviglio.
But Phillips came firing back with an attack ad of his own that paints his rival Schubert as “compromised and corrupt,” while Schubert earlier this week ducked questions on Capital Public Radio’s “Insight with Beth Ruyak," about who leaked the email to reporters.
“I don’t want to talk about the emails anymore,” Schubert said Tuesday when CPR’s Ruyak asked her who leaked the email and whether the leak was an inside job. “I think the emails speak for themselves. I want us to focus this last week on the positivity of all the good work that we’ve done in this office.”
And on Thursday, the race reached the home stretch in nearly the same way it gathered steam, with the family and friends of Stephon Clark front and center, this time on the steps of the state Capitol, again calling for changes in the District Attorney’s office.