County Supervisor Todd Spitzer announced Monday he will run against incumbent Tony Rackauckas next year for Orange County District Attorney.
The move, which had been expected for years, set the stage for what is anticipated to be an intense election campaign.
Spitzer, a former heir apparent to Rackauckas who was fired by the DA in 2010, took direct aim at Rackauckas when announcing his run Monday.
“I refuse to stand by as Tony Rackauckas destroys the District Attorney’s office and uses it as his own personal fiefdom for he and his cronies while the public’s safety suffers,” Spitzer wrote in his news release.
“I’m proud to announce my campaign for District Attorney and pledge to always uphold the rule of law, put people’s safety first and work tirelessly to make certain justice is served for victims and their families. We must restore faith and trust in our law enforcement and justice system.”
Rackauckas’ office has been mired in an ongoing jailhouse informants scandal that has led to state and federal investigations, and convictions being overturned for murder and other serious criminal convictions against at least six people, due to alleged misconduct by his prosecutors.
Rackauckas also has been accused of intervening in DA prosecutions in order to protect his political allies.
Spitzer, meanwhile, has had his own share of controversies. His handcuffing of a Christian preacher at a Wahoo’s Fish Taco restaurant in 2015, for allegedly looking at a table knife, has raised questions about his judgement.
Those questions intensified after public records, which Spitzer fought to keep secret, showed he tried to publicly claim he could have used deadly force against the preacher.
And Spitzer appears to have used his power as a county supervisor to pressure county government vendors to donate to his election campaign.
In his announcement, Spitzer claims he’s starting the race with $1.2 million in campaign cash, compared to $45,000 for Rackauckas. But the relatively small figure he reports for Rackauckas is from more than six months ago, at the end of 2016.
Rackauckas is well positioned to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for his run, as he has in the past, through his deep relationships with county Republican elected officials, businesses and Newport Beach-area donors.
The DA has already held a major fundraiser, last month in Costa Mesa, that is not reflected in the latest campaign finance filings.
The next set of campaign filings, covering the January through June of this year, are due by the end of this month.
Rackauckas, who has been Orange County’s elected DA since 1999, has been endorsed for his re-election by a who’s who of high-profile Republican elected officials. They include Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, county Supervisor Michelle Steel, Congressmen Darrell Issa and Dana Rohrabacher, Congresswoman Mimi Walters, state Sen. Pat Bates, Irvine Mayor Don Wagner, Costa Mesa Councilman Jim Righeimer, state Board of Equalization member Diane Harkey, and Assemblyman Matt Harper.
Congressman Lou Correa and state Assemblyman Tom Daly, both Democrats, have also endorsed Rackauckas’ re-election
Former elected officials who have endorsed Rackauckas’ run include Dick Ackerman (former state senator), Scott Baugh (former state assemblyman and chair of the county Republican Party), Bill Steiner (former county supervisor), Steve Cooley (former LA County district attorney), Collene Campbell (former mayor of San Juan Capistrano).
Spitzer, meanwhile, is promising not to accept endorsements from any elected officials.
“First we have to clean up the corruption in the DA's office and be fearless in the pursuit of public corruption wherever it exists. That’s why I will not accept endorsements from any current elected official,” Spitzer wrote in his announcement.
“The DA must be impartial and beholden to no one.”
A third contender for DA, Chapman University law professor Mario Mainero, has also been considering a run. He previously served as chief of staff to state Sen. John Moorlach (R-Irvine), when Moorlach was a county supervisor.
Orange County Democrats, who now have nearly as many registered voters in OC as Republicans, are not planning at this point on running a candidate for DA, according to sources close to the party.
The election will be held in June 2018. If a candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, they win outright. If not, the top two vote-getters will face off in the November general election.
Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.