By PAUL PAYNE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Three years after voters chose her to be Sonoma County district attorney, Jill Ravitch launched her re-election campaign Thursday night, hosting a fundraiser attended by as many as 250 supporters that included elected officials and community leaders.
Ravitch, who defeated two-term incumbent Stephan Passalacqua in June 2010, got into campaign mode at the Kendall-Jackson Wine Center in Santa Rosa,
asking for four more years to expand her key initiatives to fight elder abuse, violence against women and mortgage fraud.
The 54-year-old Sebastopol resident said she’s had a successful first term despite hurdles such as budget cuts and a statewide prison system overhaul that shifted responsibilities to counties. She pointed to endorsements by the five-member county Board of Supervisors, Sheriff Steve Freitas and various business and neighborhood interests as a sign of her widespread approval.
“I am looking forward to celebrating what has been an amazingly fast three years and talking about what lies ahead,” Ravitch said before her campaign kickoff.
Freitas, who also is up for re-election, said he’s had good communication and a “respectful relationship” with his law enforcement partner the past three years.
“We respect and honor each other’s independence,” Freitas said. “What I really like about Jill is she cares about victims of crimes and their rights. I really respect that about her.”
So far, no candidate has emerged to challenge Ravitch. The election is June 3.
Dave McCuan, Sonoma State political science professor, said it seems unlikely that a serious challenger will surface given her community exposure and lack of any major public controversy. Plus, it will be difficult to find someone willing to risk the money — the last race cost each candidate more than $200,000.
Ravitch, who just started fundraising, has about $25,000 in the bank, she said.
“This is going to be a status quo election,” McCuan said.
But rumors are swirling that an opponent from within the DA’s office will run. A senior deputy prosecutor who asked to remain anonymous said it was a certainty.
Also, Ravitch has not yet received a key endorsement from rank-and-file sheriff’s deputies and she appears to have lost some support from criminal defense attorneys. Criticisms include a failure to establish policies on marijuana prosecution, inconsistent charging and a lack of access to discuss cases.
“I’m aware there are issues in the office,” said Santa Rosa defense attorney Chris Andrian, who supported Ravitch in 2010.
Ravitch said she can’t satisfy everyone.
“You hear rumblings, but the support is overwhelming,” she said.
Ravitch has not released conviction rate statistics since taking office, saying the available records are inaccurate. Supervisors recently approved the purchase of a new case management system that could provide reliable data in the future, she said.
“One thing I learned is that a conviction rate doesn’t necessarily illustrate what’s happening in the District Attorney’s Office,” said Ravitch, who made her predecessor’s conviction rate a campaign issue in 2010.
Ravitch said she’s made strides in other areas. She’s maintained staffing levels despite a 13 percent budget cut, keeping positions filled by getting grants for programs such as drunken-driving and elder-abuse prosecution.
See photos from the event here
She’s also secured funding for two administrative positions at the Family Justice Center. She said she’s lived up to a campaign promise to put managers to work in the courtroom and has given deputies more discretion in deciding how to charge and resolve cases.
Ravitch disbanded the homicide trial team in favor of assigning major cases to more attorneys, created a dedicated elder-protection team and re-jiggered her juvenile court staff.
She said she hopes to start a mortgage-fraud task force and get a handle on marijuana prosecution.
“I believe I’m doing the job the voters asked me to do, and I will continue to do it for some time to come,” she said.
Supervisor Mike McGuire said Ravitch is collaborative, accessible and responsive, “managing the office and driving results, even in difficult budget times.”
“In my opinion, she puts the safety of Sonoma County first,” McGuire said.
You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or firstname.lastname@example.org.