These last days we will have a countdown of the top 10 stories from Davis in 2006. We continue with our eighth installment, No.6 Yolo County District Attorney’s race.
We have spoken at length on this blog about the problems in the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office. In the coming months, we will speak about more of the problems that exist. In 2006, we had a clearly defined battle set up between two Deputy District Attorneys Jeff Reisig and Pat Lenzi.
District Attorney Dave Henderson will retire shortly (in January) after serving as Yolo County District Attorney since 1984 and working in the District Attorney’s office for over 30 years. It was a long tenure marred by serious allegations of corruption and malfeasance. The culture of his office is one of a “good-old boys network.” His handpicked successor was Jeff Reisig. Reisig was only 35 years old at the time of his election. He is a right-wing Republican and he had the support of every law enforcement officer organization in the county and many of the public officials. That included numerous elected Democratic officials such as Davis City Councilmember Don Saylor and Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto. These Democratic officials wore “Democrats for Reisig” buttons at the Davis Farmer’s Market actively campaigning for him.
Reisig was opposed by fellow Deputy District Attorney Pat Lenzi. Lenzi, a moderate Democrat and mother of a Marine stationed in Iraq, brought to the table a different perspective. She had a strong focus on issues of children and women. Issues that have long been ignored by the current District Attorney. But she also had an excellent record as a tough but fair prosecutor.
As one might imagine, given the large number of endorsements from key officials, Reisig had a strong and sustained advantage. He was able to out raise her and outspend her.
Despite these advantages, in the closing week of the race, it seemed close enough that Resig would pull out a very dirty campaign tactic. In 1999, while working as Deputy DA for Sacramento County, Pat Lenzi was involved in a serious automobile accident (a drunk driver hit her car) that had for a time caused her some memory problems. James Hawes was a sexual predator, who was convicted for committing a string of lewd and lascivious acts with a minor, sexual assault, and several other offense. This was a convicted sex offender who was trying to seize on this issue to get a new trial.
The Woodland Daily Democrat on May 31, 2006—just over one week prior to the election seized on this information printing an extremely slanted version of the story.
The story led of with: “An admission by Deputy District Attorney and candidate for District Attorney Patricia Lenzi of a brain injury affecting her memory – which led to her failing to give defense lawyers a piece of evidence favorable to their client – is raising questions about her competency for the top office.”
Yolo County Deputy District Attorney and Jeff Reisig supporter Tim Wallace then played the role of the subtle hatchet man:
“That disclosure came as quite a shock to me in the extreme because I’ve never seen any evidence of it… I’m not saying it’s not true, but I’ve never seen any evidence of memory loss… If she has memory losses of the severity that she described under oath, then I don’t think she’s fit to be District Attorney… This office performs an invaluable service to the community and they need to know the person in our top office is competent.”
Notice that he heavily couches his statement but the punchline is that if this is true, she is unfit to serve. Tim Wallace you will remember along with Clinton Parish made a series of irresponsible and outrageous statements about the Buzayan family. They were both strong supporters of Reisig and frequently attacked Lenzi in vicious and juvenile ways.
The article went on to cite 2005 transcripts taken out of context that suggested that, “Sometimes I don’t recognize my own house, when I go home. Sometimes I don’t know my own street.” Told completely out of context from her statement this was a vicious and devastating blow by a supposedly impartial newspaper.
This story appeared in the Daily Democrat, which had endorsed Reisig. However, most of the county does not read the Daily Democrat. So the Reisig campaign reproduced the article and sent it out to every home in Yolo County to make sure that everyone saw the article.
Despite all of that, the margin of victory by Reisig was fairly slim. Pat Lenzi won in Davis, but lost badly in Woodland for the margin of a 54-46 victory.
Now Reisig will inherit many of the problems of the Henderson office. Moreover he owes his victory to the efforts of Deputy District Attorney’s such as Patricia Fong, Clinton Parish, and Tim Wallace who are under scrutiny for misconduct in their roles in various high-profile cases. In the end, Reisig’s success and failure will rest on his ability to manage his office and in many ways clean house despite the political allegiances he owes some of those deputies. It will be a difficult and unenviable task in the coming months and the People’s Vanguard of Davis will be monitoring this office to see how they respond to what lies ahead.
—Doug Paul Davis reporting