My View: The Fall of Nathan Ballard

As posted on twitter

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Nathan Ballard played a prominent role in the failed 2005 Measure X campaign in Davis.  These days he is better known as a key advisor to Gavin Newsom since the latter’s days as a mayor.  But Ballard grew up in Davis and it seemed strange that there would be no coverage of it here in town.

Now a communications consultant, Ballard was the former press secretary for Newsom while he was mayor, a former San Francisco deputy city attorney and a former city police union spokesperson.

Much of the story is indeed tragic—but it is a personal tragedy.  Descriptions of domestic abuse.  The horrific incident indeed horrifies.

Ballard took a plea agreement in a domestic violence case, really an understatement if you believe the victims—he tried to smother his four-year-old daughter with a pillow according to their allegation, and received six months’ probation.

Ballard’s father, a longtime Davis resident, tragically died last spring.  According to statements from his attorney, Ballard, who had had a drinking problem previously, resumed drinking after eight years and voluntarily enrolled in a 28-day residential treatment program in November.

It is interesting.  There has been a lot of coverage of Nathan Ballard in the San Francisco press.  Makes sense.  He made his name in that city, he was long tied to Gavin Newsom when Newsom was Mayor of San Francisco and up until at least October likely remained so.

What caught my attention in this case was when a KQED reported tweeted the list of people writing letters of mitigation on Ballard’s behalf.  A lot of prominent Yolo County people—although some very notable names were not on the list either.

Joe Rodriguez of KQED has a great piece on him for their publication (link).  Joe pulled up the mitigation letters.  He flagged some interesting ones from San Francisco—former Police Chief Greg Suhr.  Michela Alioto-Pier.

Kathy Black the executive director of a domestic violence support group.

But he perhaps didn’t know some of the Yolo County/Davis names.  Long time allies of his and of his family.  At the top of the list was Ramona Prieto.  Most know of course her husband Ed, who was Sheriff of Yolo County for 20 years—but she was just as prominent, rising to the number two spot in the California Highway Patrol.

Also at the top of the list is Cass Sylvia, the former Public Guardian, whose husband Craig Reynolds was a long time political consultant in Davis and was chief of staff to Helen Thomson (Assembly) and Lois Wolk (Assembly and Senate).

Eye-popping up was the number of people in law enforcement writing mitigation letters.

“I found Nate to be a true professional at work but also a sincere, genuine, kind man that cares deeply about his family, friends, and community,” wrote Martin Halloran, former head of the SF Police Officers Association.

“On a personal level, I would say I know him very well and Nate has shown me that he is a good and decent human being,” wrote Kathy Black, a director of a domestic violence support group in San Francisco.

Black writes that “over that [sic] last two decades, Nate has become a trusted friend, strategist, and ally to La Casa,” and added, “While I cannot speak to this case and its very serious allegations, I just do not believe that it is in Nate’s nature to hurt anyone — period.”

Former San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr wrote: “In our many conversations about life, relationships, and family, what couldn’t be any clearer is his love for his kids. He is a devoted father.”

But you read the statement from his wife and you get a different picture—abusive, erratic, explosive conduct, the fear and intimidation.  This wasn’t a one-off.

If you want get a sense for it—it is all spelled out here in detail –

Ballard of course denies the allegations.

“The allegations made against me by Mara are mostly false, and the remainder are grossly exaggerated,” Ballard told KQED on Tuesday, in a written statement. “I never harmed my daughter, and I never would have agreed to any settlement that required me to say that I did.”

All told, Ballard got off pretty lightly.  His reputation no doubt takes a huge hit.  But six years of probation for what could have been charged as attempted murder is a literal slap on the wrist.

The mitigation letters paint a picture of the uneven playing field that exists in our criminal legal system.

His excuses ring hollow here.  This is a person with the resources to have fought false charges.  Many others in his spot would not have been able to do so.

The bigger issue to me is really the double standard, not only on the part of the criminal legal system—slapping this guy on the wrist while it throws the book at the less fortunate—but how many people, indeed law enforcement people, were willing to write on his behalf in defense of the indefensible.

And some of the prominent Yolo County names who wrote letters on his behalf—I sure hope they did so BEFORE they read the victim impact statement.

This is a good lesson that the whole system is problematic—someone who puts on a good face in public gets lot of nice letters from prominent people on their behalf.

But none of those people were in the position to see what happened behind closed doors when he was off his best behavior, and, perhaps under stress, the demons came out.

In the end, I don’t mind that he got six years of probation.  I am not a believer in incarceration.  He needs help, not a cage.  Unfortunately, many of the people who wrote on his behalf don’t see things that way.  They will step up for their buddy and throw the book at the next person.

Just as Rory Fleming wrote yesterday about Chesa Boudin’s father, the problem isn’t that David Gilbert got commuted, it’s that so many others have not.  The same here—it’s not that Nate Ballard got a break, it’s that so many others do not get that chance.

That’s the problem of unequal justice in our system, and that makes this case all the more tragic.


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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2 thoughts on “My View: The Fall of Nathan Ballard”

  1. Jim Frame

    I remember hearing about Nate getting in peoples faces and making threats at the Farmer’s Market during an election campaign.  It might have been the Measure X campaign, I don’t recall.  I just remember hearing about the threats of violence.  I’m not surprised at the way he turned out.

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