Thursday, January 1, 2004

DA candidates look ahead to March [Times-Standard]

DA candidates look ahead to March [Times-Standard]

by James Tressler, The Times-Standard

Thursday, January 01, 2004 -

EUREKA -- In 61 days, Humboldt County voters will decide whether District Attorney Paul Gallegos should be recalled.

Given such a tight time frame, Gallegos and the three candidates running to replace him should the recall succeed are facing a short, but doubtless lively campaign in what promises to be a memorable Election Day on March 2.

Projections on how much money will be raised in this election have varied. Gallegos campaign manager Richard Salzman told the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat earlier this month that Gallegos supporters are prepared to spend $250,000 or more. Recall spokesman Rick Brazeau was quoted in the same article as saying he thinks some $500,000 could be spent by all parties by the time March rolls around.

Worth Dikeman, a 25-year prosecutor who says he's against the recall but is likely to draw key support from law enforcement, says he's looking to run an "inexpensive" campaign.

"I can tell you I'm not ready to spend $250,000," Dikeman said.

The prosecutor will campaign while at the same time handling at least three homicide trials, one of which starts next week.

Between now and March, Dikeman said he plans to participate in a number of forums and other speaking engagements, including at Humboldt State University and College of the Redwoods, because he believes young people are taking an interest in the election.

Dikeman, who has described himself as a reluctant candidate, said he hopes to draw support from both Gallegos supporters and critics -- presenting himself as the most qualified candidate to take over as district attorney should his boss be recalled.

"There are a lot of people who dislike Paul (Gallegos), and a lot of people who like him. ... Hopefully both sides will be interested in bringing a real professional in to run the office should the recall succeed, and that person is me."

Gloria Albin Sheets, who worked as a prosecutor for more than eight years alongside Dikeman, is the only one actively campaigning to beat Gallegos. Albin Sheets worked for about five months under Gallegos before being laid off while on medical leave, a job loss attributed to budget cuts.

Like Dikeman, Albin Sheets said she'll raise money, but probably not on as grand a scale as some have projected.

"This is really new to me -- I'm not a politician," she said.

Albin Sheets said she's setting up an organization, fielding calls from potential supporters and speaking before a number of area organizations.

The other candidate in the race, Arcata private attorney Steve Schectman, has said he supports Gallegos and is interested in carrying on Gallegos' policies should the recall succeed. Schectman is out of town and could not be reached for comment.

Recall supporters, which include two of the area's largest law enforcement unions, accuse Gallegos of being soft on crime. He's also been criticized by law enforcement for his broader medical marijuana guidelines. But the biggest issue has been a lawsuit Gallegos' office filed against Pacific Lumber Co. just a couple months after Gallegos took office.

PL proclaims the lawsuit "baseless" and "politically motivated," and the company spent some $40,000 bankrolling the recall petition drive. Recently, company management indicated it's not ready to officially back any of the candidates.

Although she supports the recall, Albin Sheets denied accusations by Gallegos supporters that she's running at the behest of the timber company. She has said that, if elected, she'd review the PL case. Dikeman has also declined to comment on the lawsuit, except to say it's a matter the courts will decide.

Albin Sheets said her campaign will focus on crime issues, such as how Gallegos' office handled a case involving two men who went on a drive-by shooting spree in downtown Eureka earlier this year.

Gallegos, who will wrap up his first year on the job next week, said he's pleased with his performance. Over the past year, he and other county officials weathered arguably the worst budget crisis in the state's history. Gallegos noted his office is running on three fewer attorneys than his predecessor Terry Farmer had.

"We've been cranking it out here, doing more with less," Gallegos said.

He described the recall as "white noise" and said he's trying to focus on his goals of improving the overall efficiency of the office and developing community-driven approaches to tackling crime.

He added he believes the PL lawsuit is the primary reason behind the recall, saying he expected a recall movement to start from the day the lawsuit was filed last winter.

"We'll deal with the recall, then we get to try our case," he said.

It's not clear yet which candidate recall supporters like. Timothy Crowley, owner of North Coast Fabricators and treasurer of the Committee to Recall Paul Gallegos, said the committee members will meet next week to start discussing the candidates. Crowley voted for Gallegos last year, but said the new district attorney has brought changes Crowley didn't bargain for.

While he says he hasn't met the candidates, Crowley said he's talked with some law enforcement officials who say they're impressed with Dikeman.

Crowley conceded the PL lawsuit is a big issue, but his focus remains on crime, particularly what he describes as the area's too-tolerant attitudes toward drugs such as marijuana.

"You're going to see the 'anti-everything' crowd get behind Gallegos because he's giving them what they want," Crowley said. "But from my feelings and from the people who come into my office, he's in for a rude awakening because there's a lot of people in this community who feel the way I do -- and that's 'Do your job, Mr. DA.'"