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Cooley Receives 2nd Term From L.A. County Voters

The district attorney turns back five challengers. Three incumbent supervisors also win reelection.

March 03, 2004|Sharon Bernstein and Anna Gorman | Times Staff Writers

Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley won reelection Tuesday, as did county Supervisors Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, Don Knabe and Mike Antonovich.

Cooley fought off challenges by two deputy district attorneys, Tom Higgins and Denise Moehlman, and by public law attorney Roger Carrick, former City Councilman Nick Pacheco and a former deputy district attorney, Anthony Patchett.

Cooley, who unseated his boss, Gil Garcetti, in a hotly contested race four years ago, held on Tuesday despite opponents' accusations that he mishandled several high-profile cases and was not sufficiently involved in communities ravaged by gun and gang violence.

At a victory party at the Sheraton Universal hotel, the same spot where he celebrated his 2000 victory over Garcetti, Cooley told a crowd of about 200 supporters that he was ready to stop campaigning and get back to work.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday March 12, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 41 words Type of Material: Correction
Supervisorial candidate -- Articles about local elections in the California section Feb. 29 and March 3 misspelled Joann Hillary McDermott's first name as Joan. She was a candidate for the 4th District seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

"The L.A. County district attorney's office is the best!" Cooley said.

During the campaign, Cooley called his opponents "spite" candidates, and said they were "across-the-board unqualified or unsuited for this office."

He repeated some of those contentions Tuesday night, saying that his opponents "had no issues and no money."

The five candidates who challenged him for the county's chief prosecutor job criticized Cooley for deciding not to seek criminal charges in the matter of the still-unfinished Belmont Learning Center in Los Angeles, a $115-million debacle that critics said was rife with corruption and mismanagement.

Opponents also said his office should have easily won a conviction in a police brutality case against former Inglewood Police Officer Jeremy Morse, whose case was dismissed after two juries deadlocked.

Pacheco, who came in second, but far behind Cooley, said the election should spur the district attorney to be more responsive to the community.

Higgins said he intended to keep his job in the D.A.'s office, and might challenge Cooley again in 2008.

Cooley raised more than $1 million and received endorsements from many of the county's law enforcement and labor associations. He campaigned with a television spot, a glossy mailer and recorded phone calls.

Cooley, 56, started at the district attorney's office in 1973 and worked his way up the ranks by serving as head deputy of the welfare fraud division and at the Antelope Valley and San Fernando offices. He became district attorney in December 2000 after defeating Garcetti in a contentious race featuring 15 debates.

He has won praise for his prosecution of corrupt public officials, including the recent conviction of former Compton Mayor Omar Bradley. He created a forensic sciences section to work on solving cold cases, and he obtained guilty pleas from Symbionese Liberation Army associate Sara Jane Olson and "Angel of Death" respiratory therapist Efren Saldivar.

Among the county supervisors, the only significant challenge was to Burke, a 12-year veteran in the office whose 2nd District includes South Los Angeles, Culver City, Inglewood and Compton.

With roughly two-thirds of the vote counted, Burke was far outpolling former Deputy Sheriff Guy Mato despite a grass-roots campaign targeting her by the union that represents the deputies.

Burke said she was "feeling great" about her lead, and expressed surprise to be winning more than three-fourths of the vote even among traditionally conservative absentee voters.

"You have to have opposition for people to come out to really assist you," she said. "People came forward, and I am just totally gratified and appreciative of everyone who came out to help me."

Mato's campaign faltered after it was revealed that he had been implicated in a police brutality case in 1990.

The former deputy, who now works in real estate, was ordered to pay $40,826 to a man who said that Mato had beaten him and knocked out his front teeth.

In his reelection bid, Knabe amassed a strong lead over . physician Jayendra Arvindal Shah and business planning consultant Joan Hillary McDermott.

"I'm thrilled," said Knabe, who awaited results with supporters at The Grand restaurant in Long Beach.

Knabe said he expected to spend his third term dealing with the effect of possibly "draconian" state budget cuts on county services.

Antonovich, up for his seventh term, won handily over two challengers -- Santa Clarita environmentalist Lynne Plambeck and Pasadena resident Linda Jordan.

Sometimes called "the five little kings," county supervisors each represent 2 million people, and their districts are so large that only the best-financed challengers could hope to unseat an incumbent.

"Money does count," said D.A. candidate Higgins. "You have the hope that it doesn't, but if he has a million and I have $25,000, that's 40 to 1. Those aren't good odds anywhere."

In other races, voters in 10 Los Angeles County cities were considering a special tax intended to augment services at county libraries.

The tax to city property owners would not exceed $25.26 for the first year and would allow libraries to extend service hours, upgrade their computer systems or buy more books.

Early returns in the cities of Bell, Bradley, San Fernando, South Gate, Carson, Gardena, La Puente, Montebello and Huntington Park were too close to call.

Times staff writers Christiana Sciaudone and Erin Ailworth contributed to this report.

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