Nation’s Largest County Set To Elect First Black District Attorney

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  • Armed with scores of endorsements from powerful elected officials, key law enforcement organizations and deeply entrenched labor unions, veteran prosecutor Jackie Lacey is poised to become Los Angeles County's first African-American district attorney.

    With slightly less than 10 million residents spread over 4,057 square miles, Los Angeles County is the nation's largest and claims more than a quarter of California's total population of nearly 38 million people. Just 9.3 percent are African-American.

    Only a small number of district attorneys, nationwide, moreover, have been African-American.   

    Blacks elected to high powered prosecutors seats throughout the country include Seth Williams, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, (Philadelphia County), Robert Johnson, in Bronx, New York, (Bronx County), Paul L. Howard, in Fulton County (Atlanta, Georgia) and Robert Schuler Smith, in Hinds County, (Jackson, Mississippi).

    Lacey, who for 10 years has been the county's second highest ranking prosecutor (she is Chief Deputy District Attorney) is locked in a battle with Alan Jackson in the non-partisan election which will be decided on November 6.

    If Lacey defeats Jackson, she will not only become the first black district attorney in the county's 162-year history, she will also be the first woman to hold the office. Lacey is a Democrat, Jackson is a Republican.

    Although Lacey out-polled Jackson by a slender margin in the June primary election, she did not garner the 51 percent necessary to defeat Jackson outright and was thus forced into the November 6 run off.  

    Although the race is non-partisan, Lacey has secured endorsements from high level Democratic Party officials, including Governor Jerry Brown and Attorney General Kamala Harris. Jackson, a Republican, has the received blessing of his party's major leaders, with the glaring exception of reigning District Attorney Steve Cooley, who is retiring after serving three terms.

    Cooley long ago chose Lacey, not another Republican, as his successor, which baffles many observers. He insists that Lacey, rather than Jackson, is the most qualified prosecutor to replace him.  

    Given the Democratic Party's overwhelming edge in voter registration, it appears that Lacey has a decided advantage. More than 2.2 million of the county's registered voters are Democrats, one million or less are Republicans.  
     
    BlackAmericaWeb.com solicited a range of comments from African-American bar associations, attorneys and leaders who are following the race between Lacey and Jackson.

    In a statement released last Friday afternoon, National Bar Association president John Page, said, "It would be a tremendous asst to the office to have either candidate serve in the capacity of District Attorney."

    It would be historic and uplifting, Page continued, "if Attorney Lacey is elected to the position."  Her election, he said, "would reflect the true diversity of our profession, as yet a woman and an African American would have ascended to the top level of an office that represents all people and has vital and critical role of protecting our citizens."

    Damon Brown, president of the John M. Langston Bar Association, Los Angeles' oldest and largest law club, said, "her election would be a remarkable achievement for African Americans and all the residents of Los Angeles County."

    Dr. Anthony Samad, creator of the popular Urban Issues Breakfast series, one of Lacey's strongest supporters, told blackamericaweb.com, "she has a plan for alternative sentencing  for non-violent offenders that will cost the state only one third of the current prison budget."

    Lacey said she supports Proposition 36, the ballot measure, which, if approved by voters on November 6, will amend "Three Strikes," the sentencing guidelines that impose 25 years to life sentences for third time violations of law, even for the most minor and inconsequential infractions.

    "Proposition 36 will restore the original intent of Three Strikes," Lacey has repeatedly said in debates and appearances before numerous community and civic organizations.

    Lacey, who says that "in 26 years (she) rose through the ranks to become the second highest official in the District Attorney's Office," added that she is "the most experienced and qualified candidate to oversee 1,000 attorneys and administer its $324 million annual budget."

    Among all California's legal statues, African-Americans, especially men, appear to have suffered more lasting damage from Three Strikes over the past several years than that inflicted by other harsh penalties.    

    "I support amending Three Strikes for minor offenses," Lacey said, and noted that Jackson, her opponent, "does not."

    Lacey also said she "also supports Proposition 30," the ballot measure which would place temporary sales and income taxes on high wage earners to offset the anticipated expenses re-alignment will cost the state's city and county governments.

    Jackson, in addition to his unbending position on Three Strikes, says he disagrees with Proposition 30. That position alone is believed to have separated him from the vast majority of African-American and Latino voters.

    If not much else, the candidates stand together on medical Marijuana sales. Lacey and Jackson say they will prosecute dispensaries even if Los Angeles' voters overturn the city's ban on November 6.        
     

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