View Full Version : In a First, a Lesbian Is Elected District Attorney in San Diego

Nov 13th, 2002, 05:02 AM
In a First, a Lesbian Is Elected District Attorney in San Diego

SAN DIEGO, Nov. 12 One of the bitterest San Diego campaigns in memory came to a welcome close today, when officials declared that a state judge had ousted the district attorney after an 18-month campaign featuring charges of corruption, anti-Semitism, mental instability and sex discrimination.

But one issue that was not aired in this conservative county was the winner's sexual orientation. With her victory over District Attorney Paul Pfingst sealed, Judge Bonnie Dumanis of Superior Court will become the first openly gay prosecutor elected in the country, gay advocates say.

Judge Dumanis eked out her victory by about 3,500 votes of more than 570,000 cast in San Diego County. The race is nonpartisan, but it was no secret to the voters that she is a Democrat and he a moderate Republican. The same voters preferred the conservative Republican candidate for governor, Bill Simon Jr., by more than 11 percentage points over Gov. Gray Davis.

Judge Dumanis claimed victory this afternoon and addressed a question about her sexual orientation, saying, "My orientation doesn't have anything to do with the job and I don't intend it to have anything to do with the job.

"It is a part of me that I am proud of," she added. "And I do, by the way, have an agenda, and that is public safety."

Judge Dumanis's campaign manager, Kevin Tilden, said it was a mark of social progress that homosexuality was not an issue in the campaign, even in a city with so conservative a reputation.

"There was enough meat to chew on without getting into Bonnie's sexual orientation," said Mr. Tilden, who is also chairman of the Lesbian and Gay Men's Community Center of San Diego.

He said Judge Dumanis's margin of victory could have been provided by the gay neighborhoods Hillcrest and North Park, which voted overwhelmingly for her. But he said it was just as likely that her sexual orientation had cost her thousands of votes in the suburbs.

"We don't know if people even knew she was gay or lesbian," Mr. Tilden said. "We can't hypothesize. But this is a countywide election and you could ask whether being gay cost her more votes than it netted her."

Mr. Pfingst gained a solid reputation as a prosecutor in his eight years in office, winning nationwide notice for an impressive felony conviction rate, a large increase in collections of child support payments and innovative programs for victims of rape and other violent crimes.

He won a death sentence this year in the highly publicized prosecution of David Westerfield for the murder of 7-year-old Danielle van Dam.

But what was perceived as his imperious manner and numerous missteps in his 300-lawyer office hurt his re-election chances. Most damaging was a no-confidence vote last year by 68 percent of the members of his office. Deputy district attorneys said he had failed to enforce ethics codes in his office; one lawyer was prosecuted for running a real estate business out of the district attorney's office on government time, and several prominent cases were taken over by the state attorney general. Two female lawyers said they were demoted after returning from maternity leaves, accusing Mr. Pfingst of sex discrimination.

A United States customs inspector who declined to give his name said that virtually all his colleauges voted against Mr. Pfingst because of his reluctance to charge people who assaulted officers.

"A lot of times, the D.A. wouldn't prosecute even if we're holding our teeth in our hands," he said. "Everybody I work with, whether extremely liberal or extremely conservative, voted for Dumanis."

Mr. Pfingst was also accused of planting a question about Judge Dumanis's mental health at a candidate forum during the primary campaign. She was forced to acknowledge that she attempted suicide in the 1980's after her sister's murder.

Judge Dumanis struck one of the most telling blows with a devastating television commercial featuring the parents of Stephanie Crowe, a 12-year-old girl from Escondido who was killed in January 1998. Mr. Pfingst's office charged her 14-year-old brother and two friends in the crime when evidence pointed to a drifter who was seen in the area the night of the killing. The charges against the boys were dropped a year later, and the transient is now awaiting trial. The Crowe family is suing the county.

Mr. Pfingst accused the judge of orchestrating a smear campaign against him for anti-Semitic remarks he was said to have made 17 years ago. A deputy in his office filed a discrimination suit against the county in September charging that Mr. Pfingst had used an ethnic slur in referring to a colleague in after-work comments with other young prosecutors. Judge Dumanis and her supporters gave copies of depositions in the case to reporters. Mr. Pfingst denied having made the comments but said he might have been present when a Jewish former colleague was ridiculed. Mr. Pfingst is Roman Catholic; Judge Dumanis is Jewish.

Mr. Pfingst did not raise Judge Dumanis's sexual orientation in the campaign, although in the final days he made frequent references to his wife and children and to his opponent's "lifestyle." Radio hosts and Christian conservatives carried on a relatively muted dialogue, but it never reached the level of ugliness seen in campaigns elsewhere.

"Nobody dared bring it up; it was as sotto voce as could be," said Samuel Popkin, a professor of political science at the University of California at San Diego. "What really decided the election was that Pfingst made a lot of enemies on his staff," Professor Popkin said. "And that never helps. When the other D.A.'s say, `We don't support you,' that's a very big slap in the face."

Nov 13th, 2002, 10:01 AM
Good for her!!!

Nov 13th, 2002, 10:50 AM

Now if we can just get Griffin to run for public office in Boston, we would be much better off there as well!

Nov 13th, 2002, 09:51 PM
Now, if only we can get our first gay president. :)

Nov 13th, 2002, 09:58 PM
Wow, there was a lot of drama in that campaign.:D

Nov 13th, 2002, 10:30 PM
I don't know if people fully appreciate how amazing/significant Judge Dumanis's win is. San Diego is a notoriously conservative city and votes overwhelmingly Republic in every election. San Diego also isn't known for its strong support of gays and gay issues (as evidenced recently by the city's support of the Boy Scouts' anti-gay policies).

In a sidenote, it's interesting to me that Hillcrest and North Park are labelled as "gay neighborhoods". I happen to live in one of those "gay neighborhoods" and the last statistic I read estimated the gay population in these regions at no more than about 15%. Funny how a group making up, at most, 15% of the population turns the entire neighborhood "gay".

At any rate, this win gives me hope that maybe San Diego is catching up with many other major cities, and moving beyond sexuality as an issue.