Former District Attorney George Kennedy says that he has mellowed out in retirement. Sitting beachside in Santa Cruz where he now lives, a strong breeze tossing his newly longish hair, he looks very much the part of the retiree, not so much the fearsome four-term district attorney.
Kennedy was the first person outside of his family that Assistant DA Jeff Rosen consulted with over his decision to run against his boss, District Attorney Dolores Carr. And though Kennedy has traded his wing-tips for flip-flops, he agreed to jump into the fray on Rosen’s behalf.
“I know about the two of them from supervising both of them,” he says. “Jeff is very intelligent. I know that Jeff is the one more likely to run the office in selfless public interest. If you ask him a question, you’re going to get a straight answer.”
Nevertheless, he does not speak ill of his successor. Kennedy claims that as his hair grew out, so did his old firebrand nature. “I think it’s in really bad taste to go negative on her,” he says.
It’s tough getting insiders to discuss the race. “It’s too difficult for me. I have to be mindful of discussing anything negative about my boss,” says Karen Sinunu-Towery, the assistant DA whom Carr beat in 2006. Sinunu-Towery then adds hurriedly, “I’m not saying I would say something negative. It’s very difficult.”
Richard Alexander, a personal-injury lawyer, longtime Carr supporter and 1984 president of the Santa Clara Bar Association, thinks he knows a thing or two about being American. He lines the walls of his polished office off St. James Park with prints of John Trumbull’s Declaration of Independence and carries a walletful of fake $2 bills with the same image, which he says he likes to give out to people.
“I have challenged judges,” he points out, “and Rosen says that’s un-American?” He then goes quiet, leaning forward in his chair, glowering. “I want Mr. Rosen to know that is a tawdry, slime-quality lie for which he owes Carr and every lawyer in this country a sincere apology.“He leans back again. “To throw mud because he has the Mercury on its propaganda campaign. I don’t think Carr’s been given a fair shake at all.”
Like Alexander, Carr supporters bristle uniformly at the treatment she’s gotten in the daily newspaper. William Larsen, a retired special assistant district attorney, was particularly angry with a Scott Herhold opinion column that detailed the cost of Carr’s county vehicle, a $37,000 Acura he described as too extravagant to be paid for with taxpayer money.
“That was about as low as it gets,” says Larsen. “Oh, Dolores, she’s got to have this polished wood gear-shift knob. I wanted to send an email that said, ‘Why don’t you take the gear shift knob and shove it up your ass?’”
The disadvantage that Carr has is that even if all the allegations leveled at her are not worth taking seriously, the talking points she marshals are just not as sexy as Rosen’s charges of scandal and misconduct. She says she’s a good manager. She says she’s better equipped to make the $4 million worth of budget cuts her office faces. She says she already knows she can do this without any layoffs. Her supporters say that’s what people should concentrate on.
“The budget thing is almost a full-time job,” says retired Assistant District Attorney Al Weger. “I think Dolores is more capable of doing that.”
“These are tough times as it relates to financial resources in government, and Dolores has managed to maintain the level of service that keeps us safe,” says James Campagna, vice president of the Sheriff’s Advisory Board and owner of Plaza Loans. “Jeff Rosen’s support runs as thin as disgruntled employees. He’s a low-level employee in the office. He’s never managed anybody.”
Kennedy says he’s unconcerned.
“When I first became a DA, I got tremendous help,” says Kennedy. “I know he will too.”
As for Rosen, he continues to plug away with the words of his own father still ringing in his ears when he told his parents his plans to run. “He said, ‘Well, it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all,’” says Rosen.
“I said, ‘Dad, I could win.’ He said, ‘Oh, no, of course you could win, of course.’”
He certainly has a lot riding on it. If the office is a chilly environment now, one can only wonder what a future as an unsuccessful challenger could be like.