In a Shocker, City Attorney Carmen Trutanich Looks Beaten in District Attorney's Race

Update, 2 p.m.: Mike Feuer signals he is not dropping his bid for city attorney, which may mean the end of Nuch's career at City Hall East. More below.

The crowd at the Croatian American Club of San Pedro watched the election returns Tuesday night in a state of shock and disbelief, as hometown hero Carmen Trutanich went down to apparent defeat in the race for L.A. County district attorney.

With almost all the ballots counted early Wednesday, Trutanich was in third place. He was trailing two lesser known prosecutors, Chief Deputy District Attorney Jackie Lacey and Alan Jackson, who it appears will face each other in the November runoff.

Speaking to a dwindling group of supporters after 1 a.m., Trutanich did not concede, but blamed the media for a "major league onslaught" against his candidacy.

"Barack Obama is getting hammered right now," Trutanich said. "I think the negative campaign against me is worse."

Trutanich was considered the frontrunner, in large measure because he out-fundraised his next closest opponent by a factor of 2.5-to-1. He was also better known, as the only candidate in the six-person field who had run for office before.

No one in any campaign expected Trutanich to finish second, much less third. Some rivals worried that he would win the election outright with more than 50% of the vote, and some were prepared to call it a victory if he were held under 40%.

With 99% of the votes counted early Wednesday, Lacey led the field with 31.9%. Jackson finished second with 23.7%, about 8,600 votes ahead of Trutanich, who had 22.3%. It seemed unlikely that Trutanich could overcome that deficit with late absentee and provisional ballots.

Trutanich's campaign strategist, John Shallman, attributed the apparent defeat to negative media coverage, which started almost as soon as he got into the race in February.

"They had a pretty nice trap set, and it's been negative ever since," Shallman said. "We counted 42 negative articles... It was a constant barrage of negative press."

In his remarks, Trutanich hinted that he may not run for re-election as city attorney next year. Though he said he will make that decision sometime in the future, he also said, "We have a year left in the city attorney's office."

Assemblyman Mike Feuer has already announced his candidacy for city attorney, and it's not entirely clear that he would drop out if Trutanich opted to seek re-election. Asked that question in March, he said that Trutanich was so overwhelmingly favored in the district attorney's race that the question wasn't worth thinking about.

Feuer had raised $345,000 as of Dec. 31, and likely has much more than that now. That would give him a big head-start over Trutanich, who had just $4,000 in his city officeholder account as of two weeks ago.

"I don't know what we did wrong in terms of running the city of L.A.," Trutanich told the crowd. "There's absolutely no corruption in the city of Los Angeles, as far as the city attorney's office goes. They hit me on street artists. I still think of it as graffiti. Obviously the marijuana crowd came out... We've done everything properly. There's no shame in what we've done. Negative campaigns work."

Trutanich laid particular blame at the feet of talk radio, including hosts like John & Ken, who trashed him routinely.

"The people have spoken," Trutanich said. "We fought a hard fight. We fought truly a negative machine."

When Trutanich went home, he was trailing Jackson by about 5,000 votes. He said he would take another look at the numbers in the morning, and decide whether to concede then.

Lacey won the first round despite struggling to raise money last year. She had a big advantage in the endorsement of her boss, D.A. Steve Cooley, and eventually found her footing. Unlike Trutanich and Jackson, Lacey never ran a TV commercial, preferring to put her limited resources into slate mailers. Shallman noted that the L.A. Times endorsement played a key role in Lacey's strong finish.

In an e-mail message early Wednesday, Lacey's consultant, Parke Skelton, attributed her victory to four factors: "superior candidate, we bought almost every slate, Cooley, newspaper endorsements."

John Thomas, the strategist for Alan Jackson, attacked Trutanich early and often. Last year, the Jackson campaign circulated a web video that slammed Trutanich for going back on his pledge to serve two terms as city attorney. Jackson also sued Trutanich to prevent him from claiming to be the "Los Angeles Chief Prosecutor" on the ballot.

"We see tonight as a huge victory," Thomas said in a statement. "The Jackson campaign took on Carmen Trutanich and saved the people of Los Angeles County from a politician who was more concerned about winning the next office instead of winning the next case. We were outraised, outspent and outsized by the City Attorney, yet we prevailed because voters clearly want a modern prosecutor not a politician."

Update, 2 p.m.: Assemblyman Mike Feuer is not backing off his city attorney bid: "I respect the City Attorney, hope to sit down with him shortly and plan to move forward with my campaign," Feuer said in a statement.

Update 2, 4:15 p.m.: Trutanich tells the L.A. Times that as of right now, "I have every intention in the world of pulling papers and filing them" to run for a second term as city attorney.

So this could be the start of a game of chicken, as Feuer and Trutanich try to scare each other out of the race. Or the two could end up clashing in March.

According to precinct returns, Trutanich finished second within the Los Angeles city limits to Jackie Lacey by about 8 percentage points. Trutanich won only 3 of the 15 L.A. City Council districts: the 15th, which includes his hometown of San Pedro; and two Latino districts, the 7th (Richard Alarcon) and the 1st (Ed Reyes). He did poorly in the Valley, finishing third in the 12th (Mitchell Englander) and 2nd (Paul Krekorian), behind Lacey and Alan Jackson.

Update 3, 5:25 p.m.: Trutanich still has not actually conceded the D.A.'s race, though his chances of getting into the runoff appear quite slim. According to the L.A. County Registrar-Recorder, there are about 162,000 ballots left to count. Trutanich would have to beat Jackson by roughly 5.5% among those ballots to overtake him. Yet he ran about 1% behind Jackson among ballots cast on election day, and the most likely scenario is that he would continue to run slightly behind Jackson among provisional and late absentee ballots.

First posted at 3:36 a.m.

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