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Jill Ravitch supporters say recall is about one man’s revenge

Six weeks before the September special election, Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch and her supporters are fighting back against efforts to recall her, saying politics and petty revenge are behind the drive to oust her from office.

Ravitch’s supporters say the recall, led by the Recall Ravitch campaign and its backer, local developer Bill Gallaher, is not about removing a DA who is mishandling the job.

Instead, it’s about embarrassing Ravitch, her supporters say.

At a Sunday fundraising event for the pro-Ravitch campaign, Maddy Hirshfield, one of the campaign’s leaders, accused Gallaher of unfairly targeting Ravitch.

Addressing a crowd of local and state elected officials, prosecutors and friends gathered at Sally Tomatoes in Rohnert Park, Hirshfield questioned if Gallaher even cares if Ravitch is recalled.

He just wants to humiliate her, Hirshfield said as rapt audience members nodded in agreement.

The looming question behind the recall asks what Gallaher’s motivation is for launching the recall. Ravitch and her supporters say the only explanation is that Gallaher wants to punish Ravitch for a previous lawsuit brought by her office and state prosecutors over the abandonment of frail, elderly residents in two of Santa Rosa senior homes during the 2017 Tubbs fire.

Gallaher’s company Oakmont Senior Living and two related companies own or operate the senior homes involved in the settlement. He is also the founder of Poppy Bank and chief executive officer of Windsor-based Gallaher homes.

In 2020, an affiliate of Oakmont Senior Living paid $500,000 to settle the lawsuit, which was filed by local and state prosecutors. In addition to the settlement money the company agreed to hire an independent monitor for five years to ensure the company meets court-ordered requirements.

In October 2020, less than two months after the settlement, Gallaher launched the recall.

“It really isn’t about the DA’s office. It’s a guy who got caught; was held accountable; and he’s pissed off that I was the one who was willing to say what you did was wrong and you need to do better,” Ravitch said. “That’s what this is all about.”

If Gallaher’s aim is to upset Ravitch, he has succeeded, Ravitch said during an interview with Press Democrat editors and reporters.

The experience has been a terrible one, she acknowledged. Her family wants her to quit.

“I’m running against anger and it’s hard to run against something like that,” Ravitch said.

Ravitch even considered walking away, but said she remains because she “was elected to do a job here.”

Reelected to her third term in 2018, Ravitch plans to retire when her term ends in 2022.

The Recall Ravitch campaign did not respond to The Press Democrat’s repeated requests for comment and an interview. In previous written statements Gallaher said he initiated the recall effort to assure “steady, competent public safety in our county.”

While the Sept. 14 recall is coming up quickly, Ravitch’s concerns are more long-term. She worries about what the nature of the recall could mean for future elected officials and what challenges she might encounter when she leaves office.

“I keep thinking to myself what happens when this is over, will he be done with it or is he out to just destroy me?” Ravitch said. “I wouldn’t put it past this man to turn around and sue me when I’m not a public figure.”

If Sonoma County voters do recall Ravitch on Sept. 14, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors will have to appoint a replacement because there is no one running in the election to take her place.

All five county supervisors have joined many local and state officials in publicly opposing the recall and giving their support to Ravitch.

Thus far, campaign filings show Gallaher is the recall campaign’s only contributor.

The recall campaign’s grievances against Ravitch include accusations of corrupt hiring practices and a failure to disclose conviction rates.

Ravitch has maintained the accusations are lies and mistruths.

The recall campaign does not appear to have hosted any events or had any representative speaking publicly in support of the recall, but glossy mailings, targeted Facebook ads and radio ads from the campaign are abundant.

Organized behind the Voters Opposed to Recalling District Attorney Jill Ravitch, her supporters see the recall campaign’s lack of contributors and vocal representatives as further evidence the “election is not valid.”

“This is an anomaly in the history of recalls, this doesn’t happen this way,” said Terry Price, chair of the pro-Ravitch committee.

Recalls are typically brought by a group of people upset over an official’s misconduct, not a lone person, said Price, a campaign volunteer. He pointed to recent efforts to remove former Windsor Mayor Dominic Foppoli from office before Foppoli stepped down as an example.

The unusual nature of the recall effort — its perceived origins and the campaign’s mail-in approach — has inspired the “reject revenge” messaging coming from the pro-Ravitch camp.

“The only logical issue that we can point to for the reason for the recall is revenge. That’s the only reason,” Price said. “There’s nothing better to tell voters than the truth.”

You can reach Staff Writer Emma Murphy at 707-521-5228 or emma.murphy@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MurphReports.

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