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New pro-recall ads single out Sonoma County lawmakers allied with DA Jill Ravitch

The recall campaign seeking Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch’s ouster has revamped its allegations against her in a flurry of new mailers days ahead of the Sept. 14 election that criticize the three-term prosecutor and single out elected officials supporting her.

The new flyers, which hit voters’ mailboxes Friday, feature photos and names of over a dozen lawmakers in the county including state Sen. Mike McGuire, Supervisors Lynda Hopkins, Chris Coursey, Susan Gorin and James Gore, as well as mayors and council members in Santa Rosa, Petaluma and Sebastopol.

The flyers accuse the lawmakers, who have rallied to Ravitch’s side and oppose her recall, of “blindly following” her.

Ravitch and some of those lawmakers in Friday interviews denounced the new political ads, bankrolled by wealthy Sonoma County developer Bill Gallaher. He has poured at least $1.7 million to the recall effort, according to campaign finance reports.

“It's him dropping a horse's head in every bed of an elected official,” Ravitch said.

Coursey and Hopkins, who aren’t up for reelection until 2024, said they understand how some might see the flyers as Gallaher’s “shot across the bow.”

“It could be just that he realizes that he has spent $1.7 million or more on what’s a losing cause for him and he wants to cause as much damage as possible,” Coursey said.

Coursey added that the flyers will not change his approach to the job “one iota.”

“Maybe other people feel differently about it,” Coursey said. “I understand the chilling effect that it could have. I dress warmly.”

Hopkins, the Board of Supervisors chair, echoed that sentiment. Her primary concern was that the recall effort and flyers could dissuade others from running for office.

It would be “one of the worst outcomes,” Hopkins said.

Brandon Cho, treasurer for the recall campaign, did not respond to requests for comment.

Gallaher launched the recall effort last year less than two months after an affiliate of his company, Oakmont Senior Living, paid $500,000 to settle a lawsuit by Ravitch’s office and state prosecutors over the abandonment of elderly residents at two Santa Rosa senior homes during the 2017 Tubbs fire.

Ravitch’s supporters say Gallaher’s recall push is an act of revenge, while the recall campaign has accused Ravitch of misdeeds including corrupt hiring practices and a failure to disclose conviction rates.

Ravitch, who plans to retire when her term ends next year, has denied all the allegations.

In addition to calling out elected officials, the new flyers double down on a comparison between a 2018 case Ravitch’s office prosecuted involving a man who was sentenced to a year in county jail and ordered to pay up to $400,000 in fines for repeatedly dumping septic waste into city sewers, and the 2015 sentencing of Ravitch’s brother on a vehicular manslaughter charge in neighboring county.

In the 2018 case, Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park, where the septic waste was dumped, claimed damage of $353,977 and $15,576, respectively.

Following the fatal 2015 Napa County car crash involving Ravitch’s brother, John Ravitch, he was sentenced in Napa County to two years of summary probation between 2016 and 2018, 15 days in jail and 120 hours in a work program.

Ravitch and the Napa County District Attorney’s Office have said she had no involvement or influence in her brother’s sentence — an implication made by the flyers.

The new ads are the latest in a series of mailers, social media ads and radio ads to target Ravitch, whose name appears on Sonoma County ballots for the Sept. 14 election below the recall questions related to Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Ravitch sounded a note of cautious optimism about her electoral prospects Tuesday and said she is buoyed by the support of friends, colleagues and residents who are speaking out against the recall.

“I am very hopeful that the voters will see this revenge campaign for what it is and send a resounding message that this is not what Sonoma County is all about,” Ravitch said.

Ravitch is unopposed on the ballot, but two local attorneys have qualified as write-in candidates: Sebastopol-based attorney Omar Figueroa, 50, and Petaluma-based attorney and mediator Joe Castagnola, 38.

Both Figueroa and Castagnola have said they do not support the recall effort but are running to give voters a choice should the recall succeed.

Sonoma County appears on track to a strong turnout of about 70% or more, according to Deva Proto, the registrar of voters. As of Friday at 5 p.m., 48% of the county’s 304,863 registered voters had returned their ballots, she said.

The numbers and breakdown in party affiliation likely favor Ravitch, a registered Democrat who has drawn support from the Sonoma County Democratic Party and raised at least $130,000, campaign finance reports show.

In Sonoma County, registered Democrats make up about 57% of voters, far outnumbering Republicans, at 18%, and those who give no party preference, 19%.

As of Friday, 54% of Democrats had voted, compared to 46% of Republicans and 37% of those with no party preference.

Polls will be open for in-person voting Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Anyone who wants to vote in person should bring their mail-in ballot to their polling place to turn in, Proto said.

Ravitch’s supporters said the turnout so far was encouraging.

“From every indication that we have it appears that the voters are seeing through the lies of Bill Gallaher and are rejecting the recall,” said Terry Price, chair of Voters Opposed to Recalling Jill Ravitch. “That doesn’t mean we’re over confident because we need to make sure people get to the polls.”

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

Lori A. Carter

 Sonoma County courts and Rohnert Park, The Press Democrat

Local journalism is vital to a community's wellbeing, and that means keeping an eye on what happens in our justice system and our communities. I cover Sonoma County courts, as well as the city of Rohnert Park. In my work, I want to share the stories that affect our daily lives and, yes, maybe even rile us up. 

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